The girls were growing up so quickly. Their grandparents had never even seen Susie in person. And I don’t know any grandparents who would find photos of their grandchildren an adequate substitute. Not even close. There may or may not
Harry and I pow-wowed about ways and means, and laid plans. Harry would not be able to go because he could not be spared for two months during camp season. He would miss us less while we were gone. Or so we believed.
And so one sunny June day Harry took us to the airport and helped with luggage. We kissed him good-by at the gate, and the girls and I boarded a jet plane bound for New York City.
Looking back, I think I had temporarily lost my good sense taking two such young children on my own. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Susie had to sit on my lap the whole trip, and Susie was still nursing, Bethy had a seat of her own was a great help keeping her sister entertained. Both girls were reasonably well-behaved (as opposed to the infant behind us who cried. A lot.)
We arrived in New York about seven hours after we left but having gained some time as we flew. Two sleepy small girls and I were overcome by the size of the airport. Family members were there to pick us up and take us to Pennsylvania. Our summer adventure had begun.
Until we moved to Florida, I’ve never had trouble taking care of my house plants. We had geraniums on the veranda along with jade plants. They loved the climate and grew to magnificent sizes. I discoverer something on the jade plants that I had never seen in the states: they had tiny flowers blooming in the winter. I had an African violet in the house.
Plants were not the only thing that thrived in our home. Our cat, Fofinha, had been to the vet for an operation. After that she made herself at home, and grew. She made peace with Susie after she got into Susie’s food that I was warming on the stove once; she regretted it afterward.
Eventually, we had a pair of canaries courtesy of my friend who opened her own flower and bird shop. They were Caruso and Kate (short for Kate Smith). Caruso’s song was complex and always lifted my heart. When Kate laid eggs, we loved watching how he fed her so she could feed the chicks.
Bethy had grown up a lot that year she turned four years old and began to lose her baby looks. Being the big sister sobered her to a degree as well. She worried about Susie’s unpredictable moments. A lot. (And I think she still worries at times.) Christmas was a familiar friend by then.
Susie didn’t know what Christmas was, but she was ready to party. She clung to her habit of waking me several times a night, and I decided that our family size had reached its limit. Never again. Harry and I had also been growing along side of the girls; it is difficult not to when you have two young children whose needs often required to be dealt with before our own.
Right after Christmas, it was Susie’s first birthday. Of course she had a chocolate cake. She was a proper girl!
Birthday parties are well celebrated in Portugal. At least they were among the people we knew. Bethy, who was born in August, and other staff kids who had birthdays during camp time, always celebrated their special day at camp. Along with cake, there were other sweets and food. Along with the food there was general pandemonium during the space of a couple of hours.
After Susie’s birth, Bethy began to grow up quickly. She loved being Mother’s Helper. She began by learning how to stir the breakfast oatmeal and followed it up by learning to wash and dry dishes. Once she realized she had power to create peace in her room, she started putting things away. She helped me shop and clean house.
Susie was very different. Her favorite place to be for quite a few years was wherever Mommy was at any given time or place. If I was there, she was fine. If I was not, she would not rest until she found me or until I cam home. Within that factor, she was an explorer of many things. If I was in the kitchen, she was in the kitchen. Eventually, I had to give her some of my plastic kitchen ward in self-defense.
Susie learned to walk and then to run. She was most pleased with her self when she could run back and forth on the varanda. Clearly, she was going places. But, she still stayed close to Mommy.
In spite of that, she did manage to get into her fair share of trouble. One day my friend was helping me clean. She called me to come to the bathroom. I often used my typewriter to write letters to supporters and to family and friends. Normally, I covered it up when I left it, but planned to return soon. Susie took advantage of my absence and decided to explore this machine in which Mommy had so much interest. I found her in the bathroom looking like this:
Between her and the young kitten, things were lively for quite some time. They played together, and they shared a hobby. Long before paper shredders were available, these two were paper terrorists. As soon as Susie was able to get around and grab a book to use for teething we made an executive decision to abandon the room that was our bedroom, move the bed into a different room and make the former bedroom the library. Where we could put the considerable collection of books we had.
