The Portugal Years – Year Four: Tia

 

"Tia" at her house with Bethy
“Tia” with Bethy

The best parts of Portugal are the Portuguese people. Knowing them has made my life richer. I met Tia (tee-ya) when we moved into our second home in Loures. She was a childless widow who lived in a couple of rooms added on to her niece’s home. When she learned that we were going to the states for a spell, she kept asking me if we were coming back. When she saw how much Bethy had grown while we were away, she exclaimed over her for a long time..

Bethy and I had been on our way to buy our daily bread when Tia emerged from her little cottage and welcomed us home. Bethy did not really remember Tia, but she responded to Tia’s greeting with a smile.

Tia was a good friend and my door into “Old Portugal.” She lived under Salazar‘s dictatorship in her youth. (If you are a history buff, the link has a good bio of Antonio Salazar.) He ruled with a hand of iron. From Tia, I learned that Salazar passed a law that no one could walk in the street barefoot. That was so that any foreigner who might  visit the country would not know how poor the Portuguese were. It would make him lose face. Littering in the streets was illegal. He enforced laws in unpleasant ways. Like jail time – and Portuguese prisons make the worst American ones look like a week at the Ritz.

When she was growing up, Tia’s family seldom saw meat except for the occasional chicken on a Sunday. When they did have chicken, children gave way to the working men and women in the family, and the kids got to gnaw on whatever was left. The gnawed bones were then boiled to make canja (chicken soup). As one of my American friends over there said, “First it was (grilled) chicken on the spit, then it was the spit on the chicken” that went into the soup.Tia loved to cook, and she amazed me bythe things she made from the little that she had.

One day in early spring, I found Tia in her house taking down a very hard roll of bread, a small coin and something I can’t remember from her door and replacing them with new. She told me that the coin was to keep her from poverty, the bread was to keep her from hunger and the other was to keep her in good health through the year.

(Any of my Portuguese or other readers who can correct me on that please do.)

I think that the best thing that she gave me was unconditional love. I was a foreigner in her country (and Americans are notorious for being obnoxious when they are out of their own country) but she accepted us as we were. And in doing that, she enriched our lives.

The Portugal Years: The Fourth Year – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Lisbon

Bethy arrived in the states when she was 9 months old, and when we returned to Portugal, she was sixteen months old.  We were traveling with a sixteen-month-old tired walking, talking toddler – still without a seat. And of course, airline policy was if you don’t have a seat you get nothing to eat. We had packed some snacks for Bethy that included crackers, a couple of bananas and juice. Our flight left JFK around seven p.m. EST, and we expected to land in Lisbon near dawn. It was about a seven hour flight. All would be well.

Bethy, to my delight, fell asleep about two hours into our flight. I am always amazed by the people who can sleep on the plane. I can’t. The best I could manage on that long flight was to close my eyes and let my ears do the working. On some level I believed that God was  in charge and would take care of us; but all other levels were on red alert.

The flight attendants served donuts, orange juice and coffee. We could almost smell the familiar aromas of Lisbon. When the captain began to speak on the intercom, we were confident that he was preparing us for landing.

The year was 1983.  Lisbon airport had not yet installed radar at the airport. The Captain’s message was not what I was expecting. He told us that heavy fog engulfed the Lisbon Airport and it was impossible for us to land in Lisbon. Before we could blink, we were on the way to Faro in the south of Portugal where the plane  refueled. The captain called for our attention again. This time, he gave us the news that Lisbon was still out of reach. Then he added that Madrid was clear and we were going there to have a layover there till the fog lifted.

In Madrid, we exited the plane. Then we sat and waited in the terminal and we waited for several hours.  We had one quickly deteriorating  banana left for Bethy and nothing for us. And no money to buy anything. Fortunately, I was still nursing her, and we did have plenty of water to drink.

Eventually, we embarked again and landed in Lisbon about noon. We got in a taxi and headed for home.  It was early to bed that night, and Bethy slept well until 7 a.m. – EST.

