Throwback Thursday



Bethy teething...
Bethy teething…at Grandma’s house.

Considering the upsetting of her life, Bethy rolled with the punches as she got acquainted with her states side family. She also spent a lot of time getting her first teeth in and wasn’t feeling well off and on during the time we were there.

The Portugal Years: Year Three – The Journey, the Wedding and the Housing

The Journey

We faced a seven month absence from our home and friends. This trip felt like an unending challenge. It was not a solo flight, nor a flight for two; it was a transatlantic voyage with an infant. Wearing cloth diapers. And she would have no seat. For at least seven hours. (This was not including getting through customs on both end and the long road to Philadelphia). Another couple would be staying in our house while we were gone, and I was uncomfortable about that. Then, before we could leave, we had to find a place to board our Samantha cat. It would not have been my first choice, or any choice at all. She loved me and trusted me, and I was leaving for what would be, for her, an eternity.

The flight was better than I expected. Bethy was eating food, but was still nursing, so she had food and comfort for the trip. In fact, some of the adults on the plane were more trouble than she was. Harry and I took turns holding her. We watched the inflight movie – Back to the Future.

We left Portugal around 10 a.m. and arrived in Kennedy Airport in the early afternoon (about 5 p.m. Portugal time). Our journey ended up at my grandmother’s house where my parents had installed themselves to care for her after my grandfather’s death in May. All of our luggage was shlepped up the narrow attic stairway into the makeshift bedroom that my grandfather put together for my parents many years before. It had no plumbing, but it had a crib. Fortunately, we would be there only a couple of weeks. After the wedding, we moved.

Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, right Amber and Bethy
Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, left and Amber and Bethy on right, June 1982.

The Wedding

We arrived during the mad dash to the Big Day of Harry’s Sister’s Wedding. They whisked me to the bridal shop for a fitting  for the bridesmaid gown. After a few adjustments for width and length, we dashed off to whatever was next. The Wedding on June 17 was the same day that Harry’s parents married . Bethy’s Aunt Sally made matching dresses for Bethy and her own daughter, Katy. Suddenly, it was the night before the day, and we found ourselves at the rehearsal dinner. Then we went to the rehearsal, where there was the requisite amount of carrying on. followed the next day by the wedding.

The Housing

After the wedding, with the bride being gone, we shlepped our luggage downstairs and then up into second floor of Harry’s parent’s home into what had been his sister’s bedroom. Living with one’s in-laws might be intimidating. Happily for us, mine have always treated me as one of their own. In fact, I preferred staying with them. Which was a good thing; we had another six months in the states.

The big aggravation was that crazy jet lag. Elisabeth was waking up at 8 a.m. – Portugal time. That was, in American time, about 2 a.m. Eventually, she changed her sleep pattern, but had begun teething in earnest. Everyone who knew us wanted to hold the baby, (even when she was drooling). Sometimes she just wanted Mommy.

We had culture shock in reverse. During the few years we had been in Portugal, I had forgotten how Americans rushed around in such a hurry. We were homesick for Portugal. On the bright side, we had time to visit friends and families that  the cost of phone calls prohibited. And everyone was encouraging Bethy to walk.

And the summer and the winter were the third year.

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 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.

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

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?

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Baby and Her Grands

On the third day after birth, the pediatrician, Dr. Maria Helena Freitas checked Elisabeth and sent us home. I felt  apprehensive. After babysitting for many years, I faced the one child who would be living with me for years on end…sobering thought.

My parents arrived the next day and stayed for a week. Until that point, the only time they had been out of the country were on day trips  to Canada. After a five-hour time difference, and a 7 hour flight, they arrived sleepy and with their heads spinning. But Mom wasted no time honing in on Elisabeth and holding her. Until it was time for the baby to eat.

After reading every bit of information on feeding babies that I could find, I chose to feed Elisabeth the way mothers (or wet nurses) have fed  babies for centuries. The manuals described what  to expect from the baby, and Bethy fell into the category of babies who take so long  to eat that by the time she finished it was time to start over again. My mother was worried that she wasn’t getting enough to eat, and added that she thought that I would get tired of it pretty fast like she did. (I didn’t get tired of it, and Dr. Maria Helena said Bethy was thriving.) But, Mom had plenty of other opportunities to play with Beth.

The next morning my mom offered to make breakfast for Harry. He thanked her and told her what time he needed to leave to catch a bus to get to work on time. Imagine being affected by jet lag while trying to cook oatmeal in a country where you cannot read what is on the label. Furthermore, it’s a strange kitchen and you don’t know where to find the cookware and utensils. On top of all that, you had to figure out the stove. Yeah, Harry did end up having breakfast at a pastelaria in Lisbon. Mom cried.

On Saturday of the week they were there, I took Mom on an outing. After I bathed and fed Elisabeth we left her with the men and set off for the outdoor market. I gave Mom the 50 escudo tour, and we shopped for veggies and other necessities. Mom was boggled by the open market. We carried the groceries home, and two worried men met us at the door. During the 45 minutes we were shopping, they had had to change a dirty diaper, and apparently barely made it through. My dad had changed diapers, but not almost square ones. Harry had never changed one. Between the two of them, though, they got the diaper on her. Not well, but, as they say, good enough for government work.

Beth and Granddad
Bethy and my dad.

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Lady Waits Again

Of course, in the general way of things, no one can really know when a baby will be born.  “Baby come when baby ready” they told me. Babies laugh at due dates, and this one was no exception. The due date was August 17. No one really explained that it was a guesstamate. What I really wanted was a firm promise that baby would move out on time. By the 17th, I had one dress into which I could fit – two if I didn’t breathe. And I waited.

The room and crib were ready for the baby. I made a blanket and curtains. The cat had inspected the facility and called it good. And I waited.

The days dragged by. I had my suitcase packed and repacked along with a bag for the baby. We had to tote our own baby clothes and diapers to the hospital. We bought a few dozen of soft, white terry cloth diapers which were fashioned in an almost square. Almost square is not the same as actually square, and they gave me fits trying to make them to have even sides. This was a world where Onesies had not yet invaded. And my parents were coming to visit at the end of August. Surely the baby would have exited by then? And I waited.

On the evening of August 26, the baby was creating a ruckus. Harry called the doctor in the morning and she told us to come in. The baby wasn’t quite as ready to meet us face to face as we had hoped, but given that I was already exhausted, the doctor opted to induce. It was a long, uncomfortable day. Harry was convinced that all babies were ugly, and I insisted that all babies are beautiful. It gave us a nice distraction during the ensuing hours. And I waited.

Then, things began to move. The nurse told me I was walking to the delivery room and assisted me over. At that point Harry decided that he needed a break from rubbing my back and giving me ice chips. He left to go find something to eat and almost missed the main event. He was there, though,  when, after the doctor delivered the  baby’s head, and I asked if it was a boy or a girl. When Harry finally saw her, he was smitten and said she was beautiful. Reliable witnesses stated that when they allowed him to wheel our little Elisabeth Louise to the nursery, his feet never once touched the ground. The waiting was over.

Our Newborn Bethy – see that stubborn chin? Yeah. She takes after her mother.

Later they brought her to me and put her in my arms. I sat there fascinated by each perfect little fingernail. I was afraid to move, terrified of doing the wrong thing and thereby ruining her entire life. I loved her and was scared she would not like me. Harry said, “She’ll love you. Don’t worry.” I wasn’t convinced, but it turned out he was right. What I didn’t know was just how much my life would change.

New baby, new parents. Won't we have fun?
New baby, new parents. Won’t we have fun? Good times.

What are some of the big changes you’ve experienced in your life?