‘Why I Wrote My Memoir’  (I Heard the Alps Call His Name) plus ‘Why Portugal?’

I stared at the shiny white paper looking for inspiraton- a thought, a word, a phrase to get me going – nothing materialized, only a blank cold sheet staring back at me. Usually, something came into my head, but I realized I was frozen with fear. Gripping my pen hard, I made a dark hole in the paper where my pen pressed into the softness, making circles on the sheet, watching it grow in depth and colour, thinking, ‘I will never write this, ever!’

But write it I must.

     A thorn dug in my side that wouldn’t go away. It found its way there over forty years ago when my son was taken from me by his father; it festered, somewhat healed, lay dormant, bandaged and put to rest, only to be woken up by a word, photo, person, or event that triggered it.

      As traumatic as it was, writing was my way of confronting the past, opening wounds that had not fully healed over the years. 

    I was uncertain of my emotional ability to face the suppressed feelings of hurt, anger, frustration and defeat I had harboured for so long.  I desperately didn’t want to dig up this painful past again, but realized that I had to,  so that I could finally heal and put the past to rest.

     How to begin?  I wrote the first chapter 24 years ago, beginning with the Christmas scene in 1983. Then life got in the way.

     I looked at it again a few years later and realized that continuing would be too much of a challenge. After a few feeble attempts, it was relegated once more to  Word doc.

        A significant motivation in writing this memoir was knowing how easier it is to face what you fear than to keep it hidden and ignored. When it is in the moment and out of the darkness, it becomes less scary and finite. I felt I needed to go to this dark place, grab it and bring it into the light, or I would not survive it, and it will rule me forever.  I went there and dragged the truth into the light. Then I wrote my raw feelings as best I could about what happened so long ago- custody, abduction, alienation, tragedies, losing my son. The wounds opened once again, and I had to relive every moment, every feeling, and I wanted to crawl into bed and never emerge.

     I also remembered the happy times, and there were many – growing up in Lethbridge, the birth of my son, our adventures in Canada and Switzerland, happy times on the farm with my family, meeting beautiful people. But the pain kept resurfacing, and I knew I had to face it head-on.

      My fears came into the light. Through words, I accepted them, then let them go one by one.  And out of it, I started to feel better and more confident. I was more determined than ever that this force was not going to control me anymore.

      I felt it was a memoir that needed to be told, for my son and for myself. And I hoped somehow it would help others heal from a traumatic past.

     After I retired in 2015, I came for the winter to a beautiful country with blue skies,  warm temperatures, great food, wine and people called Portugal, and found inspiration around every corner. 

Why Portugal?

  Always up for a challenge, I travelled solo to Thailand, China, and Italy, and spent three winters in San Felipe, Mexico. I visited Germany, France, the Netherlands, Greece, the UK, and Hungary, plus Asia and North America (the western and central states including California and Arizona), and travelled across Canada, coast to coast.

  Now a single mature lady looking for some stability and an easy-going lifestyle, I was searching for a winter retreat in Europe. I also wanted to be closer to my son Marc and grandson, Rafael, who lived in Switzerland. So I crossed the pond once again and began my journey there.

  It was a chance encounter that brought me to the Algarve.

  I thought of returning to Majorca, Spain, where I’d spent three sun-soaked weeks a few years back drinking margaritas on the beach – but a conversation with a friend changed all that.

  We were enjoying a drink in an outdoor café in Winterthur, Switzerland, my son Marc’s home city, on a warm August day. I had just finished a month-long tour of Italy and was contemplating my next step for the winter.

  “What sort of place are you looking for?” my friend asked.

  “Somewhere warm, sunny, close to the ocean, and inexpensive,” I said. “And with a good flight connection to Switzerland so I can see Marc and Rafael often.”

“Why don’t you try Portugal?” he replied.

   I was surprised and curious, knowing little about the country, even though I was a seasoned traveller to most European countries.

   Asking him why Portugal, he said,  “Because the people are friendly, the food and wine are superb, the climate, especially in the Algarve. It’s sunny and warm in the winter months, and it’s affordable to live.”

  Now in my mid-sixties, it was becoming harder and more daunting to think of starting over again in a foreign country that I knew almost nothing about. I wasn’t sure I could take that big step again.

  But, after mulling it over, I decided to give it a chance. If it didn’t work out, I could stay somewhere in Europe that I was familiar with, or go back to Mexico for the winter.

  Two weeks later I was on a plane from Zurich to Faro, with no real plans, not knowing a soul, and going it alone. Flying over Faro and descending towards the airport, I thought we were going to land on the beach! All I could see was water and coastline.

  Soon I headed west on a shuttle bus towards Porches, a village I picked because I liked the look of the hacienda-style hotel I had booked into. The sun was setting on a warm mid-September evening, and as we drove towards it, I thought it was the most beautiful red sunset that I had ever seen, sinking slowly into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean . I was in the Algarve, but at that time, I had no idea what that meant. The next day I searched the internet for a smaller village closer to the ocean, and Alvor came up. So I hopped on a local bus, and an hour later I trudged with my suitcase to the entrance of Camping Alvor just as music began playing in the local bar. Settling down with a glass of wine, I was serenaded to sleep with Portuguese music ringing in my ears.

