By Suzy Beal
This is the fifth episode of a memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.
Not another boat ride! We took the night boat to Palma, Mallorca the next evening. Upon boarding, we discovered Mom, with the little ones, had a cabin, but the rest of us had to sleep in hard wooden chairs on deck. We accepted being uncomfortable for a few hours because to object to anything Dad said was useless. We learned later Dad hadn’t realized he needed to make reservations for cabins, so was lucky to get a cabin for Mom, Conrad, and Frank.
After a long uncomfortable night, morning brought us to our new home. As dawn approached, Dad pointed out the island of Mallorca just coming into view. I looked on the horizon. The sun was shining on the island. The buildings shown white in the morning sunlight just like the buildings we’d seen in Casablanca. A castle came into view on the hill above the city of Palma and a huge cathedral on a smaller hill in the city. When we tied up at the dock, I searched for something familiar. I spotted my brother Tommy with “La Cucaracha” and a sense of relief came over me. The van, a part of the family now, meant security and home, in its own familiar way.
We headed for the town of Puerto De Andraitx where a villa waited for us. On the narrow, busy corners drivers honked at each other. La Cucarachafilled the entire road. When the van slowed on the corners, we opened the top. The warm air rushed in, I closed my eyes and listened to the crickets. The blue sky against the pine trees was a shade of a blue I’d never seen in Oregon, here a limitless sky with no clouds. Things didn’t seem real. The houses made of stone and tile had terraces and archways. Windmills dotted the landscape. I remembered from the National Geographic the farmers used them for irrigation.
We approached Puerto de Andraitx after passing through Andraitx. Dad explained that “Puerto de”meant the “Port of” and we headed for the port. As we passed through town, I noticed that the older women wore black. I learned later they wore black because they’d lost a loved one and dressed in mourning and since the older women always had someone in their families dying, they wore black most of the time.
My senses heightened by the vivid contrasts of light and dark, bright and dim, warm sun, and cool sea breezes, I’d never imagined these bright, distinct images. Dad drove us to our villa on the opposite side of the bay from the town and we saw that the harbor lay between hills on either side of the bay. He’d arranged on his prior trip to have an English woman named Pat rent a villa for us and arrange for a cook and maid. Pat rented, in addition, a room in a neighboring villa for Tom and Hank because our house didn’t have enough rooms for everyone.
“You boys will eat your meals here with the whole family, because the kitchen and the other rooms in your house are off limits to you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mom.” Excited to be living independent from the rest of the family, they agreed immediately.
Notes to Harbor Light
(The editor of our high school newspaper had asked me to write to him about our travel experiences.)
I’m so glad to be on solid ground after the boat trips. It makes me wonder what life aboard a sailboat might be like and if I will be seasick.
The house we are living in has a name “Villa Coleta. It sounds so European. It’s made entirely of rock and the interior walls are stucco and whitewashed. Two stairways made of rock lead up to the main floors. The terrace that runs the entire length of the house faces the harbor and the village of Puerto Andraitx. We are walking distance from the harbor and quay where we can swim in the warm, blue Mediterranean.
I can’t understand anyone yet and don’t know how long it will take to speak Spanish. I will keep you updated with my progress.
On our first day, we discovered we didn’t have a washing machine or dryer, but we had a cook and washerwoman. Carmen, the cook was a young woman in her early 20s. Manuella, a small lady, sixty years old, dressed in black who walked six miles each day to our house was to be our washerwoman. I wanted Dad to offer to pick her up and bring her to our house in the mornings because I remembered six miles was the same distance from our home on the river to Newport. She had to walk this distance twice each day after doing laundry for nine people.
When Pat explained to Mom how the maid’s salaries worked, Mom didn’t think it was fair that Carmen, the cook, made more money than Manuela, who did the laundry for nine people. So, Mom decided (without telling Pat) to raise the pay for Manuellato match that of Carmen.
Carmen arrived each day on the back of her boyfriend’s Vespa. She sat with both legs on the same side as if she were riding a horse sidesaddle. I watched the romantic scene each time they drove up in the mornings. They visited, teased and kissed goodbye. They went through the same ceremony when Carmen finished her work. Although the thought of having my own Vespa thrilled me, I missed and yearned to be with my friends back in Oregon. I wanted to be having a romantic moment, too. Even though I was mad at John for being with Sandy, I still missed him.
One morning, we heard screeching and yelling coming from the kitchen. We rushed in and found Carmen and Manuella fighting and hitting each other. Mom stepped in and separated them and sent me to bring Pat to help us. She wasn’t home, but I convinced her little girl to come translate for us. Her daughter was only five, but could speak Spanish and English. She told us that Carmen was mad because Manuella had bragged to her that Mom had given her a raise and now Manuella made as much money as Carmen. To solve the dilemma, Mom gave Carmen a raise; not knowing if she’d done the right thing. Dad offered to drive Manuella sometimes to help compensate.
One day Dad took me out of town into the countryside with his camera and spent the afternoon trying to teach me how to use it. Tired of my lack of enthusiasm and my long face, Dad tried to engage me in learning something new, but I wanted no distraction. I was in mourning for my friends back home. I wasn’t ready to forgive my parents for bringing me to this place, so I showed little interest in learning how to take pictures.
. . .
“Why are you crying?” my sister asks.
“Because I can’t find any tunes on the radio I can understand, these songs are in a foreign language. I wish I could hear the top -10 songs from the States again.”
Everything is so different here in Spain. Our parents impose the Spanish custom of the afternoon “Siesta.” They send us to our rooms for the afternoon “rest.” I share a bedroom with, Jan. She doesn’t understand my need for hearing songs that connect me to my life in Newport. I hate these new customs they expect us to accept without arguing. Villa Coleta is where we live now. It irritates me that our house has a name. I want nothing to be personal, here. I’m fifteen and I’ve left everything personal and important behind, without knowing if I will ever return.
© 2018 Suzy Beal
Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com. Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.
You did a great job portraying how a teenager would view a strange, new world. Love the name of your van!
Thanks SoyBend. Portraying a teenager is difficult, I’m pleased it’s coming through.