One thing I learned early on in my time in Portugal was to ignore the comments and catcalls of the construction workers. Salazar’s government followed by a brief tenure of the Communist Party apparently set the construction business on fire. A lot of flats were under construction along a street that I had to traverse on a regular basis. I never learned exactly what they were shouting at me, but I figured I could stay out of trouble if I just refused to make eye contact and looked at the paving stones.
Over time, the blossoming of my pregnant figure became obvious to everyone, including the workers. As soon as they realized that I was pregnant, the comments and catcalls stopped. This respect continued postpartum.
Once Harry could not borrow a car and drive me to my prenatal appointment with Dra. Purificacão; it was for the ultrasound. That day, I had to take public transportation to the hospital where the doctor’s office was to be found and Harry met me there. It was a two-bus project. The second bus I boarded was packed, and the only seat was by a window in the back. The man sitting there stood up to give me the window seat.
Most of the passengers were on their way back to work after their lunch break. The gentleman next to me had eaten something redolent with garlic, and washed it down with wine. Neither of those fragrances would have bothered me under normal circumstances; in that warm bus that was wobbling and squished in a small amount of space against the window it caused a revival of nausea. Happily, the nice man exited before it got to critical mass.
Basketball and Water
Naturally the summer that I was in full bloom turned out to be the hottest summer I ever experienced in Portugal. No, it was not my perception. The temperatures in Portugal in summer were typically comfortable and seldom exceeded 80-85 degrees F.
The worst heatwave lasted most of the week of the Popular Saints holidays. The temperature climbed up to 104 degrees F. It was a time to have the windows open all over the house to try to find a cool breeze. With the neighbors celebrating the saints with grilled sardines and fire crackers an open window meant being cooler, but awake.
To make it even more interesting, a team of American basketball players had arrived to take part in a sports evangelism outreach. Two of them were installed in our spare bedroom. Not to put too fine of a point on it, that meant that things I might have done at night to ameliorate the heat were not possible.
The utilities in Portugal were still working on consistency of service at that time. (Before we got married, Harry survived a two-week stretch of no water.) That really hot week was the week that the water went out. Enter our neighbor, who had a well. She offered her well so we could have water. The two basketball guys got into gear and toted water upstairs where we filled pots and pans and pitchers…and the bathtub.
The day after we moved into our apartment, Harry handed me a pocket sized English-Portuguese dictionary and a 1000 escudo bill (about $20.00 U.S.) and encouraged me to go to the store and to get some groceries. Then he ran off to catch the bus. My Portuguese at the time consisted mostly of sounds and a few words. I could say “good morning, ” “good evening,” “good night” and “I don’t speak Portuguese.” However, when I said it, I discovered that it immediately set off a long monologue entirely in Portuguese.
I sat and studied the money. I cast wary glances at the dictionary in my other hand. And I pondered the plethora of mishaps that might lie before me. I looked up hamburger and discovered it is the same word in Portuguese. Harry loves hamburgers and I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
I set out on the cobblestone pavement, and paused outside of the butcher shop. The window was full of meat. Hanging on hooks. Dripping into puddles of blood on the floor. I decided that there had to be meat somewhere that didn’t look like a blood sacrifice.
I had been in the small market with Harry the previous year. Would that I had paid more attention. The small market carried a lot of packaged foods. They even carried two brands of corn flakes (Kellogg’s and the National brand). But the fresh meat cuts did not look familiar, and my Portuguese did not stretch far enough to ask questions. If that were not enough, the meat was sold in Metric measures. I didn’t speak that yet, either.
Up and down the aisles I trolled until I found a small freezer. I peered at the contents. I couldn’t read the labels except for one package: “hamburger”. Bingo. I picked up some bread, potatoes (two things Harry told me he could not live without) and some milk and cookies. (The milk came in a plastic bag.)
At the check out, anxiety hit again. Was there enough money? How would I know how much money I should give them? What would I do if they talked to me? At the register, they took my purchases, rang them up and then said something. I handed them the thousand escudos. The cashier asked me something. I shrugged. He gave me change.
The hamburgers were almost a hit. They were heavily seasoned, mostly with garlic and salt. I could foresee that eventually, I was going to have to make friends with the butcher shop.
Next episode: Transportation
The Amish generally get married in November after the crops are in for the year. After the wedding, they spend the months before planting time visiting relatives from house to house. Harry and I did not visit all of our relatives, but in one way or another we connected with quite a few before we left for Portugal.
The days flew by like a Spine-tailed Swift! One of our projects was writing thank you notes for wedding gifts. People had asked what we needed/wanted and we always told them something that will not break. A few brave souls gave us things like crystal candle sticks, but most of them gave us blankets, sheets, towels – and money. The money, of course, is long gone, but we are still using some of the blankets. Harry manned up and wrote his share of the thank you notes.
While we were still at Central Oak Heights campground, we pulled out some board games one day. Harry wanted to play Monopoly with me, and I demurred. I had given up Monopoly after the summer that I spent hours on a friend’s porch playing it with friends. Finally he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: he said if I beat him in a game of Monopoly, I would never have to play that game with him again. One down! Then we pulled out the Dutch Blitz cards and I did not fare as well! I think he cheated. 😀
We spent a week at my grandparents’ home. The first night we were there, we discovered that my mischievous little granny had talked my grandfather into short sheeting the bed and putting corn flakes in it. The next morning before we were awake my grandfather knocked twice and then opened the door. He told us to get busy as he was going to build the crates into which we would be packing our things to be shipped by boat. Those crates survived the trip to Portugal and a few moves after that. At times the preparation to move felt surreal.
Our next temporary abode was Harry’s sister’s apartment. She and her husband were heading to Grand Rapids for a week. The next morning we were to head out to Harry’s mom’s family reunion in upstate Pennsylvania. My newly minted father-in-law was knocking on the door at 7 a.m.! That was a long day. There were about 120 members of the family there and they all wanted to talk to the newlyweds, and to me in particular. The apex of the day was when they discovered that the people who were supposed to wash the dishes that year. Apparently, being newlyweds in the family makes one the automatic default for picking up the slack.
Everyone we knew wanted to see us before we left. This entailed a lot of shuffling of dates and commitments. And, of course everyone waited until the last week before we left. But early one morning we said our last goodbyes to family and boarded a plane headed for Frankfurt, Germany where Word of Life was holding a conference for all of the Word of Life missionaries in Europe.
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.
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.
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
saw the bridesmaids walking down the aisle, he thought (as would any good Scot) that Birnam Wood was approaching the castle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During 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.
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.
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.
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.