  The next day as I wandered through the quintessential village of Alvor, I savoured the scenes of everyday life in Portugal—locals drinking coffee in the little cafés dotting the cobblestone streets, or sipping wine in the many colourful flower-decked restaurants down by the harbour, fishermen hauling and gutting their catch and selling it to the local restaurants. I enjoyed buying local fruit and vegetables at the nearby market, taking in the natural beauty of the beaches, and swimming in the frothy ocean while witnessing the most amazing red sunsets. It just felt right. It was all that my friend had said and more.

  I stayed the winter at the camp in the apartment and loved being able to walk into town and to the harbour and beaches nearby. Growing up on a ranch and living mainly in small towns in Canada and Switzerland, the fit was perfect for me with this fishing village lifestyle.  It reminded me of living in Baja, Mexico, so the adjustment was easy for me.

  When I walked around the town and saw the friendliness of the  people and English was spoken in the stores and restaurants, I started to relax. Slowly, I integrated with the people living in the camp and although there were expats from many different European countries there, plus Brazil and China, the US, and my home country, English was the common language. Once I realised everyone was more or less here for the same reasons—retired or semi-retired and looking for a warmer climate and around the same age as me—I began to open up and make friends.

  I joined lots of classes, and through word of mouth, I heard about other activities and before I knew it, I was show dancing on Mondays, line dancing on Thursdays, tap dancing on Fridays, and swimming at the camp pool with fitness classes in between. I have found if you make the effort to meet people and are willing to try different things and have an open mind, you can make friends easily and life becomes much better.

  I do cherish my solitude though, and often meditate by the ocean, listening to the sound of the waves with the clear blue water lapping at my feet. My fears subside and my spirit soars and I marvel at the beauty that surrounds me.

“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Buddha

   I love the contrast here between the new and old Portuguese. You can find white, tall, modern, five-star hotels on one side of the street, and rolling green pastures with old ruins and a bearded Portuguese sheep herder tending to his bleating flock on the other—all in harmony with one another.

   Living in the Algarve inspires my creativity and imagination. Writing for most of my adult life, I studied Journalism and worked for a newspaper in my home country of Canada. I also freelanced for magazines and was involved in documentary films in Calgary. Working since I was a teenager, several careers, three businesses, two marriages, a child, and a difficult divorce,  plus travelling and living in four different countries, I never seemed to have the time to write a book. Since coming to the Algarve, I’ve gained inspiration around every corner.

   After a couple of difficult starts, in January 2020, I wrote my first draft, and the words began to flow. When Covid-19 took over our daily lives, it only triggered my passion.

   Now I focus my days around my art. I concentrate on my chores and fitness until the early afternoon. Most days at two o’clock, my creative molecules kick in. I write for about four hours, take a break, then either paint, write short stories or read related books. The day might end with a good movie at nine o’clock, a drink with friends, or I might burn the midnight oil revising my manuscript until late.

   Writing has become an integral part of my life now.  I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

And that book? I couldn’t be more proud, or relieved, to have it finished. Since its completion last August, I have written poems, essays, plays and short stories. And that sequel that I promised is in the first draft stages.

The biggest regret we’ll have in life is not so much failing, but taking risks and finding the courage to follow our dreams.”

Bem-vindo!

I’ll keep you posted!  Thank you for reading.

All That Matters Is Love


And when he told me he needed no one,
His life was his art, his passion, his life,
It kept him going,
It kept the dreams alive – it was enough.
Then I answered,
Who will make you ham and cheese sandwiches to go with your coffee?
Who will listen to your stories when you come home,
With flushed cheeks?
With crazy stories, warm moments in your day,
And listen with adoration and hope.
Who will bring you a whisky and lemon when you are sick?
Who will tuck you in,
With a kiss on your forehead,
And give a worried look as consolation?
Who will hold your hand,
As you breathe your last,
Knowing you were loved, and wanted,
And did not have to die alone,
As many of us will in the end.
The choices can be different, our paths the same,
In the end,
All that matters is love.
 
                              Madelyn June Jorgensen
 

Newspaper Article about my new book

I’m grateful but humbled by the great article in the Portuguese News, November 20th, 2021, about my book and the story behind writing it.

I think it gives an excellent outline of the plot and the struggles I had accomplishing the task of getting it written and finishing the book. If you have any problem reading it, you can find the newspaper online at ‘The Portugal News, 20 Nov 2021.’

Story submitted to CBC Short Story Contest, October 2021

OLD GUS

Gus didn’t know it yet, but how he drove a car and with whom was about to change – in ways he never expected.

“What a stupid idea!” Gus said.

Carol sighed, looked lovingly at her father, picked up her empty plates and put them in the dishwasher.

“Now dad,” she said sympathetically,  “she’s only trying to help.”

“I don’t need no instructor telling me how to drive!” Gus said, glaring at her as he bit into his toast that Saturday morning in March.

