A Merry Portuguese Christmas

Harry and I have many happy holiday memories from our Portuguese Adventure. For me, though, our second Christmas stands out over all the others. We were members of the Igreja Evangélica de Algés at the time. Although Americans attended there, it was totally Portuguese in tradition and the congregation was amazing. Irmão Fernando Resina was one of the teaching elders. Our second Christmas in Portugal he and his wife invited us to eat supper with their family on Christmas Eve.

The adventure began when I asked Harry what time we would need to be there. He said, “Around 9:30 p.m.” I’ve always been a morning lark, and that made me blink. But, such a delightful invitation, offered in love was irresistible.

Before we left home on Christmas Eve, we had a snack around 6 p.m., and began to get ready to go. We borrowed the ministry van since it would be too late after supper to find public transportation. In addition, my tummy was feeling like I was coming down with the flu.

We arrived around 9:30, right on time, but the party had not begun. (Later I learned that it in Portugal, generally “on time” can be up to 45 minutes after the hour of the invitation. The Resina children had put their boots by the stove for Pai Natal (Father Christmas) to put presents in at midnight. The tree was beautifully decorated.  I learned that evening that, in general, Evangelical Christians had trees and Pai Natal who brought gifts;  Catholic Christians had manger scenes, and the Christ Child brought the gifts.

prespio

Bacalhau Cozido

Around 10:30 p.m., our hostess called us to the table. There was the traditional Bacalhau Cozido (boiled codfish).  That included salted cod fish, reconstituted and boiled. There was cabbage, boiled potatoes, and broccoli on the side. It was my first Bacalhau Cozido, and I really enjoyed it. As we finished the bacalhau, family members began clearing the table. I was comfortably full, and it was around 11 p.m.

Galo assado

To my surprise, there was another course; the galo assado, a roasted fowl that had once upon a time crowed at sunrise. Salad, and homemade potato chips accompanied it. I had slowed down on eating, feeling fine and was hoping the flu had given up on me.

Following the fowl, bowls of canja (chicken soup) appeared on the table. It was delicious, but I couldn’t eat much.  I was hoping that no one would be offended by my waning enthusiasm for food.

Bolo Rei

And there was more. We were directed to the dessert table. It was smothered with attractive sweets from rice pudding to Bolo Rei (King Cake). I’d never seen so many kinds of different pastries and puddings in my life. I nibbled a little here and there, and they were amazing. It was truly a feast fit to honor the King of kings. And no unhappy tummy all night.

Around midnight the children got their boots, and opened their presents. Food, fun and fellowship ran riot that night. Soon after midnight, we got into the van and drove back across town to our neighborhood.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you. I look forward to sharing more about Portugal and our time there in January. 

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The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – The Long Day

The rehearsal was Thursday night. On Friday, Harry and I had our suitcases packed (he almost made it out of the house without his sister throwing rice into his suitcase). We dropped the car and suitcases off at the apartment of one of my teaching colleagues for safety’s sake.With a LOT of help, we were ready for the big day. I had read that there is always something that goes awry, and I determined to stay calm no matter what.

The Mirror Photo
The Mirror Photo

Saturday morning, I got up early to get my nails and hair done. I picked at some food and in an eternally short moment it was time for my dad to take me to the church. The gown in the car? Check.  Engagement ring on my right hand? Check. Harry’s wedding band? Check. Then we took the longest five-minute ride to the church that I can remember.                                                                                                                                                                                  Harry

My bridesmaids helped me dress, and the photographer took the before pictures. Harry was down the hall and when he left the men’s dressing room, his sisters filled his clothes with rice.

The wedding was set for 1 p.m. and it was about half past noon when one of my attendants announced that the flowers had not yet come. Music played. The soloist sang. Still no flowers. My friend made phone calls. Repeatedly. I was breathing and in my happy place. Finally, at five minutes till one, men dressed in T-shirts and cutoffs carried potted plants lumbered down the aisle.

The groom and groomsmen entered the church, and the organist began playing Jesu, Joy of  Man’s Desiring. The bridesmaids began to sway down the aisle. My sister, my maid of honor went next. Our sweet flower girl and ring bearer followed her. My dad hugged me with tears shimmering in his eyes, and offered me his arm while he pulled some nitroglycerin out of his pocket. I don’t know exactly how he managed to give me away and perform the ceremony afterward. I do know it was a labor of great love.

From the photos, I can see that there were many people there that day. Students from three years had dragged their parents to the wedding. My nephew, who was then five months old, had something to say during the ceremony. One of my students asked his mom out loud if I was married yet.  But Harry. How shall I say this? Harry looked like he was about to bust out laughing.

I had opted to have the attendants wearing crowns of baby’s breath. Unfortunately, the baby’s breath was of the unruly and wild sort. When Harry

Wedding Party
Wedding Party

saw the bridesmaids walking down the aisle, he thought (as would any good Scot)  that Birnam Wood was approaching the castle.

