The Portugal Adventure – Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I looked at the thin envelope. Good news or bad? Was he going to dump me? Then I tore it open.

That undersized missive felt ominous as I opened the letter. Then I saw the rest of the story. The Portugal team was taking a group of teens to Germany for camp. Adult would driving the teens in vans and all of us would do some sightseeing along the way. Then he asked me the life changing question: would I come along on the road trip? Harry  would pay for my food and lodging.  If I could buy my airline tickets. It was my turn to have no words. I had a feeling, though, that we might be getting closer to the answers to my questions.

But now I had another question. Could I pay for the flight? Christian schools do not, on the whole, have money to throw about and I was certain that the airline would not take my word that I would pay when I had the money.  Reluctantly, I prepared to write a letter to tell Harry the sad news.

Then, my dad with puppy eyes in place, offered to buy my ticket. I was to pay him back when school started back up in the fall. So, I was left without excuse.

A travel agency in town took care of my passport photo and my travel arrangements. I had never flown anywhere on my own, and was all in a dither getting things together. No one wanted to drive me  to New York City, so I reserved an airport limo. Suitcases were procured and a good friend helped me shop for the gaps in my wardrobe.

Somehow I managed to keep both feet on the ground. At least until the day of departure. When the airport limo arrived it looked suspiciously like a van. But, we arrived at Kennedy Airport with time to spare. The direct flight to Portugal left in the early evening and I had adequate time to ponder Harry’s last letter.

The detailed information he had painstakingly written was astonishing. Customs had been carefully detailed. He could not come in to the airport and help me get through, but his directions lacked nothing. He added that I should try to sleep on the plane, because it would be a long day after I landed. Right. He signed the note simply, “I love you.” Given our history, I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The flight was about seven hours, and we were circling over Lisbon by 7 a.m. I peered out the window. The sun slipped over the horizon and bathed the city in red-gold beams.

Harry’s instructions were perfect. I passed through customs like a seasoned traveler. Before I could panic, he walked in the door. He beamed as he walked over to me, reached out his arm, and shook my hand.

Lisbon sunrise

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The Portugal Adventure: My Laddie Lies Over the Ocean

This is where I stopped some time ago on The Portugal Adventure, so I will repeat it and will begin with the next installment next time. I had just received flowers. Red roses.

Those beautiful red roses perfumed the house. Mom fidgeted and kept the roses watered. My dad took to sulking in the lounger in the corner and got out his whipped puppy expression. I wrote a brief “bread and butter note.” And I added that they have come on April Fool’s Day and waited.

Monday I took a rose or two and put them in a vase on my desk. The students noticed and asked questions, of course. But there was little to say at the time. And teaching requires one’s full attention.

Harry’s reply came in short order. With an explanation. He explained that he had asked that they be delivered for Easter. On March twenty-fifth. It was an explanation that didn’t answer my real question. But, then, I hadn’t asked my real question. He had signed the letter, “Love, Harry” And now I had another unanswered question.

Then, Harry began writing with all of the words that he had never used when we dated seven years before. Letters came often, always signed “Love, Harry.” They were filled with anecdotes of life in Portugal. Stories about no electricity and no water for weeks on end abounded. Even a few tales of his co-workers found their way to Pennsylvania.

I started thinking of what to do over the summer. The year before I had driven across the United States with my sister and a friend. That was going to be tough to top!

In early June, Harry’s missive was extraordinarily thin.

The Portugal Adventure – Prologue

 

(I am in the process of editing the first of my Portugal stories. I needed to get up to speed and hope it will help. Feel free to offer positive suggestions.)

 

In 1978, April First fell on a Saturday. The balmy day was thrice welcomed after a winter of serial snowstorms, blizzards, and multiple school closing days. The sun was singing our song. My sister Mary and I shared but one thought: beach!

Mary and I had packed what we needed for the trip, and were ready for some fun in the sun. Then the doorbell rang. My dad attended to the door, came back to me and handed me a florist box. I was stunned. I wasn’t seeing anyone, and anyway who sends flowers on April Fool’s day?

I opened the box to find a dozen long-stemmed red roses. I dug through the paper looking for a card. They were from Harry (an old flame whom I had not seen for seven years following a bitter disagreement). He had wired them from Portugal where he was the business manager for an organization that worked with teens. I was stunned.

