By Suzy Beal
This is the seventh 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.
I met a young German boy, Joachim, who came to the Quay every day to work on his suntan and swim. He spoke Italian and German so we had no way to communicate except smiling and gesturing. Although he was older than I, he seemed interested in knowing me. If I was the first to arrive, he always put his towel next to mine. He smiled and I, ready to move on to a new relationship, smiled back.
One evening, a group of us including Hank and Carl walked to town to see a movie. In the center of the town’s plaza, benches lined the square. They faced a wall, and I realized the wall was the screen. Joachim and I sat next to each other. I noticed Hank had seated himself next to a girl with whom I’d been visiting on the Quay. The smell of roasted pipas coming from the vendor’s stands filled the warm night air. The vendors roasted these sunflower seeds on small hot burners in their carts. They put them in a paper cone and salted them before handing them to the buyer. Everyone popped them into their mouths eating the seed and spitting out the shells that fell everywhere. The projector started with a rattle, a whirring sound, and the wall came to life. Here in Spain in an outdoor theater set up helter-skelter, we sat on hard wooden benches, the actors on a stucco wall saying things I can’t understand. Sitting next to a German boy with whom I couldn’t speak, I felt dazed and out of place, but I still enjoyed the differences.
After the movie we walked to the café for cokes, then walked home in the darkness. Upon arrival at our villa, Joachim maneuvered us to a secluded spot to say goodnight. The next thing I knew his tongue was in my mouth! What was this guy doing? John kissed me twice, but both times it was only a peck on the lips. This was something entirely different. At first, I didn’t like it. How long would this go on? How could I make it stop? This must be what everyone back home talked about — French kissing! It wasn’t all bad, but just as I was getting the hang of it, he pulled away. He gave me a hug and set off into the darkness. I never saw him again, but he left me with an experience I thought might come in handy later. I wouldn’t be so clumsy if the opportunity arose again. He wrote once, but in German. I kept it, hoping to find someone to translate it for me.
Notes to Harbor Light
(The editor of our high school newspaper had asked me to write to him about our travel experiences.)
This island reminds me of Harry Bellefonte’s song “Island in the sun where people have toiled since time begun.” This song is about Jamaica, but it is Mallorca, too. Time seems to stand still here. Everyone who has a car is driving a Model T or Model A from the ’30s and ’40s. No one has television. There are no phones, washing machines, or dryers in the homes. Our maid washes the laundry by hand for our entire family of nine including our bed sheets. Everyone seems happy, though, and they have fiestas for almost no reason at all. Fireworks flash from across the bay in the night sky. We watch them from our terrace wondering what they are celebrating.
The family settled in to our daily routine. Mom, Jan, and I purchased our food in the local markets. We learned hard lessons discovering the difference between pounds and kilos, having to eat green beans for days because we purchased too many. Mom tackled the gas stove and took over cooking the evening meals. We shopped at the carniceria (butchers) to buy our meat. The meat hung on hooks. Half a cow, lamb, or goat just hanging there frightened me, but Mom hardened herself to order by pointing to the animal part she wanted, leg of lamb or breast of chicken. She soon learned to say carne picada (hamburger). The first night she made hamburgers, my little brothers screamed with delight.
There were difficult times adjusting. Tommy and Hank quarreled, having to share a room, and soon the quarrels broke out into real fist fights. Dad spent most of his time in Puerto Pollensa and Mom found it hard dealing with these fighting boys and keeping them apart. My parents sent Tommy to Palma for a course with the Berlitz language school. He lived in a pension in Palma for six weeks and spent his days learning Spanish. Mom and Dad wanted someone in the family to speak enough Spanish be able to communicate. At the shipyard where Dad was planning to build our sailing boat, they only spoke Spanish. He needed someone to translate.
Dad came home from Palma one day with a “Sailfish” for us to use in the bay. It was a sailing boat without sides so if we made a mistake sailing, we slid off into the water. It had one big sail and a rudder and centerboard. Dad wanted us to learn the basic elements of sailing from this little boat. At thirteen feet long and three feet wide, it only held two people. If we tipped over, we had to hold on to the side, standing on the centerboard. We needed to slowly, ever so slowly, let the water drain out of the sail. Then we tipped it upright. If we rushed it, the weight of the water in the sail might break the mast.
It didn’t take us long to learn how to keep it upright. Carl was the first one to become an expert at handling the little boat. He spent his days on the sailfish while the rest of us sunbathed and swam from the Quay. One day I noticed Carl wasn’t sailing alone, but had a young girl with him. She was French and only spoke a few words in English and Carl no French at all. Her name was Martine. Each one of us found ways to make friends and sweethearts.
Jan came with Hank and me to the Quay occasionally, but usually stayed near the villa or trekked into the hills with Conrad searching for adventure, which he found one afternoon at home.
“Help, Mommy,” he ran out on the terrace where we were sitting with his hand dripping blood and an awl sticking out of the middle of his palm. He’d been drilling a piece of wood, making a model boat, when the awl slipped. Dad jumped up and carefully pulled the awl from his hand. “We need to take him to the doctor to see if he needs stitches,” Mom stammered. “I won’t be able to understand the doctor, but I guess if we take the awl, we can make him understand what happened.” Conrad got a tetanus shot and came home with a bandaged hand, the hero for the day.
On the afternoons when Dad was home, he met the local men at the café on the waterfront. He had a way about him that made others eager to know him. It didn’t hurt that he was always happy and willing to buy the drinks. He didn’t speak much Spanish, but Dad adapted well to making himself understood. He occasionally drove the van filled with these men to Palma for a day of eating and attending the bullfights. I realized, for the first time, how much of a man’s world my dad lived in and how he enjoyed it. Mom stayed at the villa on these afternoons keeping an eye on the younger ones and watching the world go by from the terrace with her binoculars.
One day, Dad announced that these local men wanted to take our whole family out to the Island of Dragonera, near Puerto Andraitx. They wanted to make paella on the beach for us.
© 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.