My mom with my nephew, James
My mom with my nephew, James
Cutting the cake
Cutting the cake
The cake
The cake
Some of my students
Some of my students
Nearly over
Nearly over
My Family
My Family
Harry's Family
Harry’s Family

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – The Jitters – 10

jitters
Jitters

Around 2 a.m. on June 27, 1979 I woke up from a sound sleep and sat straight up in my bed. My eyes were wide open and my heart was pounding. In approximately 84 hours I would be standing in church in front of God and everybody to plight my troth. How well did I really know this man with whom I was  promising to spend the rest of my days? I was planning to move just HOW many miles across the Atlantic Ocean away from my family and friends? What was I thinking? WAS IT TOO  LATE TO CANCEL?????!!!

I sat there for about half an hour or so mulling over  my predicament. I remembered my friend who had asked me if I was SURE I wanted to marry Harry. Did she know something I didn’t know? I dismissed her concern since I knew she was not happy in her marriage. My mom always called me Miss Independent. Could Miss Independent become Mrs. Interdependent and handle the marriage yoke made for two? My grandfather told me he never expected me to get married; he thought I was cold and distant. I dismissed that because I had good reason to so be around him.

Then I thought about Harry, and how our friendship had evolved over decades. We’d already gone toe to toe on issues,  worked  through them, and moved forward. Eventually.  He was thoughtful, steady, dependable and kind. Harry liked me as well as loved me. He was a can do kind of guy, and he had a sense of humor. I realized then that if all else failed, our God-given gift of  humor would eventually pull us back to sanity. I decided it was a go.

I was, however, still wide awake, and it was heading for 3:30 a.m. So, I gathered up the clothes I would be taking on our honeymoon and  went downstairs quietly. I got out the ironing board and iron and pressed everything, then packed my suitcases. I made a to do list, and around 4:30 a.m. I crawled back under the covers and quickly fell asleep.

"What was I thinking?"
“What was I thinking?”

The other day I told Harry about writing this post. Then, almost 34 years later, he ‘fessed up, too. He said that when he woke up on our wedding day he stood in his bedroom and asked himself, “What was I thinking?” But, he showed up anyway. Because he’s like that.

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.

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – Part 8 – The Book Burning

By spring, my attendants had their patterns and fabric for their gowns. We had decided  to keep the wedding reception as simple as possible. I even had a wedding gown, which I found on a clearance rack. All it needed was a trip to the dry cleaner.

As was my custom during the second semester each school year, I read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia aloud to the class.  Lewis’ allegory holds many  spiritual truths in a captivating story about Aslan, the Lion who created Narnia. My students always enjoyed those stories, and coaxed their parents to get them their own copies. We were nearly finished  the final book, The Last Battle.

John_ToddEnter John Todd, Occultist

There was a lot of excitement at church when a man named John Todd  arrived in the area. He claimed to be a former witch who had come to warn God’s people about an Illuminati plot to take over the United States. Todd said that he had been born into witchcraft and had attained the position of Grand Druid High Priest of the Illuminati. Additionally, he claimed to be a member of the “Council of Thirteen,” “one of the chosen few who rank just below the world-ruling Rothschild family, Jewish bankers with roots in eighteenth-century Europe who Todd claims are really demons.”Christianity Today magazine. Todd made many other bizarre claims. If you are interested here is Todd talking about the witches in the music industry.

(For those who may be interested in knowing more, here  here are some links. Or do a Google search. Oddly enough, there are still camp followers of  the now deceased Todd.)

Todd’s Message

My church (where I taught) invited Todd to come speak to the congregation. His message was to warn us about the imminent mayhem coming to the United States and the world. John Todd told how he escaped from the Illuminati, and averred that his life was constantly in danger if they should catch  him. He  encouraged a survivalist lifestyle  What did Todd want? Money. He claimed to be building safe houses for former witches and warlocks, and asked for financial support. However, within a couple of years, he was arrested in South Carolina for statutory rape and transporting a minor over a state line.

The Aftermath

My dad and I had not gone to the official church meeting, but we did listen to the messages via cassette tapes. We discussed it at length. Neither of us had a confirmation of truth from the Holy book-burningSpirit about this man.

Then, one day after I had been out sick, the principal had a short conference with me.  C.S. Lewis was officially banned from my classroom. In fact, any and all books in the school library that referred to magic of any sort were to be burned based on Todd’s teaching. He referenced the situation in Acts 19:11-20 where the Ephesians who had been practicing the dark arts chose to destroy their magic books as a public testimony of their sorrow for their sin. It was the Ephesians choice, though, not a directive from Paul, and not based on a false testimony.  The apostle Paul simply preached the Gospel, the Holy Spirit convicted them and they chose to get rid of the books.

What is your response to things like this?

The Portugal Adventure – Part 7 – The Long Year – Baby

Christmas was over. The decorations, as always, had come down on January first. My sister’s baby was overdue. She felt clumsy, and desolate. For over nine months, she had nurtured this beloved little life in her own body. But she had agreed to give this child up for adoption to a family. She was told the family could give her baby a good life. Her heart felt first ripped in two and then shredded. She wanted the baby. Someone who would be hers. I don’t know how she got through those days.  Some days we  waited with her at the edge of her pool of despair as she waited to birth a baby that she would never cuddle. Something just did not feel right.