Some time had passed. We both had graduated from college, and I moved to Denver to work as an assistant editor. I dated a couple of men on and off and was engaged to one for a short time. I had heard that Harry had gone to Portugal and we picked up an intermittent correspondence as old friends sometimes do. I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1976 to teach at a church school.

Harry was still in Portugal, and I was in my second year of teaching when the roses arrived. As I arranged the roses in a vase, I tried to make sense of the whole thing. But, the day was fine, and I had no patience for puzzles. I shrugged, and my sister and I climbed into the car and spent a glorious day enjoying the sun and surf.

 Atlantic City

The Portugal Years: Year Five – That Crazy Summer of 1983

Bethy and "Tommy" on the day he left to go home.
Bethy and “Tommy” on the day he left to go home.

On June 30th, 1983 we found ourselves catapulted into year five of our Portugal adventure. About mid-summer, one of my former students came to visit us. Tommy (name changed  to protect the guilty) kept the classroom lively for me when I was his teacher.

Once he tried to scam his mother. Tommy failed a Social Studies test on Thursday. He had until Tuesday to get a parental signature that they had seen it. So, he hid his failing test and took his study sheets home. He persuaded his mother to him help him study for the test all weekend.

On Monday afternoon I got a phone call from his frustrated and weeping mother. It mystified  me. She kept saying that she had studied with Tommy all weekend for the test he took that day. I had no idea what she was talking about. I repeated several times that I never gave tests on Mondays. Then the truth struck me. It took me 15 minutes explain to Tommy’s mother and for her to understand  that he had totally scammed her. We will pull a curtain of charity over the succeeding events.

Shortly after Tommy went back to the states, we set up Harry’s “single” bed for Bethy. She was almost two years old, and was going to sleep in a big girl bed. Then, the night terrors began. She woke up in the middle of the night screaming. Harry dashed down the hall certain something horrible had happened to her as she slept.  When she saw her daddy, Bethy told Harry that there were lions in her bed. Harry tried to reassure her, and eventually she went to sleep.

This happened several times a week. I was not a fan of the lions. Finally  Harry, in a moment of inspiration, asked Bethy to show him where the lions were. She pointed to the top of the high headboard. He reached up and  “grabbed” all of those lions. He held them as he ran down the hallway, opened the door and yelled out into the dark of the night: “You are bad lions. You get out of here and don’t scare my Bethy anymore.” After that when she woke up scared he chased the lions again, and she soon grew out of it.

Bethy with her doll on the varanda
Bethy with her doll on the varanda

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – MIT

Word of Life
Word of Life Inn

Along about the first week in June I was on the road with Harry again. We were heading up to the Adirondacks where the missions organization was holding the Missionaries in Training classes. I was familiar with the founder of Word of Life. Jack Wyrtzen, who began ministering in New York city as an evangelist. Word of Life was also famous back in the day for Word of Life Island – a camp for teens.

I also  knew that he had been blackballed by a well-known Christian university for going to talk to a group of Roman Catholic priests somewhere  along the way. The first time that I saw him in person, he was speaking in chapel at the Bible college I attended. His first words were, “How does a girl get pregnant in Bible college?” Yes, he did get everyone’s attention!  He was one of a kind.

In fact, I was about to meet a large group of characters. I think that being a character was required to be part of the organization. One of the first things that happened was that Harry was caught with his mustache. One of the Bible club teachers walked up to him and told him to lose the ‘stache, thus dashing my dreams of being married to the mustached man.

Frankly, I remember only three things about that week with any kind of clarity. One was my interview with Jack’s wife, Marge. And, yes, she too was a card carrying character. She told me that when she and Jack got married, her doctor advised her to not have children due to her poor health. Marge and Jack went on and had five children, and she lived to a ripe old age. She was the detail person of the Jack and Marge duo. When she looked at a prospective missionary woman, she always knew if the woman had what it takes. If she said, “No”, it was no go.

The second thing was fielding the question of why my home church would not support us financially. Multiple times. I was embarrassed. The WOL leadership found it incomprehensible. Some of it probably had to do with the nature of Harry’s position as a business manager instead of being a preacher (even though he was deeply involved in the evangelistic part of the mission); some was Word of Life being a non-denominational entity (even though WOL was and continues to be a conservative Christian organization). The bottom line was my church practiced second degree separation.

