By Suzy Beal
This is the sixth 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.
Each morning my brothers, sister and I walk the dusty road to the Quay with our swimsuits on and our beach towels over our shoulders. The Quay is a huge rock jetty built out into the bay to protect the harbor with a walkway to the lighthouse on the end. We spread out our towels next to the other tourists from France, Germany, Italy, England, Sweden, and Norway. Everyone lying along the Quay has his or her own version of suntan lotion. I smell sweet lotions made with honey and olive oil mixed with lemon juice. We are baking ourselves to perfection, rotating at intervals to keep the tan uniform. When we get too hot, we dive into the blue Mediterranean. I begin to recognize the young people arriving each day. I’d taken French with Mr. Blivens in the sixth and seventh grades, but I‘m not prepared for this “rapid fire” French. The differences between French and Italian or Spanish are difficult for me to grasp. I make a game of guessing which country someone is from before we introduce ourselves. Gesturing with our hands is our only form of communication.
Daily we walk the other direction to Puerto, full of hope, for the correo (mail.) Sweat soaks the back of my shirt as we walk the mile and a half to Puerto in the afternoon sun. My white espadrillas (canvas loafers) are dirty and filling with dust as we walk along the gravel road. My brother Hank comes along with me because Mom won’t let me walk to town alone. Sometimes, Dad drives us if he has any errands to do in Puerto, but today he is on the other side of the Island working out the details for building our sailing boat. When summer is over, we will have to move to Puerto Pollensa. None of this matters now; I just want a letter from home.
As Hank and I walk along, I can sense Mom watching us with her binoculars from the terrace of our house. She likes to sit on the veranda and watch the world go by. Heading to Puerto Andraitx, the bay is on our right and the rental homes and pensions for the foreign vacationers on our left. Suzie Wong, the movie star lives, just ahead. I remember Mom saying that Miss Wong’s latest movie was way too risqué for us kids, so I try to look in to figure out what makes her risqué. Then we pass the road to Bobby Summerset’s house. He is a world-famous sailor from England and a new friend of Dad’s. Mr. Summerset will soon sail back to England and my brother Hank will go with him. Hank is excited and Dad thinks it will be helpful if one of my brothers has sailing experience before we move onto our boat.
The post mistress brings the mail to the café each day and sets up on a table. As we approach town the ka chunk, ka chunk of the old man working on paving the main street in town reaches our ears. His bones stick out he is so skinny. He must be in his sixties or seventies. On his head he wears an old straw hat he takes off, slapping the side of his leg with it. The dust cloud it creates makes him almost disappear. He moves along the pile breaking the stones with his sledge hammer ka chunk, ka chunk, he stops for a drink, and then he returns to his work. We have grown accustomed to hearing this steady, rhythmic sound while we wait for the mail. Today, it reminds me of just how foreign my new life has become.
The post mistress arrives with the day’s mail in a bag. She doesn’t smile or greet us as she lays out the mail on a table. Forbidden to approach the table, we wait until she calls out our names. The extranjeros (foreigners) including us, sit at other tables waiting for her to sort the mail. Today we order Cokes while we wait, and I hope. She calls out the names on the envelopes. “Familia Chamberlin.” I race to pick up our mail, but she hands me only letters for my parents, another day of disappointment and tears. Why won’t just one of them write? Then the post mistress says something, “Hay un paqete para ustedes.” What? What does she mean? She sees my confusion and points to the back of the table. A package for ME catches my eyes! I see my name printed on it. It is from my girlfriend Pat. I’m overjoyed and excited, but I want to savor the moment and open it in private.
Mom asked us to pick up bread at the bakery, so we head for the panaderiaand ask for two loaves, “dos panes por favor.” The baker takes our basket over to the counter. He puts paper in the basket’s bottom then puts in the two loaves with more paper over them. We pay with the Pesetas we are learning to use.
Sweaty and dusty, on our way home, my mind is on my package. Back home at Villa Coleta, Mom takes out the bread and reaches under the paper in the bottom. I can’t believe my eyes as she pulls out a carton of American cigarettes. We carried contraband cigarettes all the way home! This is another custom I’m trying to adjust to, purchasing contraband items scares me. The Spanish government taxes any products not made in Spain, but some locals deal in contraband to please the tourists by selling products from other countries without taxing them, such as American cigarettes. We see the Guardia Civil (civil guard) everywhere. There are two who patrol around Puerto with their pistols in holsters. I’m terrified of them since Pat told us they can shoot to kill without questioning.
I race downstairs to my bedroom tearing open my package as I go. My high school annual! I can see my friends in the photos of dances and football games. My friend Pat took the book around and my friends signed it. “Sue, Have fun in Spain, but not too much. Bob L.” “Sue, to a real sweet girl, I have enjoyed knowing very much and hope you have loads of fun over there in Spain. Steve E.” “Sue, Hope you’ve met that dream-boat you were counting on. Miss you terribly in Latin. Lots of love, Linda.” The photos and notes from everyone fill a hole I’ve been carrying around since we arrived in Spain two months ago. On page 33 is a message from John. “Sue, to a real nice kid who I have liked and always will. We have had fun together and if you come back, I hope we will still be friends and maybe we can start where we left off. P.S. Watch out for the Spanish boys. Love John.”
“Maybe we can we can start where we left off? We left off with you dating Sandy at the same time you were dating me!” I scream into my pillow. With tears running down my face I hit my pillow in anger and disappointment. I pick up my annual and finish reading the notes from other friends. “Sue, Have lots of fun with the European boys and if you stay as you are, you will. Ray.” “Sue, I wish you could come back here, cause everyone misses you something fierce. Cindy.” I smile through the tears knowing I do have friends who care about me.
The betrayal by John gives way before a growing urgency to move forward, turning on the radio I discover I recognize a song I’d heard for the past several days, even though it is in Spanish. I promise myself, I will learn to speak and understand this new language and I will accept the customs of this country. I will make new friends. Perhaps living in a house with a name might help me become a part of this new place. When anyone asks where I live I answer “Villa Coleta” with pride.
© 2019 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.