Category Archives: Azores Islands

You Can Piss Me Off Like That Anytime, Kiddo!

JJA 2018So, we get home from our staggeringly long vacation visiting family on the island of Terceira. Ten weeks, otherwise known as seventy days, aka the-whole-frickin’-summer, seemed ever-lasting at first but swiftly grew to the familiar scale of ‘never-time-enough’. It always happens like that, a longing to return inescapably swoops us up weeks before we’ve even touched ground again in America.

If you’re wondering how in the hell we can afford something like this, the answer is complicated. We work really hard to make it happen. From saving tax refunds and any ‘found’ money, almost never eating out, reading only free books or ones I manage to win in contests, to cooking from scratch with as many ingredients grown in the backyard by my talented wife, we always pinch our pennies. Heck, it took me three years to be able to afford a new Kindle because I allowed myself only to buy one from gift certificates. And now I’ve gone and lost it, but that’s a story for another post.

Then, while we’re on the small island in the Azores archipelago, we live frugally. Due to local contacts, we’re able to score a place to stay at only ten euros a day. Family members store fishing gear and other necessaries between visits, and (at no little upheaval to their regular schedules) they loan us a car. Most nights we’re welcome to join family dinners at any of several tables, and our lunches consist mainly of local cheese, bread, and fruits. We enjoy simple pleasures rather than participating in tourist activities. And we have a hella good time. I’m already missing steaming mornings with my granddaughter, Mac, riding swells and floating in sea water while arguing generational differences and points of view. We watched puffy white clouds grow and shift endlessly in clear blue skies as tiny fish (and a few not so small) swam around us. Ah… yes…

But, we’re back now. It’s time to pick up the mantle of responsibility and get the five-year-old ready for kindergarten, the sixteen-year-old ready for her junior year, and get my head into the thoughtful beta-reader responses I’ve received over the summer. I want to finish Get Yourself Another Butch and get it to a publisher. As always happens, my head started planning for the American experience, preparing myself for the paradigm shift from vacation to work, Europe to America, island versus city time. When our youngest daughter picked us up from the airport, I was ready to hit the ground running. So, I grabbed a couple of suitcases and (after a brief examination of the abundant garden) turned to negotiate our crumbling back steps.

They’ve been pummeled by weather and ravaged by time, ice and weeds alternated turns at forcing gaps wider, while rain and wind ground away at exposed concrete. To avoid some of the worst gaps, we grab the ironwork rail to kind of haul ourselves up to the kitchen door. But they’ve loosened over the last year, so you’ve got to watch where you step and forge your way up carefully. That’s what I expected to see but this is what greeted my stunned eyes.

New Back StepsI shrieked, thrilled and stunned. Our daughter, Michelle, turned white as a sheet.

“Are you mad? I knew you’d be mad,” she said.

I just shook my head, speechless. My wife turned to see what the commotion was all about. Michelle stared at her mom and backed up a step.

“Hey, that’s great,” cried my Traf. “They look great.”

“They do!” I finally managed. “They’re beautiful!” The steps had been our first priority for repair, but we’d been putting it off to better afford our trip. Now we’d had our trip and returned home to our daughter’s spectacular generosity. But her reaction really floored me.

She’d told everyone she knew, the neighbors, her co-workers and friends, family in person and on the internet, that she was terrified we’d be upset, angry, pissed off. She thought we’d dislike the end results.

I didn’t know what to say to that. Traf and I love it and couldn’t be more pleased to have this home repair done with no effort on our part. We’ve thanked her and told her several times how pleased we are, but she clings to the idea that we wouldn’t have liked it.

I hate that she feared and seemed to expect harsh judgement for such a thoughtful, considerate, generous act. I hope she’s been pleased with our thrilled reaction. We see you, kiddo, for who you are. You can piss us off like this as often as you like!

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Truth is Crueler than Fiction

 boat-55173_960_720I’m on a small Portuguese island right now visiting family and doing research for the sequel to When Butches Cry. My wife and I have an extraordinary friend here. Poverty stricken and born deaf, a woman in her 40s I will call Joba for this post, is a hell of a fisherwoman, making her living by selling bait she gathers endlessly day after day while feeding her mother, daughter, and grand-daughter with fish she catches herself. She has only four or five teeth left and her face is weather-beaten from salt water and sun. She is tall for a Portuguese woman and whipcord thin from walking many miles to find good fishing.
 
Although nearly everyone on the small island of Terceira knows her, very few use her real name. Everyone refers to her as the Mute. I have watched people cheat her of the few euros she charges for the crabs and biting sea worms she gathers at night to sell for bait, and too often she has to dodge rocks thrown at her by vicious young men. Joba learned to fight dirty, striking low and hard without let up, after being raped as a teen (which resulted in her daughter’s birth). She’s earned a formidable reputation as a fighter, instilling fear if not respect in her enemies.
 
The cruelty of her situation is beyond my ken. She is deaf, but most certainly not mute. Somehow or other, with absolutely no education (she went to public school for a few days as a child but the other kids laughed and tormented her so badly she refused to go back), Joba has watched lips enough to simulate words and with broad gestures and facial expressions is quite good at making herself understood by those who take the time to watch and listen. But besides her immediate family, almost no one does.
 
Traf and I always bring her a present of new jeans, shirts, or jackets when we visit because she spends what little extra money she makes on batteries for the flashlight she uses to work at night, fishing gear, and little pleasantries for her family. While Joba appreciates the gifts, they are a pale second to seeing and recognizing Traf, apparently her only friend in the world who enjoys sitting and hearing her stories. Although I speak almost no Portuguese, she always includes me in her conversations, never leaving me out and pausing as Traf translates the parts I don’t understand. To my utter amazement she seems to understand my English (meaning if not words), supplying extra information to make herself understood. She tries to hide her tears when we leave but through mine, I’ve witnessed hers.
 

Her loneliness is deeper, wider, and more intense than any human being’s should ever be. She lives with her guard always up, expecting to be treated as sub-human, or worse, no better than an abandoned animal. Although clearly gifted with an amazing intellect, no one understands just how smart this young woman is to have self-taught herself to speak, fish, swim, and even rescue foolish fishermen who fall into deep water.

About ten years back, she earned enough money to buy herself a small rowboat. That expanded her ability to catch bigger fish for sale to local restaurants and gave her some mobility. She proudly hand-lettered her own name on the small vessel, but within the year someone(s) destroyed the boat, hacking it to pieces unable to be repaired.

I could never have written this type of cruelty into a book if I hadn’t seen it for myself in Joba’s life. Yes, part of her story will be in my sequel to When Butches Cry, but most readers will assume I’ve invented the very real torment of this woman’s everyday existence.

I only wish I had.