The Portugal Years: An Old-Fashioned Love Song

June 30, 1979
June 30, 1979

Today is the 35th anniversary of our wedding day. If you could hear me say it out loud, you would hear a bit of amazement in my voice that we’ve come this far. The smile on our faces is the relief we felt with the belief that we had arrived at a goal that Harry had hoped for when he was a freshman at Drexel University some six years earlier. Some of you are laughing at those youngsters as I am today. It was a long journey to get to this point, a journey that I began to blog about  in 2011.

No, we had not reached the goal; we had only begun the race. If you take two strong, stubborn and hard-headed people, put them in close proximity for 35 years, you can pretty well read their history in their faces, and in the way that they look at one another. Those youngsters in that photo were 26 years old when they got married. They thought they were mature. Yes, I hear you laughing again. We are still working on that. 😀

Really though, living together  in holy matrimony has its good days and its rugged days; days when we are both ornery and obnoxious all at the same time. Then there are the incredibly wonderful days that remind us why we got married. As a friend of mine said to me, life is so daily. It takes Divine Intervention to get through it in one piece.

So, if I could, would I go back in time to tell that young woman what lay ahead for her? No. She would probably cut and run. In so doing, she would miss the sweetest moments that life would afford her.

So here is to Harry, the man who loves me no matter what page I’m on. Here is to being on different pages, because when we add up the information that way we don’t miss anything important. Here is to learning each other’s language and creating one of our own. And here is to hammering out our differences – as long as the hammer doesn’t land on someone’s head. 😀

[You will need to click through to YouTube listen to this version of the song.]

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The Portugal Years: Year Three – The Journey, the Wedding and the Housing

The Journey

We faced a seven month absence from our home and friends. This trip felt like an unending challenge. It was not a solo flight, nor a flight for two; it was a transatlantic voyage with an infant. Wearing cloth diapers. And she would have no seat. For at least seven hours. (This was not including getting through customs on both end and the long road to Philadelphia). Another couple would be staying in our house while we were gone, and I was uncomfortable about that. Then, before we could leave, we had to find a place to board our Samantha cat. It would not have been my first choice, or any choice at all. She loved me and trusted me, and I was leaving for what would be, for her, an eternity.

The flight was better than I expected. Bethy was eating food, but was still nursing, so she had food and comfort for the trip. In fact, some of the adults on the plane were more trouble than she was. Harry and I took turns holding her. We watched the inflight movie – Back to the Future.

We left Portugal around 10 a.m. and arrived in Kennedy Airport in the early afternoon (about 5 p.m. Portugal time). Our journey ended up at my grandmother’s house where my parents had installed themselves to care for her after my grandfather’s death in May. All of our luggage was shlepped up the narrow attic stairway into the makeshift bedroom that my grandfather put together for my parents many years before. It had no plumbing, but it had a crib. Fortunately, we would be there only a couple of weeks. After the wedding, we moved.

Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, right Amber and Bethy
Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, left and Amber and Bethy on right, June 1982.

The Wedding

We arrived during the mad dash to the Big Day of Harry’s Sister’s Wedding. They whisked me to the bridal shop for a fitting  for the bridesmaid gown. After a few adjustments for width and length, we dashed off to whatever was next. The Wedding on June 17 was the same day that Harry’s parents married . Bethy’s Aunt Sally made matching dresses for Bethy and her own daughter, Katy. Suddenly, it was the night before the day, and we found ourselves at the rehearsal dinner. Then we went to the rehearsal, where there was the requisite amount of carrying on. followed the next day by the wedding.

The Housing

After the wedding, with the bride being gone, we shlepped our luggage downstairs and then up into second floor of Harry’s parent’s home into what had been his sister’s bedroom. Living with one’s in-laws might be intimidating. Happily for us, mine have always treated me as one of their own. In fact, I preferred staying with them. Which was a good thing; we had another six months in the states.

The big aggravation was that crazy jet lag. Elisabeth was waking up at 8 a.m. – Portugal time. That was, in American time, about 2 a.m. Eventually, she changed her sleep pattern, but had begun teething in earnest. Everyone who knew us wanted to hold the baby, (even when she was drooling). Sometimes she just wanted Mommy.

