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Posted by Cathy Douglas on November 19, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Magazines and internet sites keep coming up with lists with titles like "Ten things everyone should do before they die."  I've never had any such list, pernonally, but I've decided on one thing:  I want to visit Faial.

Faial is the Azorean island my grandparentscame from.  My mother grew up every bit an immigrants' child, with all the clashing expectations that come along with that.  Between parents, the Portuguese immigrant community, the Catholic church, and the American culture she met when she went to school, it's a wonder she knew whether she was coming or going.

The farming town she grew up in-Irvington, California--no longer exists.  Irvington's population in the Depression years was about a third basic American, a third Japanese immigrants, and a third Portuguese immigrats.  So much happened during the time she was growing up: the country worked its way through the Great Depresion, Okies poured in from the dust bowl, and during the Second World War, the Japanese population was evacuated and dispossessed and all available young men were hauled off to fight.

Mom grew up speaking nothing but Portuguese, but learned English as soon as she went to school.  And never looked back; from that time on, she only spoke Portuguese with her parents.  She stopped going to church as a teen.   By the time I was born, her life was almost entirely in English.  She gave us kids just a smattering of Portuguese language and culture.  We always had linguica for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Wild dill is called "funsch" (not sure about that spelling).  Halloween didn't use to be for kids:  on Halloween night, young men would go around town, tipping over outhouses.  Then the next day they had what they called a Holy Ghost, where the priest would lead everyone through town, carrying all the statues and the crucifix.  At any rate, I think that's about how it went.  I heard these stories so long ago.

To me, this made my grandparents the most wonderfully exotic figures.  We always visited them; I don't remember them ever coming to our house.  They'd already sold the farm to developers by the time I was born) Despite living in America for many decades, neither of them spoke a whole lot of English.  Why should they?  Everyone they knew spoke Portuguese.  Grandma cooked strange yellow bread to go with her all-American fried chicken and Jello.  I had to walk through her bedroom to get to the bathroom, and I still remember it:  the smell of lavender sachet, the statues of the Virgin and Jesus, the old quilt she used for a bedspread. 

Outside, Grandpa grew hydrangeas, roses, dozens of varieties of fuchsias, and all kinds of other things.  I used to walk around the outside of the house via the brick path, under the fuchsias he had trained up into trees, and imagine I was back in what they called the Old Country.  In my mind, this was a place where they'd never heard of cars or television, but spent their time in peace--growing things, making things, being with each other.  Then I'd come in the house, where Grandma kept a huge jar of old buttons for when I came to visit.  I'd dump them out onto the carpet and make up my own worlds full of button people, button animals, and button things.  And, of course, stories to go with them.

That was the Faial of my imagination.  I know it's not something I'm ever going to find on this Earth.  I just want to go to the real Faial before I die--learn a little Portuguese, see the flowers and fruit trees, find out if anything feels strangely familiar.  Most of all, I want to compare it with the Faial in my head.

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1 Comment

Reply Lynn McKenzie
8:47 AM on November 20, 2010 
I love that song. It always cheers me up when I feel wretched, whereas most songs I sing when I'm upset just get me angrier.

Good luck getting to Faial. Your grandparents sound fascinating. You're lucky to have had that bit of Portuguese culture.