Do you have any interesting traveling stories?

fogplane

The Portugal Years: The Fourth Year – And Home Again…

What had loomed as an interminable furlough abruptly developed into a frenzied stretch of friends claiming our last few weeks before we left the states.  Where I had been anxious about the prospect of spending six to seven months in my in-laws’ home I had wistful thoughts of their love and support. My father-in-love even helped me beat Harry in Parcheesi.  And, Pai Natal’s bells were ringing (Father Christmas).

We had become accustomed to simple holiday celebrations, and this one….  Loving friends and family kept bringing just one more thing. The moment to begin packing hesitated just around the corner.

The tree tickled the ceiling diffusing holiday cheer; the pile of wrapped gifts grew where curious eyes wandered. Harry lobbied to open the gifts first thing in the morning since he wouldn’t be there for Christmas for a long time. His  mother stood firm. Everyone must eat Christmas dinner before even a corner of a piece of wrapping paper could be breached.

Bethy and her cousin Katy got their first Barbie dolls. Toys, clothes, books and odds and ends of gifts of things that we could not find in Portugal littered the floor. It was fun watching the children’s wonder.

Harry had asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Well, I knew what I wanted, but truly doubted he would be able to buy it. I seldom ask for specific gifts, but when I do, it is always practical and unfailingly a big-ticket item. You see, the mixers available in Portugal were kind of flimsy. I had already taken one down. So, I asked for a Kitchenaid mixer with accessories. I cooked a lot  from scratch. Harry (perhaps with some help) got the mixer for me. Or for himself! In 32 years of hard use, I’ve only had to replace the sieve because blackberry seeds are big and tough.

While Harry was still scratching his head trying to figure out how to pack the mixer in a suitcase, the families of some of our colleagues sent some things for us to take back to Portugal for some of the the other team members. It was a tradition. Happily for us, we both got two suitcases each and carry-ons.

We left on January seventh, Harry’s birthday. His mom and I felt sad that we would be traveling on his special day, so we conspired.  In spite of the pastries  in Portugal, his favorite sweet treat is a Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpet. We hid them from him in my carry-on. A quiet word in the flight attendants’ ears sufficed. Right on the dot of 00:01 on January seventh, 1983, the flight attendants cued the other passengers and walked to Harry’s seat singing happy birthday to him.

Courtesy of TastyKake
Courtesy of TastyKake

Some Christmas Photo Memories.

Kitchenaid Mixer
Kitchenaid Mixer
Bethy and her cousin, Katy
Bethy and her cousin, Katy
Aunt Sally reading a book to the girls.
Aunt Sally reading a book to the girls.
Bethy's favorite toy
Bethy’s favorite toy
Aunt Nancy, Bethy and Uncle David Price
Aunt Nancy, Bethy and Uncle David Price
Grandma in the kitchen while Tim and David wash the dishes.
Grandma in the kitchen while Tim and David wash the dishes.

 

 

 

Daddy, Bethy and Aunt Nancy Price Price
Daddy, Bethy and Aunt Nancy Price Price

 

Tim and Harry
Tim and Harry
Cousin James
Cousin James
Little Mary
Little Mary

The Portugal Years: Year Four – Furlough; It May Not Mean What You Think It Means

Harry's sister's wedding with her two nieces, Katy and Bethy.
Harry’s sister’s wedding with her two nieces, Katy and Bethy.

There is a persistent myth that when people come to the states on furlough that it is for them to rest from their labor. Nothing could be less true. We were always more busy and rushed when we were in the states than when we were in Portugal. Of course, we arrived in the midst of wedding prep for my sister-in-law, and didn’t slow down for the summer. A lot of what we did was visit people who supported our work in Portugal.

