What had loomed as an interminable furlough abruptly developed into a frenzied stretch of friends claiming our last few weeks before we left the states. Where I had been anxious about the prospect of spending six to seven months in my in-laws’ home I had wistful thoughts of their love and support. My father-in-love even helped me beat Harry in Parcheesi. And, Pai Natal’s bells were ringing (Father Christmas).
We had become accustomed to simple holiday celebrations, and this one…. Loving friends and family kept bringing just one more thing. The moment to begin packing hesitated just around the corner.
The tree tickled the ceiling diffusing holiday cheer; the pile of wrapped gifts grew where curious eyes wandered. Harry lobbied to open the gifts first thing in the morning since he wouldn’t be there for Christmas for a long time. His mother stood firm. Everyone must eat Christmas dinner before even a corner of a piece of wrapping paper could be breached.
Bethy and her cousin Katy got their first Barbie dolls. Toys, clothes, books and odds and ends of gifts of things that we could not find in Portugal littered the floor. It was fun watching the children’s wonder.
Harry had asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Well, I knew what I wanted, but truly doubted he would be able to buy it. I seldom ask for specific gifts, but when I do, it is always practical and unfailingly a big-ticket item. You see, the mixers available in Portugal were kind of flimsy. I had already taken one down. So, I asked for a Kitchenaid mixer with accessories. I cooked a lot from scratch. Harry (perhaps with some help) got the mixer for me. Or for himself! In 32 years of hard use, I’ve only had to replace the sieve because blackberry seeds are big and tough.
While Harry was still scratching his head trying to figure out how to pack the mixer in a suitcase, the families of some of our colleagues sent some things for us to take back to Portugal for some of the the other team members. It was a tradition. Happily for us, we both got two suitcases each and carry-ons.
We left on January seventh, Harry’s birthday. His mom and I felt sad that we would be traveling on his special day, so we conspired. In spite of the pastries in Portugal, his favorite sweet treat is a Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpet. We hid them from him in my carry-on. A quiet word in the flight attendants’ ears sufficed. Right on the dot of 00:01 on January seventh, 1983, the flight attendants cued the other passengers and walked to Harry’s seat singing happy birthday to him.