We had culture shock in reverse. During the few years we had been in Portugal, I had forgotten how Americans rushed around in such a hurry. We were homesick for Portugal. On the bright side, we had time to visit friends and families that  the cost of phone calls prohibited. And everyone was encouraging Bethy to walk.

And the summer and the winter were the third year.

The Portugal Years: Rock-a-Bye-Baby, the Waiting Time

The private hospital in Lisbon.
The private hospital in Lisbon

Within two weeks I was certain that the baby was rockin’ and rollin’. Especially right around the time I should have been getting up every morning. It seemed like everyone had a cure for those queasy moments. I settled for a tin of crackers by my side of the bed where I could nibble a few before I had to stand up. By and by it passed and I had more energy. Meanwhile, I started reading all of the books I could find about the upcoming event!

We were amazed and dazed during this prenatal time. We could hardly believe it. We talked about baby names among other things. Harry magnanimously said I could name the baby if it was a girl, and he would name the baby if it was a boy. I let him think that.

Other times we discussed where we would go for prenatal care and the birth. Some of the Americans flew back to the states to have their babies. Some preferred the Red Cross Hospital where the personnel spoke English. Harry felt we would be well taken care of in the Hospital Particular de Lisboa (a privately run hospital as opposed to the national health care clinics). He had me call the hospital and make an appointment.

Doutor Purificação saw us the next week. She scheduled  an ultra sound and determined that the baby would be born around mid-August. We could see the heartbeat clearly, but not much else. Ultra sound was a relatively new diagnostic tool, and fairly primitive at the time.

Portuguese friends and Americans were excited with us. The field director’s wife made a beautifully embroidered maternity dress that was perfect for the summer weather. My parents began to make plans to fly to Portugal after the baby arrived. My Angolan neighbor was concerned that I was too thin and several times brought meals to me. I was still queasy when she brought a squid stew. The tentacles waved at me from the bowl, but I thought I needed to at least try it, and it was fabulous.

squid

Meanwhile, António Figueira was marrying his sweetheart, Ana Maria. So, on April 18th, 1981 so  we rode down to Beja to his the church there. The families had been cooking and baking for days getting read for the festivities. It was an amazing, but tiring day. The weather was warm, and we stopped at a café on the way home. It was the only coffee I drank during the waiting time.

casamento

What is the best wedding food you’ve ever eaten?

Portugal Chronicles – The First Year: Honeymoon

When the wedding reception was over (complete with musical numbers from students) we went to my friend’s house to change out of our wedding garb and into something comfortable. Then we got in the car and set off with the sun setting behind us. We stopped at a restaurant where Harry enjoyed a turkey dinner (his favorite meal). Harry alleges that I also had food, but apparently it was not terribly memorable.

After dinner, we continued to drive east toward the coast. We had a reservation in a hotel in Ocean City, NJ. Harry had asked me where I wanted to go on our honeymoon, and I opted for the beach. He asked me to choose another destination and mentioned the Bahamas and Florida/Disney World. I was surprised when I learned that this was not just our honeymoon, but also “deputation,” otherwise known as finding people to support our ministry in Portugal. We spent time with some of his extended family and with friends along the way.

Today the rest is a photo post with some snaps of our journeying.

First day: the beach in Ocean City, NJ
First day: the beach in Ocean City, NJ
Harry dealing with our rented bicycles.
Harry dealing with our rented bicycles.
River Boat, Disney
River Boat, Disney
Outside the Tiki Hut
Outside the Tiki Hut
Harry in the stocks. Please note that no chains or whips were involved.
Harry in the stocks. Please note that no chains or whips were involved.
Dolphins at Sea World
Dolphins at Sea World
Shamu - at least, one of them.
Shamu – at least, one of them.
cyprus garden
Cyprus Gardens
ducks
Ducks at Cypress Gardens
Cypress Gardens
Cypress Gardens
Cypress Gardens
Cypress Gardens
Orchids growing in Cypress Gardens
Orchids growing in Cypress Gardens
Our last stop on the honeymoon: Central Oaks Heights, an old Methodist Campground. Our cabin looked over the swimming pool
Our last stop on the honeymoon: Central Oaks Heights, an old Methodist Campground. Our cabin looked over the swimming pool

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 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.