Shortly after the wedding, Harry, Elisabeth and I paid our respects to our missions organization traveling upstate New York to Schroon Lake (near Saratoga). Jack Wyrtzen founded this conference and camp facility. He and his wife were delightful people, and it was always fun when Jack was around.

wol jack marge

bethy wol
Bethy at Word of Life

When we got back to Pennsylvania, there was a to-do list. My mother-in-law’s family lived upstate Pennsylvania, and every year there were family reunions – yes, multiple reunions. That was a sad year for Harry’s mother; her mother passed away, and one of the trips up was for the funeral.

A family who supported our work invited us to spend a week at their cabin on Penobscot Bay in Maine. It was August, and we were wearing  jackets and light coats. You’ll see in one photo that we had a fire in the fireplace. That was the norm. If there had been a beach, we probably would not have been out swimming. While we were there, Grandpa wanted to take Bethy to the fair. She wasn’t sure about the calf, but she did love her some cotton candy. And she rode the Ferris Wheel. My father-in-law took me out with the family for some lobster love. While we were there, Bethy turned one year old. We celebrated with a chocolate cake! Of course. She needed early orientation or who knows what might have happened?  While we were there, Bethy took her first steps.

vacation Penob

vaca 2

vaca 3

first birthday

Of course, when we got back to Pennsylvania, Bethy had another party with my side of the family, including my sweet nephew, James, in attendance. second birthday party

Bethy’s Aunt Nancy spent time with us, too. In the next photo she is giving her ice cream. One can’t properly be a Price if you don’t eat ice cream.

auntie

At some point in that busy summer, we packed up the car and drove straight through to Michigan. Bethy met her cousin, Katy, who was born a little over a month after she was born. We played on Lake Michigan in the sand and visited with Harry’s sister Sally and family. family

All of that, and we haven’t even gotten to September!

 

The Portugal Years: Year Three – Bethy’s First Christmas and Other Stories

Bethy's First Christmas (4 months old)
Bethy’s First Christmas (4 months old)

Our Portugal Christmases were always fairly simple and small present-wise. We never felt hard done-by though. ”Things” come and go. Bethy’s giggles at that age made us smile. We had enough.

We lived off of the economy in Portugal (meaning that with few exceptions and as much as possible we lived as the Portuguese lived). Occasionally someone sent some things from the states. I was yearning to have a red velveteen dress for Bethy for Christmas. Right before Christmas one arrived from a dear friend in the states.

She is bundled up almost to the point of being unable to move in the photo. It was cold. Homes did not have central heating, and there were always a few months when it would have come in handy. The houses also had no insulation. We layered clothes on and off as needed. It was the Portuguese way!
Somewhere in the crazy year after Bethy was born, our landlady demanded a raise in rent. We tried to negotiate with her for less than she asked. She was one of the Portuguese who saw dollar signs when dealing with Americans. We probably did have more than most of them. Extortion, however, was not the way to our hearts.

We left Queijas and set up housekeeping in the Municipality of Loures. The grocery and bakery were handy to our new home. Our apartment was on the first floor up just one flight of stairs and we were permitted to use the ground floor garage for storage purposes. Our landlords were kind and lived in the second floor apartment. They had a six-year-old daughter who liked to talk to us. Next door a small family cared for the wife’s aunt. An ancient cathedral brooded at the other end of the street, and across the street was the best perk of the move: a beautiful park within walking distance.

Around that same time we learned that Harry’s youngest sister was getting married in June. And that meant an early furlough in the states. I was not enthusiastic. For me, it wasn’t “home” anymore. I loved where we lived and loved the people among whom we lived.

Early in May, I got a phone call from my mom. My grandfather had suffered a heart attack, and passed away. This is the grandfather who gave us a home during many of my growing up years. He bought me bicycles and built a sandbox for me. He could cook up a heavenly mess of fresh green beans and bacon, and his ‘mater sandwiches fashioned with mayonnaise and freshly picked tomatoes from the garden were summer’s delight. Unfortunately, he also had a bad habit of being very inappropriate with ladies old and young. The older ladies could duck and blow off the attention which he felt entitled to dole out. My sister and I, however, were unable to defend ourselves.

