This is the 18th 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.
Excerpts taken from Mom’s letter to her sister Margaret on January 10, 1963
Very quiet around here now—girls very reluctantly back in school, little boys in school, Tom, Tommy and Henry have gone on a two- day cruise over to another island, Minorca, to try out a friend’s boat. Everything being OK, they expect to come back tomorrow, and then take a trip up to France. I could go on any of these trips if I want to. But, when I get seasick, I want it to be my own boat I mess up … and that will come plenty soon for me! Our boat is coming along quite nicely now but will not really be ready to go before about the first of May, so we will probably be here till the first of June. Wish I could get the beautiful carpentry work in a house that is being done on the boat. The fellow who is doing the finishing work inside is a furniture maker, and the work is really exquisite. Everyone who sees the boat tells me how lucky we are, but stupid me—all I can think of is nine of us living in an area somewhere around 32 feet long and about 6 to 8 feet wide,. The boat is 58 feet long overall, but engine room, etc, make up the difference. Well, we shall see. Won’t be too bad during the summer when we’re on the move all the time, then when winter comes, we can always find a house if it gets too bad. At this point we are planning to be up on the south coast of France next winter so that the children can learn French and go to school there…better plan to make us a visit.
It seems to me that somewhere along the line I suggested that you might enjoy a Siamese cat. At this time I’m about to take back every word of it, in fact, I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for ours. She has reached the age of consent. And OH HOW SHE WANTS A MAN! We’ve been trying to protect her maidenhood because they say that she’s too young to have a family so have kept her in. In fact, she’s always been kept in because there are some cat-hating dogs in the neighborhood. Anyway, during these periods of frustrated desires her yowling and indecent advances to Rusty become so disgusting that we banish her to an outside room. This only aggravates the situation, because. With her other problem is added the misery of loneliness—and does she let us know! Would think that she would perish from sheer exhaustion from howling steady all night long—but not Anitra. It’s a good thing we have no close neighbors, or we’d be chased from the neighborhood. And now rusty is having some same problems, but she’s much more of a lady, except that every five minutes she whines to get out. Never knowing if it might not be a sincere desire to answer a call of nature, one of us is constantly having to jump up and take her out on her leash—only to watch her ecstatically run from tree sniffing the wondrous odors. Oh me. Sat here last night reading and suddenly a huge black dog made a lunge at our terrace window trying to get in.
Certainly can’t complain about the weather at the moment—beautifully warm and sunshiny. I hear the little ones approaching, so no more now.
Lots of love to all of you and a real good New Year.
Excerpts taken from Suzy’s diary of 1963
February 6 – Today I bought this Diary in Casa Roger when Mom, Frank and I walked up town to do the shopping. I saw Juan for a minute at the school, but not for long. Ever since last Friday we have been out of school because it’s so cold out. There is snow in the mountains and ice in the roads. Later I went with Juanita & Tom to the Club where I met Juan and we watched Bonanza on television. He gave me the picture from New Year’s Eve Dance.
February 13 – This bright, beautiful day was my sister’s birthday. Mom and Dad came and got us here at school to take us out to lunch. We had a wonderful time, but it just didn’t last long enough. I sent a card to Juan with Mommy so I’m sure he will receive it. I didn’t have any classes today at all. Well, I guess that’s all except I never laughed so much as tonight with Angeles in study hall!
Feb. 14 As far as excitement goes there was none. We all sent Valentines cards to each other. At noon we wanted to go out to the bakery, so the girls said that Suzanne and I were celebrating “El Dia de los Enamorados” and the Mother gave us permission to go. During Spanish class we laughed all the time with the Senorita who is mad with her “novio” (boyfriend) !Es la Vida! Nothing else happened so I will close for today. Happy Valentines Day!
Feb. 16 This morning Henry came to pick us up at school and we traveled to Palma with him. We had lunch there and then caught the train home. When I got home, I had my hair fixed and Juan & Jose and Mrs. F all came up for drinks. After that we all walked to the movies, but Juan could only talk about other girls so it wasn’t very pleasant.
Feb. 24 Back home in Puerto. Tonight is the big night of the year. “The Dance of Carnival.” We all were to wear costumes, so I made one up of a French Sailor Girl. Tom and Hank also had ones which were stupendo. At the last minute Juan came up on his moto (motorcycle) and said that no one was wearing costumes so I took mine off. We had a wonderful time and besides it marked one year for Juan and I going together.
On the weekends in Puerto I spent most of my time with Juan, but he had to report for military duty, so I didn’t get to see him very often even though he was stationed in Puerto. We went to the movies whenever he got time off. One night we watched an American movie called Peyton Place, a movie I’d never seen before. Everyone wanted to know if that was the way we lived in Oregon.
Jan and I were plotting the end of our school days. We suggested to Mom as the boat was closer and closer to being launched, she might need us to help get things ready to move on board. There were pillows to make and covers for the life preservers. Dad wanted the linens embroidered with Circe. It worked! On March 12th we returned to Pont d’Inca to tell the nuns and our friends we were quitting school so we could help prepare for the launching of our boat.
Now that we were back home in Puerto I started teaching classes to Conrad and Frank. We did geography of Europe, studying the countries’ flags, and some basic translation in Spanish and French. We also did math, reading, and writing in English. Until now they had only had classes in Spanish. Jan and I both worked with mom getting the supplies ready for the boat. We also helped Mom eliminate things that wouldn’t go with us on the boat because of lack of space.
Launching Day May 17, 1963 – It took about twenty men pushing and pulling Circe by hand to get to the launching site at the military base, a distance of about a half mile. They put large straps around her and lifted her off the trailer and set her in the water with the crane they used to launch the sea-planes. Mom cracked a bottle of champagne on her bow just before they put her in the water. We’d seen Mom do this before many times, as Dad had built several boats before this one, although none as large as Circe.
It was a big day for us, but I cried, because I knew it meant we would soon move on board and leave Puerto, and Juan, behind. I didn’t want that time to come.
On June 23 we had an “Open House” for the boat. Dad moored Circe at the quay and we invited all our friends to come aboard and see where we would be living.
© 2020 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 the final chapter of her travel memoir to be posted next month! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.