The Portugal Years – Year One: Life is Very Daily

It may have been Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote in one of her stories that the the ordinary days give little about which to write, and so was the first half of 1980. The first baby in our organization was born during that first year, and was the darling of us all. (We were all young couples.)

In addition, I began to understand about 30% of the Portuguese language when people talked to me – and what to ask if I didn’t understand. I became accustomed to the church services where people were on time when they arrived 10 minutes past the appointed hour to begin and continued to be on time when they arrived up to 45 minutes late. (And it is a form of being “on time” that I continue to treasure.) Toddlers and young children were permitted to wander around during the service with impunity. Unless they went too far, in which case a parent would grab them by the ear.

I took the bus to my weekly tutoring session at Dona Isabel’s home and learned how to wrestle with Portuguese verbs and win. I insisted to Harry that if we traveled on a double-decker bus, we must ride on the top. That rule lasted until the time we nearly missed our exit due to crowding.

Some days we just wandered around the Baixa (“by-sha” the area of Lisbon that was destroyed by the Great Earthquake of 1755). There were stores and other places to explore. We never left our money where it could be easily snatched, and our eyes were always open.

It was normal for a man to sidle up to Harry and offer us a Rolex watch for the unbelievably low price of $5. This is when you do not make eye contact and just kept on going. Another time, we came across some women (who may or may not have been Romanies) hawking hand embroidered tablecloths. Harry stepped up and treated me to a masterful lesson on haggling.

Spring turned into summer and my Portuguese lessons were over. I had hoped for another year studying the language, but the money was wanted for expanding the ministry of the organization. That being the case, Harry and I began to turn our thoughts to another shared dream, a dream of hearing the patter of little feet in our home.

tablecloth

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cherry Hill mallMy dad and I had a Christmas tradition. One Saturday in December we got into the car and drove to Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey to Christmas shop for my mom. It began one year when Mom wanted a new pair of Sunday-Go-to-Meetin’ shoes. He always had a difficult time discerning if the shoes he found would be both acceptable and fit Mom’s foot. As fate would have it, after my feet stopped growing, they were the same size as Mom’s feet. As time went on, it became our once-a-year Father-Daughter outing. This year, 1978, we were both filled with raw emotions and apprehension. In many ways, it was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

Our first stop was always a coffee shop where we fortified ourselves with caffeine and carbs. This year, we lingered over our coffee. Dad was wearing  his puppy eyes, and I was thinking that no matter how good of a man Harry was, Daddy would always be the first man I had loved; no one could take his place. We perused mom’s Christmas list – which was nearly the same from year to year – and set off to fulfill Mom’s wishes.

The shoe store was first. We found some shoes, and I tried them for fit. The pair we chose made mom smile from ear to ear on Christmas day. We picked out a matching hand bag for her while we were there.  Next we looked for some stocking stuffers for her: a pair of non-pierced slide on earrings, socks and a head scarf. Dad had planned on a bigger Christmas  for Mom, but it didn’t happen that year.  Mid afternoon, an Orange Julius completed our last magical mall Christmas tour. On the way home, Dad started the obligatory negotiations to encourage  me to wrap Mom’s presents, and as I did every year, I pretended I didn’t want to – but of course I did.

christmas tree

Christmas Day was subdued compared with the hilarity we usually enjoyed. In addition to the money mystery, we were grieving that our yet unborn family member, would not be joining us for any other holidays. His destiny had been decided while he waited to see the light of day.  Then there was an undercurrent of the pain of loss for the baby and for my move to Portugal in the next year.

My sister kept trying to find a comfortable way to sit – the baby was due within a week or so. My dad sat in his chair in the corner and sighed heavily when he looked at me. I sat on the bottom step clutching my favorite gift: a boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. (I still have them; you can tell by looking how much they have been loved down through the years.)

It was a waiting time for all of us.

Have you ever been in an uncertain waiting time? Can you describe how it felt?