All of the conflicting emotions drove me to pick up my daughter and a blanket and go sit in the park with the other nursing mothers. At least, I thought at the end of the day, my daughter was safe from his unwanted attention. In two weeks, we would be on a jet heading west.

The Portugal Years – Year Three: Smiles and Giggles

Bethy 5 mo
Five months – helping with the laundry

By the time that Elisabeth opened her eyes on her second month of living in the sun, things had settled down. A book I read said that my life would be forever changed. What had been normal up until then would cease to exist. Eventually, I would have a new “normal.” And it was so.

By the second month, we got more positive feedback from this small human who had in a cataclysmic way changed our lives. By then she smiled when she saw our faces. Of course that encouraged us to make complete fools of ourselves  to encourage this interaction. When she was five months old, she began to laugh; it was the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.

She was sleeping six hours at a stretch at  night by then, which gave me something to smile about, too. Sammy Cat took on the responsibility of watching over the small human. Our new normal was well on the way.

We started taking Bethy to church. There was no nursery, and young children generally wandered around the room at will (unless they got noisy at which time parental discipline came into play, usually by the pulling of an ear).

The first time we took Bethy, she was welcomed like daffodils on the first sunny day of spring.  Without fail, everyone commented on the full head of hair she was sporting and how fair her complexion was. Toward the end of the service, Bethy required sustenance. I had brought a shawl for such emergencies. It had been her daddy’s when he was a baby.  I found a quiet, empty corner to feed her.

After the benediction, everyone crowded around me again. My attempt to nurse discreetly was  disregarded as the ladies pulled the shawl away from Bethy’s face. No one was disrespectful. It was just a matter of fact: this is how babies obtain nourishment. That was my last bit of culture shock, and  my heart fell head-over-heels-no-reservations in love with the country and the people.

Portuguese Cuisine – “Garoupa à Portuguesa”

My mother’s idea of a fish dinner had always been either tuna sandwiches or fish sticks. I didn’t find them terribly obnoxious, but I wouldn’t, as they say, wake up in the middle of the night yellin’ for them.  There just aren’t enough sauces to make up the lack of flavor when it comes to fish sticks. The best you could say about either of them is that they were a fast meal.

Continental Portugal has 586 miles of coast, and I am here to tell you that the the Portuguese know fish. I’ll admit that the first time I ordered fish in a restaurant, the eyes looking back at me took me aback. It’s just one of those things you have to get used to. But I kept a blind eye on the side of the market where the fish was sold.

Fate caught up with me, though. Our “Tia Lília” invited us to her home for a fish dinner. She was concerned that Harry was way too thin and she wanted to give me some cooking advice. Into the kitchen I went to watch her prepare a fish the likes I had never seen before. The body of it was kind of triangular and happily, it was dead. The first thing she did was teach me how to scale the fish, then followed it up with a demonstration of how to filet the fish. But she left the eyes on it.

While the fish was cooking, Tia put the finishing touches on the sopa da galinha  including adding the egg yolks that she had taken from the hen, and the chicken’s feet.  Portuguese bread, boiled potatoes, salad and fresh fruit completed the meal. And the fish? The best I had ever eaten. It was a dish that I made quite a few times once I got over the fish looking at me at the market.

Recipe for Portuguese Grouper:

Time: prep – about 10 minutes; Cooking time 30 minutes

6 small to medium groupers scaled and filleted.

1 pound of tomatoes, one medium sized onion, 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, half a cup of dry white wine (or grape juice), a bunch of Italian parsley, salt and pepper to taste

Season the sliced onion, with salt and pepper and simmer over a low flame.. Add the tomatoes peeled and seeded. After ten minutes, add the white wine. Put this sauce in a pan that can be put in the oven and put the groupers on top. Cook in medium heat for about 20 minutes covering them occasionally with the sauce. When done, serve with chopped parsley to garnish.