The Portuguese have a saying:”Tudo o queé pequenotem graça.” Loosely translated, it means that all things that are small are cute. Along with all the fun that we had with the campers, the bakery that made our Mafra bread had a six-week old litter of kittens. Our Samantha cat when we were first married did not survive our first furlough. The bakers offered us one of the kittens. I argued that it was too young, but they said something like, “Now or never.”
We named her Fofinha (Fluffy) and she came to live with us. We soon discovered that she was ill named. Oh, her fur was soft and fluffy, but she was a wild child. Or kitten if you prefer. I had to feed her with canned milk from a medicine dropper. I had to learn to keep her clean as her mother did (I didn’t wash her with my tongue, though, I used a wash cloth.) Eventually, I gave her the pureed soup that I fed to Susie. While Fofinha was still small, I made a sling for her so I could hold her and keep her warm.
Fofinha grew and thrived. Eventually, she decided that squatting over the bathtub drain was more sanitary than the litter box. She employed the litter box for the solid waste.
Susie was also thriving. I had patterned my feeding “schedule” from the information I had received from La Leche. They encouraged mothers to “feed on demand.” So, when Susie whimpered at night, I picked her up and nursed her. I figured that she would get over it eventually.
One night, Susie cried in the night and was inconsolable. I got up and checked her over, and I found a lump on the side of her neck. The only sleep I got that night was when I held her close to me. In the morning we called the pediatrician. The doctor said to bring her right in to the hospital.
Susie had an abscess. The doctor said she was going to lance it. I immediately took Bethy with me into an examining room some distance away from where I closed the door and started to tell her stories. It wasn’t enough to keep the outraged screams. We went home with an antibiotic, and Susie recovered soon (except for the scar that she still has). Except mine. No one had told me that mothers feel the pain that their children suffer.
Summer of ’83 saw the first year at camp. Kids hunkered down in their bunks or in one of the apartments (because the bunks were not completed). The necessities were there, but it was rough. The “kitchen” was a small shack that would eventually be the snack shack.
When I visited the camp with Bethy, the activity she saw entranced her and she begged to be a camper. She was too young, but she begged and her daddy would be there all day so she joined the fun. I warned her that she had to stay the week. I was pregnant and I could not drive the car. (A perfect example of how parents punish themselves.)
My beloved daughter had fun during the day, but the nights found us both weeping and missing one another. She made friends of both American and Portuguese kids, and had one special friend named Matthew. He was an “older man” (he was six) and fascinated her by showing her how the side pieces of his glasses could be stretched and pulled and not break. Except that he broke them….
By the next year, spring of 1984, the camp was fully ready for the campers. Benches and wooden adorned the dining hall, and restaurant appliances and kettles, stoves and a walk-in refrigerator filled the kitchen. The cooks made good use of the facilities and kept the hungry campers well fed. The snack shack covered during the times in between meals. I contributed to the snack shack food with homemade cinnamon rolls – they never got completely cooled.
The apartments, set away from the noise and fray, was a good trot to the dining hall. Bethy spent her days running around camp all the day long. Susie was happy as long as she could see me from where she was. They never lacked for company from among the campers!
Staff members were encouraged to eat their meals in the dining hall. I tried to coöperate. The stumbling block was that Susie found the noise level in the dining room intolerable. Generally, I ate quickly and took her back to the apartment before she had a meltdown.
One noon before lunch, she nursed and fell asleep. I figured she would be safe enough if I walked up to the dining room for a bite to eat. My bad. I had scarcely arrived at the dining hall when one of the campers came up to tell me that Susie was crying. Bellering was more like it. I could hear her before I was halfway back to the apartment.
But, as summer came to an end, Susie became accustomed to the noise in the dining hall and looked the food over. Till then she wanted no food but mother’s milk. One day the kitchen put out ripe pears for dessert. I watched Susie as she reached out for one of those soft juicy pears, then mashed it with her tongue and ate it. And begged for more. There was no stopping her after that.
What do you think that blue thing is in the picture?