The Way We Were

“Mem’ries light the corners of my mind

Misty water-colored mem’ries of the way we were …”

I’m beyond 70-years-old now. Not young; truly a “senior” citizen! At best, my body is 70% of what it was and I’m functioning with about 70% of that “gray matter” cooperating consistently. But age does give one perspective, a remembrance of things past … when disagreements were resolved diplomatically and debts of all kinds were repaid with dignity.

Honestly …

I do miss my homeland. At least, how the USA used to be.

“Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind

Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were …”

Wherever we lived – in Jacksonville (Duval County), Florida, the country’s most expansive geographical area … Racine and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where the bitter-sweet cold weather warmed the hearts of friendships kindled and kept glowing … or Staunton, Virginia, verily a Queen City – we were family and friends, neighbors and community.

Sadly, that sense of “community” has changed: People we’d considered friends, now disenfranchise us because trust has become a matter of convenience and compromise. That’s what hurts most when reminiscing about our lives in the United States of America: It’s been broken and divided now.

“Can it be that it was all so simple then

Or has time rewritten every line…”

Cutting the umbilical cord with our homeland, we’re grateful to the two countries that welcomed and adopted us—Portugal and Spain.

In Portugal, we reclaimed our souls; Spain enlivens our spirits.

We’ve learned that less can be more and more can be less—especially when bundling up and wearing layers in the watery cold that pervades those thick (but uninsulated) concrete walls of our village house. So, we’re miserly about the rooms where the heating or cooling is turned on … and are adjusting to leaving spaces with mechanically controlled climates, passing through those where the temperature soars and/or plunges. Electricity adds up quickly and the bills can be mind-boggling. You learn to compromise and do lots with less. Similarly, with gasoline costing almost €1.50 per liter, we pay about six euros (almost U.S. $8.00) for a gallon here. Apart from thinking twice about whether a drive is “necessary” or recreational, we’ve learned that walking really is the most convenient way to get around our village. For those longer trips into the city, there’s the bus (two blocks away) which comes and goes throughout the day. Roundtrip transport: six euros or so.

That two-hour “lunch” between 1:00 and 3:00 in Portugal? It’s to relax and enjoy. Spain’s “siesta” is even longer … but you get used to stores closing and reopening again later, between 5:00 and 8:00 daily, and adjust your routine accordingly.

Everyone benefits!

What you see is what you get in Portuguese villages and Spanish towns. What you don’t get is pretension and attitude. There’s little or no need to keep up with the Joãs or Juanas.

The good things in life – bread, soup, wine – are readily available and absurdly cheap … but the best things – crystal blue skies, accessible health care, the inherent decency of people, church bells telling times rather than us running to stop watches – are priceless.

“So it’s the laughter we will remember

Whenever we remember the way we were.”

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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