The last thing that left an impression was that nasty black fly that bit me on my ring finger and left a scar.

Adirondacks
Adirondacks

On the way back to Pennsylvania I asked Harry what he would have done if Marge had looked at me and said I wasn’t fit to be a missionary’s wife. He said that he would have resigned. Since we were only three weeks out from the wedding, that was probably the right answer. I was relieved.

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – And The Countdown Begins – part 9

jet lagDuring the first week of April, 1979, Harry arrived stateside. His parents picked him up at the airport (I was teaching) and he had to listen to them tell him just how sneaky he had been by keeping his interest in me a secret.

Everything was pollinating, adding to the aggravation of jet lag.  It was the second round of pollination that year for him; Portugal’s pollen had already come and settled down.

Nevertheless, as soon as he possibly could, he borrowed his mother’s car and made a beeline to my house. How glad I was to see him after what seemed an unending year.  We had a lot of planning to do with our wedding coming up in approximately three months, but that visit was reserved for sweeter things.

Though Harry had quite easily kept the secret of my Portugal visit the previous year, he let the cat out of the bag when my attendants held a surprise shower at my church. Apparently, he has compartmentalized his secret keeping skills. It was a lovely evening just the same.

The list of things that had to be decided on and dealt with felt like an imposition on our time when all we wanted to do was to make goo-goo eyes at each other! Invitations had to be addressed and mailed out. I had set a number limit before Harry came back, but his family’s list alone  had around 250 people on it. Eloping was beginning to look even more attractive.

Marital counseling was another piece of  the time pie –  my pastor was in charge of that. I asked my dad to officiate at the ceremony. He kind of looked at me the way Abraham might have looked as he got ready to sacrifice Isaac. But he said he would. We asked my pastor to officiate until my dad and mom “gave” me away. To keep Harry’s pastor in the loop, we invited him to pray the benediction at the end of the ceremony. And we began to memorize our vows.

We ordered flowers from the father of one of my students, who was a wholesaler, and enlisted the support of different church folks for decorating the gym. Some families baked quick breads for the reception. Wedding gifts began to arrive. Tuxedos were reserved. Then Harry told me something that I did not want to hear; I was required to attend Missionaries in Training at the mission organization’s headquarters in northern New York state. They had scheduled it for the first week in June. Before school was out. One more thing on the list.

Exhaustion

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – Surprise !

If all mothers-in-law were like my husband’s mother, there would be no mother-in-law jokes. She is kind, thoughtful, a hard worker and honest. I have never heard her say anything bad about another person. But she has skills.

My sister-in-law had a veil for me to look at.
My sister-in-law had a veil for me to look at.

One day, she called me and asked me if I had found a veil yet. I hadn’t. She told me that my sister-in-law to be had offered to let me use hers. After describing it to me, she asked me if I could come down on Friday after dinner and try it on to see if I liked it. Friday afternoons are not exactly prime time for teachers, but I felt I owed her given that her son never let her know he was inviting me to visit him in Portugal until after the fact. I wanted to stay on her good side.

Friday afternoon, therefore, I headed to the outskirts of Philadelphia. I had changed out of my work clothes into my most comfortable, well-worn jeans, an old t-shirt and my sneakers. My hair was a little oily. Did I mentions it was the end of a long school week? No makeup – I didn’t want to risk getting it on the veil.

It was a pleasant spring evening. The sun was setting  when I arrived at the home where Harry had grown up. It was what we called a “twin house,”  two homes with a common wall between. Mom Price said that she would drive me over to Sally’s apartment, so I got into her car with her.

As she drove, Mom said that she needed to pick up a document at the church on the way to Sally’s house. (She was the treasurer for the Ladies’ Missionary Society.) She stopped in front of the education building and invited me to come with her. I waited while she unlocked the door  and followed her in.

This is what I felt like. Only without makeup.
This is what I felt like. Only without makeup.

The lights came on, and a loud chorus of  SURPRISE!!!!!!!! resounded through the building. The place was filled with women. Women who had taught me in Sunday school and women who were future relatives. I was stunned. I never saw it coming. Apparently one of Mom’s skills is keeping a secret.