The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year Part 4: Drama

aeroporto-LisboaLong Distance Wedding Plans

If you’ve ever planned a wedding, for yourself or for someone else, you know that it nearly qualifies as  full-time employment. Add in the facts that “wedding coordinator” was a relatively rare bird in the 1970’s – unless you were royalty. And your mother is clueless.

Your fiance lives nearly 3400 miles away from you during a time that transatlantic phone calls were rare and expensive. And he has more relatives than Ping “who lived with his mother and father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins.” ping

Do  you wonder that my first choice was to go to the pastor’s house for the wedding ceremony and throw  a reception party after the honeymoon?  If it had been up to me…but it wasn’t. Not entirely. At least I had my attendants picked out before I left Portugal; My flower girl (pastor’s daughter) (Harry’s little cousin to be) the ring bearer, my sisters-in-law to be, my high school friend, and my younger sister who was to be my maid of honor.

A Dark and Stormy Night

I was still dazed with the wonder of being engaged to Harry when one Sunday night in September my sister’s boyfriend came to pay a visit to my parents. I was up in my bedroom reading, but I soon felt the thick tension spread through the house. It would have required a machete to cut through it. After some time had passed, I heard the front door close, and then someone climbed the stairs evidently looking for a gun in my parents’ bedroom. Clearly,  something out of the ordinary was going on.

I went down the stairs  with apprehension. At the bottom step I noted that the boyfriend was gone. My dad was on the sofa clutching his chest and popping nitroglycerin pills like they were little sugar pills. My younger brother looked angry enough to commit murder. My mother turned around, looked at me and wailed, “Your sister is pregnant. What will the neighbors think?”

And, in this Corner…

 I would like to say that I was all compassion and understanding that night. The best I could muster up at the moment and for a good number of minutes to come, was to keep my mouth shut. At least until I had a chance to process it all. Then I was confused and apprehensive.

At that time in history, unwed mothers either got married or were sent off to a home. Often, they were forced to give up their babies for adoption. Happily, that did not happen in this case. Unfortunately, though, I had still no experience to draw upon in the situation, and I put my foot in my mouth more than once.

My pastor was aware of the turmoil in our family, and was concerned for all of us. He called me in to talk to him one day while I was still at school. When he asked me how I was doing, I started to cry. I told him about how I felt and that I didn’t know what to do. At the end, he said that he couldn’t tell me what to do, but that I should listen for the Lord to tell me, and do what God wanted. I took his advice. And that was when the compassion grew by leaps and bounds in my heart for my sister. I realized that she carried the heaviest burden.

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.

The Portugal Adventure – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Lisbon

 (The first post of this story is here)

 The Plain in Spain

We began our last leg of the journey back to Lisbon, Portugal. The sky was blue, the temperature was warm (as behooves the plain in Spain in summer), and I was thoughtful. The van was humming along in a south-westerly direction. I had a ticket to that would take me to Kennedy Airport in New York, and I was scheduled to fly due west in two days. Would he, or wouldn’t he? I wasn’t sure that Harry himself knew at that point.

Don’t Wake Sleepy Teens

 The Portuguese teens, who occupied the back of the van, were talking and joking as we rode. At some point along the way, they became quieter. When silence reigned, I turned around to look at them, and they were all sound asleep. 

Harry and I began a conversation about “back in the day.” The memories made us smile as the miles flew by. We talked about the long silence (seven years) in our friendship, and the time we passed on the street in Philadelphia where we both attended college after a long pause in our friendship. I came to the conclusion (for about the fiftieth time) that I would be content no matter what.

And. Then. It. Happened.

There was a pleasant lull in the conversation. Then, Harry suddenly gripped the steering wheel, sat up straight, and said, “Oh, Susan, if I could marry you tomorrow, I would.” I sat there, thunderstruck. I wondered if I had heard him correctly. Then I began to wonder exactly what that meant? Was it a proposal? Was it a goodbye-sorry-it-didn’t-work-out? Was it meant as a question? And if it was, what was the appropriate response? Finally, I managed to squeak, “I would like that.”

I looked over at Harry, and he was grinning from ear to ear (still with eyes on the road – you durst not take your eyes off the road in Europe). Then, until we stopped for lunch, we talked and talked of “shoes, and ships, and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings.”

At the lunch stop, Harry announced that we were engaged to be married. Almost no one was surprised, but his roommate was worried that we didn’t know one another well enough. Really? We had known each other from when we were wee tads. (The roommate, one year later, went back to the states and married a woman he’d known for only two months.)

Before we reached Lisbon, we had settled on a wedding date, and discussed having me stay another week so we could begin making plans. One of Harry’s plans was to put a ring on my finger before I left Portugal.

The Transatlantic Phone Call

 In due course, we arrived in Lisbon. It was too late to call the states when we got home, but the next day, Harry manned up and called my dad. Transatlantic phone calls were pricey back in the day – and no cell phones. Harry successfully connected to my home phone in Pennsylvania. It was a tense conversation. Harry navigated the greetings, then got down to business. I heard him say he had called to ask my dad if he could marry me. Dead silence on the other end for at least a minute. Wait for it. Dad:  “How soon do you want an answer.”