The Portugal Years: Before, During and After

George MacDonald, a Scottish preacher and author, had a gentle character who had a mental disability. He went around saying over and over again saying, “I didna ken whaur I come  from.” This week you will see some moments in my life before, during and after Portugal.

last vacation
Fenwick Island, Delaware

My dad’s boss had a house on Fenwick Island, DE. He let my dad rent it at a reduced amount and we spent some lovely summer days walking the beach. We were near Ocean City, Maryland, which had a boardwalk. The last summer before my older brother joined the Army we spent two weeks. We all kind of knew that it was the last family vacation.

Fifties Party, Denver, CO
Fifties Party, Denver, CO

In November of 1975, I got a job at a small Christian publishing house (now defunct) in Denver. I boarded in a woman’s home with another young woman who also worked at the publishing house. Judy invited me to go to her the young adult Fifties Party at her church. It sounded like fun, so I dug into my wardrobe. I got engaged to a man I met in a college class – Modern Fantasy Literature – but he was ready to get married, and I knew I wasn’t.

wccs wedding
June 30, 1979  Aren’t they the sweetest kids you ever saw?

At the end of a year, being thoroughly fed up with working in a cubical, I accepted a position at West Chester Christian School as the fourth grade teacher. How I loved doing that and loved my students. Most of the time, at any rate. Harry and I had dated when I was in high school, and broke up over some silly thing. He came back for another round, invited me to visit him in Portugal and before I returned to the states, he had put an engagement ring on my finger.

Harry at work
Look at him! Who could resist a face like that?

We the following summer, and I went back to Portugal with Harry and the idea that we were going to stay there until we died. With a few visits to family and friends in the states, of course.

Me with Elisabeth at 4 days old.
Me with Elisabeth at 4 days old.
Bethy's bath time.
Grandmom taking charge of bath time.

We were so excited about having our little girl followed by another little girl and finishing up with a little boy. We were content. Our children were thriving in Portugal. We never imagined our Paradise would end. But it did. In the spring of 1999, we left part of our hearts in Portugal and ended up in Lancaster County, PA. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t home. Not for us.

Valentines Day Homeschool Craft
Valentines Day Homeschool Craft
Forever friends
Forever friends
Sarah-Sarah at Christian Character Club on Wednesday night
Sarah-Sarah at Christian Character Club on Wednesday night
Valentine's Day Sweetheart Banquet; Harry acting out Casey at the Bat while I narrated it.
Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Banquet; Harry acting out Casey at the Bat while I narrated it.



My daughters participating in the Greek Tragedy, Electra.
My daughters participating in a Greek Tragedy, Electra with our homeschool group.

We had friends, and Harry had a job, but those were painful years trying to re-enter the American culture when we felt mostly Portuguese.

Other Grandma and us on our front step in West Willow, PA
Other Grandma, a friend and us on our front step in West Willow, PA – my favorite house ever.

Eventually, we moved to Florida. But it’s not Portugal.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?

The Portugal Chronicles – Year One: kaleidoscope summer

The Amish generally get married in November after the crops are in for the year. After the wedding, they  spend the months before planting time visiting relatives from house to house. Harry and I did not visit all of our relatives, but in one way or another we connected with quite a few before we left for Portugal.

The days flew by like a Spine-tailed Swift! One of our projects was writing thank you notes for wedding gifts. People had asked what we needed/wanted and we always told them something that will not break. A few brave souls gave us things like crystal candle sticks, but most of them gave us blankets, sheets, towels – and money. The money, of course, is long gone, but we are still using some of the blankets. Harry manned up and wrote his share of the thank you notes.

While we were still at Central Oak Heights campground, we pulled out some board games one day. Harry wanted to play Monopoly with me, and I demurred. I had given up Monopoly after dutch blitzthe summer that I spent hours on a friend’s porch playing it with friends. Finally he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: he said if I beat him in a game of Monopoly, I would never have to play that game with him again. One down! Then we pulled out the Dutch Blitz cards and I did not fare as well! I think he cheated. 😀

We spent a week at my grandparents’ home. The first night we were there, we discovered that my mischievous little granny had talked my grandfather into short sheeting the bed and putting corn flakes in it. The next morning before we were awake my grandfather knocked twice and then opened the door.  He told us to get busy as he was going to build the crates into which we would be packing our things to be shipped by boat. Those crates survived the trip to Portugal and a few moves after that. At times the preparation to move felt surreal.

Our next temporary abode was Harry’s sister’s apartment. She and her husband were heading to Grand Rapids for a week. The next morning we were to head out to Harry’s mom’s family reunion in upstate Pennsylvania. My newly minted father-in-law was knocking on the door at 7 a.m.! That was a long day. There were about 120 members of the family there and they all wanted to talk to the newlyweds, and to me in particular. The apex of the day was when they discovered that the people who were supposed to wash the dishes that year. Apparently, being  newlyweds in the family makes one the automatic default for picking up the slack.

Everyone we knew wanted to see us before we left. This entailed a lot of shuffling of dates and commitments. And, of course everyone waited until the last week before we left. But early one morning we said our last goodbyes to family and boarded a plane headed for Frankfurt, Germany where Word of Life Lufthansawas holding a conference for all of the Word of Life missionaries in Europe.