Are you up for a fish dinner?

peixe_garoupa

The Portugal Years – Year Three: Once you have a baby, you have a baby…

Bethy
Bethy about 3 months old.

There you are one fine day when suddenly you find yourself responsible for another human person. It is a change that will shape and  mold you in ways that you  never could have imagined. This small creature that recently burst into the light of day will be part of you forever.  The most passive mother becomes a grizzly bear in a heartbeat when her child is in any kind of danger and goes to war for each of her precious offspring. Clothing, sheltering, and feeding these small creatures are the easy parts. 

As first-born, I wanted to do everything right first time every time. (Stop that snickering…I heard you.) I learned more from my children than they have from me. The biggest lesson I learned was how very self-centered I am. I thought I had buried that demon right after Harry and I got married, but it was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg . I like having some time for myself to just sit alone and daydream. Or read. The reading part was easy. Nursing babies need very little attention, and I could read to my heart’s content while I fed Elisabeth.

It was my bad, that first riptide in motherhood. I am an early to bed kinda girl, and I like my sleep to be undisturbed. Elisabeth went to sleep just fine. But. Around 11 every night she woke up and cried for an hour or more. If I fed her, she gave it back to me. I got cranky. Harry felt helpless, but he was the one who rescued me. He picked up Elisabeth, slung her over his shoulder and walked up and down the hallway all the while singing the Oscar Meier Hot Dogs theme song. When he got tired of the original lyrics, he improvised. Eventually, we figured that her wakefulness at 11 p.m. was a result of me imbibing caffeinated coffee. Ooops.

Lesson two was the shower. I fed Elisabeth when she woke up, bathed her and dressed her.  Then I put her in her basket so I could get a quick shower. I expected her to give me at least ten minutes.  As soon as I left the room, she started crying. Nothing stopped her. I learned to take record breaking short showers. She didn’t want to eat. She just wanted me.

Cooking dinner at night was another challenge. Harry would come home with the newspaper and sit down to wait for dinner. The baby was always fussy at that time of day. Finally, I’d hand Bethy over to him to entertain so I could finish preparing dinner. The crying never stopped, but I got dinner done. Harry had to do without the cheese sauce on his broccoli though. When I walked into the living room to call Harry in to eat, he had her was hanging over his arm like a sack of potatoes. Every time she smelled food cooking, she wanted in on the action; I had to feed the baby before I could eat. I resigned myself to having no hot meals for the better part of the next couple of decades.

There was some respite along the way. Bethy’s Tia Cindi offered to babysit so Harry could take me out for a break when Elisabeth was about four months old. She was, according to Tia, perfectly good. Of course. She had saved it all up until five minutes after I fell asleep.

What kinds of things stretch and grow you?

Portuguese Cuisine: Chocolate Mousse

Harry has a large sweet tooth, so he had already sampled all of the sweets he could find before I got to Portugal. One favorite of both of us is chocolate mousse. Please note, mousse is not the same a mouse. It’s a rich, delicious chocolate pudding. It’s simple to make and has only a few ingredients. The one thing you might want to change up is mixing in the raw egg whites. You can buy powdered egg whites wherever they sell Wilton products (department stores generally carry them).

Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:
3 – 4 ounce bars of medium to dark chocolate
whites of three eggs
1 tablespoon of real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of real butter
yolks of three eggs
3 tablespoons water

Directions:
1) Break the chocolate bars into pieces, and then slowly heat it while stirring until it is melted but not burnt.
2) Let it cool a little bit then add the vanilla extract and the butter and stir them into the chocolate.
3) Stir constantly as you add the egg yolks one at a time.  Next, beat egg whites till stiff then gently fold them into the chocolate mixture until they are mixed well in.
4) Divide the mixture into pudding bowls, cover and put into the refrigerator overnight.

mousse
Mousse de chocolate