Two weeks past her “due date” in the middle of the night of Tuesday January 16 into Wednesday January 17, my sister got my mom and dad up to take her to the hospital. Those were the days that I could go back to sleep easily, and being superfluous in this part of the adventure, I went back to bed. Wednesday was a school day.

I was up and dressed for school when my parents returned from the hospital. They told me the baby was a boy who weighed about nine pounds. My sister would be coming home in a couple of days. Alone. When she did come home, there was no way to comfort her. She had handed her son over to the couple who wanted to adopt him. She was dejection on an island of abandoned hope.

But unknown to me, she did have one hope. The baby’s father is a kid magnet. He loved my sister and he loved kids; she knew he would fight for his baby. Pennsylvania adoption law requires a signature from both parents before the adoption can be finalized. The baby, who was born on his father’s birthday had an advocate.  A week after my sister walked away from her baby, she was in the lawyer’s office where she picked up her son up to bring him home. baby

On the way home, my brand new nephew  paid a visit to his great grandmother. She held him, loved on him, blessed him and prayed over him. Then, my sister brought him home. And he was beautiful.

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year Part 3

Where's the Hickory Stick?
Where’s the Hickory Stick?

The first day back to school the students noticed that I had a picture of Harry on my desk. Of course they asked about it, and all of them had to examine his likeness. In a decade when American Evangelical Christians were still debating if any man with facial hair could be spiritual, Harry went all Portuguese and grew an outstanding mustache when he lived in Portugal. When one of the girls asked me if it tickled when he kissed me, I said it was time to sit down and get ready to work.

A teacher can depend on the first day of school to be challenging It’s the time to seat the students and review how school behavior differs from summer vacation behavior. Usually, the educator seats students so that there is space between individuals and the people with whom they are most likely to converse . By the end of the first month everyone should be settled down. Not this class. There was no possible way to seat them so they wouldn’t talk. Everyone talked to everyone else all of the time. At least, it seemed like that.

Every Monday was almost like the first day of school all over again. I don’t even want to tell you about the aftermath of school vacations. Not all of the students participated in “drive the teacher crazy” activities, but enough of them did to keep things interesting.

About that time, I decided to mix some Portuguese language study into my life. I was already teaching my students a chorus I had learned in Portuguese. I bought a continental Portuguese program on records, and began  the alphabet. I had bribed Harry with a kiss to give me his Drexel t-shirt to bring home with me (yes in addition to my engagement ring). After my lesson plans were done, I snuggled up in his t-shirt and practiced Portuguese. Unless it was a day I got a letter from him

School Daze
School Daze

Have you ever been in a class like the one I described? Tell me about it.

(All comments are moderated.)

The Portugal Adventure – The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the Long Year

Recap: A dozen red roses led to a transatlantic flight to the Iberian Peninsula – specifically, Portugal. The flight preceded a cross-continent trip to Germany with Portuguese teens for a week. On the return trip to Portugal, Harry asked me to marry him (well, sort of asked), and I said yes. We left him petitioning my dad for my hand in marriage. If you are just joining us, the first post about Portugal is here.

Santa Justa Elevator

Harry, who was paying for the overseas phone call to my dad, was getting a little antsy by the time Dad let him off the hook reluctantly (and a Dad had a bit of a sulk that he never really got over). That was “canja” compared with the conversation he had with his parents. His family had no idea that he had invited me to visit.

Jewelry Store

Young and in love, we meandered over the remarkable paving stones of the streets of Lisbon. We found our way to jewelers row, the Rua de Ouro, where Harry bought a beautiful ring and put it on my finger. We rode the Santa Justa Elevator, which was built by an apprentice  of Gustave Eiffel – a name you may recognize. The steep hills of Lisbon can present challenges for pedestrians!

The rest of our time together we spent looking into one another’s eyes, walking with our arms around each other and stealing kisses. We talked as folks have always talked at such times where most conversations began “When did you…” and ended with a hug. It seemed like we passed through the streets of Lisbon about half a meter off of the ground. The weather was perfect with sun and temperate breezes. Lisbon was made for lovers.

But at last the flawless summer days came to an end. Harry took me back to the airport, and gave me directions for both when I left Lisbon and when I arrived in New York.  Boarding time came all too quickly for both of us, but I had a 7-hour flight and an airport limousine ride to remember, reflect and recharge.

Upon arriving home, I got a phone call from Harry’s parents. He had neglected to inform them that he had invited me to Portugal. They wanted me to come and visit. I did, and they were most gracious to me. Of course, there was some teasing. My father-in-love to-be warned me about “Skip” as they called him. He cautioned me about what a rogue his son was. I was well accepted – and I got the best in-laws in the world.

By the time the post trip dust settled, it was time for me to get into my classroom and prepare for my last school year I would teach for a while.