Carnival and a Wedding in Madrid

By Suzy Beal

This is the 14th episode of a travel 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.


Carnival, just prior to Lent, was an exciting time for us.  We spent weeks making costumes and planning our activities.  The local bars had an open house all evening.  We had parties at the club, El Circulo, before heading out to the bars to dance.  I made Scottish costumes for Conrad and Frank andour maid’s little daughter, Catita.  They each had a Scottish kilt, hat, belt and chest banner. Frank won a prize, but Conrad wantedto be a pirate and felt silly in a skirt.

Catita, Frank and Conrad

The Gang

I chose to go as an American Indian and spent days working on my costume, Hank picked a pirate costume, the one Conrad wanted to be, and Tom and Juanita chose Romeo and Juliet.

A young man named Juan Aguilar began to show up on my radar. He attended school in Palma, so he wasn’t around all the time like the other kids.  He came home on weekends or for holidays.  At El Circulo in the evenings, we talked and sometimes walked together, always with other kids in the group. We danced together several times during Carnival.

That spring, friends of Mom and Dad’s from Newport contacted him about a wedding in Madrid.  Their daughter, Jimmy K., was marrying a Spaniard she’d met at college in Oregon, and they wanted us to attend.  The bride’s father unable to attend asked Dad if he would give her away, and they asked me to be her bridesmaid.    There was much discussion about who else would go.  Mom and Dad decided Carl and Jan would go with us.  I was excited about being a bridesmaid or, in this case, the Maid of Honor, since there weren’t any other girls attending.  I had never attended a wedding before.   I’d just turned sixteen and the aura of romance of a wedding held me in its clutches.  We flew to Madrid from Palma and Dad got us rooms in the same hotel as Jimmy K. and her mom.

Carl, Jan, and Suzy – Madrid 1962


Upon our arrival in Madrid, Mom and Dad, the bride, and her Mom, Jane, made the plans for the wedding and the banquet.  Left to our own devices, Carl, Jan, and I explored Madrid. We spent many hours wandering around the city on our own.  We never got lost because, by then, we understood how to use maps. During one of our outings, we spotted a pet store.  In the window we saw the sweetest Irish setter pup.  We knew we needed to have her and take her back to Puerto for Conrad.

Jane purchased a new dress for me with matching shoes.  I’d never seen pastel green shoes before!  We met the groom the night before the wedding, when Dad took all of us out to dinner.  Miguel didn’t speak much English and his family spoke none.  He wanted his wedding to take place in Madrid so his mom could attend.  It was a tough night for everyone.  I spoke some Spanish, so I ended up doing a lot of translating.   Unhappy about the impending nuptials, Miguel’s Mom never smiled, but not until the day of the wedding did I realized why.

Since Jimmy K. wasn’t Catholic, their marriage couldn’t take place at the church altar.  They held the ceremony at the end of the aisle while the church was being decorated for a different wedding, a Catholic one.  It was a sad scene.  The only people in attendance were the bride’s mom, my family, and six members of the groom’s family.  After the wedding, Miguel, Jimmy K., and I got into a taxi to go to a photographer’s studio to have pictures taken.  Once at the studio, the photographer and Miguel got into an argument about the cost of the pictures.  I tried to translate for Jimmy K., but they were talking too fast.  Miguel insisted that we leave the studio.  He ran off to get us a taxi.  A bride in her wedding dress and a maid of honor standing on the street corner attracted lots of attention.  Soon, Miguel returned with a taxi and we rode it back to our hotel where the banquet waited for us.  We didn’t know Dad had planned to have a photographer do the pictures at the reception, so they got their photos in the end.

We arrived in Madrid during the Semana Santa (Holy Week),just before Easter.  I didn’t understand the importance of Holy Week for the Catholic people in Spain.  After all the wedding festivities, we went out that night to watch the Procession ofSemana Santa.  It was a somber, scary, and dark affair, with strange music. Everyone in the parade walked with bare feet, hoods like the KKK over their heads.  Some had chains on their feet and moaned as they walked past. There were gold statues carried by people dressed in black.  As they passed us, everyone around us made the sign of the cross.  Towards the end of the parade, someone dressed as Jesus came by with a crown of thorns on his head and blood running down his face.  Shocked and uncomfortable, Mom suggested we go back to the hotel, which we did.

The next day, Carl, Jan, and I began to press our parents about taking a puppy back for Conrad.  They agreed to go to the pet shop.  That evening we flew back to Palma with a puppy.  We also had the mother of the bride, Jane, with us.   She stayed with us for a while on Mallorca.  Friends for many years, Mom enjoyed having someone with whom to share this new life.

Just before she headed home a month later, Jane bought a Siamese cat for Jan.  Jan named her Anitra from the Peer Gynt’s Suite “Anitra’s Dance” because she flew around the house dancing up a storm.  Mom called the puppy “Rusty” because of her color.  Anitra and Rusty became best friends, and we often caught them asleep together by the fire.

Rusty and Anitra

Note, no photo of the wedding party accompanies this story because Suzy has no way of contacting the people for their permission.

© 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  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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