Smiling warmly, Carol sat down across from him, remembering their trip to Walmart three days earlier. Gus had insisted on driving his car as he had done many times before. She didn’t mind because she knew how much he loved being behind the wheel. On the drive there, she noticed that her father turned his head less, barely enough to see the corner of his left side mirror and couldn’t turn it at all to the right. The week before he could turn his head just enough to see his right mirror, even though she always made sure there was nothing there if he wanted to make a turn. His neck was now so stiff, he needed an extra Ibuprofen in the morning. On top of this, she had to tell him to slow down when he zipped past a 30 km. sign at a robust 38.

Once home, she made an appointment with his doctor for the next day.

“Dad, I can’t drive with you anymore, not after what Dr. Evan’s told us,” she said sympathetically, patting his hand as she passed him another cappuccino. “Your arthritis is so bad in your neck that you can’t turn your head to see the side mirrors. And you need to wear your new glasses when you drive,” she continued, searching his face.

“My eyes are fine,” he barked. “It’s not my fault that guy on the bike came out of nowhere when I was turning left. I did swerve enough to miss him.”

“And almost hit a stop sign,” Carol exclaimed, caught herself, and took a deep breath, “Dr. Evan’s suggested I phone a driving school. Sally, the instructor, sounded very pleasant. Maybe she can point out some driving tips that can help you,” she continued, relaxing her jaw and exhaling softly as she held his hand.

Gus grunted and slurped his coffee, fixing his gaze on a meadowlark fluttering on a branch outside.

‘A driving instructor!’

‘Heck, by the time I was fourteen, I was driving a tractor on my parents farm, hauling hay for the cattle and cleaning manure from the stalls; in those days everyone  was expected to help with the chores. .

By the time I was sixteen, I could drive a farm combine, three axle grain truck, and a Chevy truck with a stick shift. Back then we didn’t have to go on no road test.  We just went to the town hall and bought a driver’s license for a buck.

I owned the first Thunderbird that came off the assembly line, a shiny red four door beauty with a V8 engine that would leave my buddies eating dust.

I spent my Saturdays polishing the chrome on it until it shone like a silver dollar.

Then I’d race up and down main street looking for chicks. I never had a problem filling the seat beside me with a pretty blonde or perky redhead.

Boy, they knew how to drive back then, by gum. None of these fancy shmancy lights that look like a Christmas tree, or multi-laned highways with a slow lane and a fast lane – in my day all lanes were fast lanes; and we didn’t have to worry about the police because there was only one cop in our dusty town of 1510 people; he lived in the next county and spent most of his time breaking up bar brawls.’

‘A women driving instructor? Why, in my day woman stayed at home, had a family and took care of the house.’

‘I’ll show her a thing or two!’

What time is she coming?” he muttered, coming back to reality.

“Two o’clock dad, please give her a chance. Besides she is a professional driver,” Carol said, gently, squeezing his hand, then slowly releasing her grip as she leaned back studying his deeply creased eyes. The same eyes that had shone with pride on the day she got her driver’s license all those years ago. The same blue eyes that had a tear in the corner as he handed her the keys to her first car, a yellow VW beetle that sat in the driveway on her first day of college.

Gus curled his shoulders and dunked the corner of his toast into his half-eaten egg. He thought of that first day moving in with Carol and her husband, grateful to them for taking him in after his wife passed away and he didn’t have to go to Shady Tree Lodge down the road. Some spunk was left in him at eighty-six, and Gus hated the idea of giving up the one thing he was still able to enjoy.

“Don’t expect me to be nice to her!”  he growled, munched on his toast, crumbs falling like confetti on his shirt.

At 1:45 pm, gripping his walker and standing in front of the living room window, his eyes squinted at the dark bare surface on the driveway where his car was usually parked. For a second his blood pressure elevated slightly, then he sadly remembered that his son-in-law had put it in the garage yesterday after he had gone down for his afternoon nap. His ’76 maroon Chevy Imperial, along with his car keys, both mysteriously gone from his life.

Five minutes later a grey car with a student driver sign pulled into the driveway, and parked in the same spot.  A middle aged woman stepped out, walked briskly up the front steps and rang the bell.

The front door swung open so fast she jumped back and almost lost her footing. Gus stood there leaning on his walker, his brow wrinkled and his eyes narrowed, like a python stalking it’s prey.

“Are you the driving instructor?” he bellowed.

“Yes, my name is Sally.  You must be Gus, glad to meet you,” she said as she smiled and extended her hand.

“What do I need besides my license?” Gus asked gruffly. He held on to his walker with his left hand as his right hand gripped her fingers before it fell to his side.

“Just your glasses and a cheque. You’ll be fine.”

“Got it. Lets go!”

Gus had maneuvered through the door and down the driveway before Sally caught up to him. He swung open the back door, folded his walker, tossed it on the seat, and settled in the driver’s seat.

“Boy, you sure move fast for someone with a walker,” she said, laughing nervously as she got into the passenger side and put the key in the ignition.

Gus ignored her and started to turn the key.

“Haven’t you forgotten something?”

“No, what?” asked Gus, looking perplexed.

“Well, you first need to adjust your seat, put on your seat belt, and fix your mirrors before you start the car.”

Gus turned the corners of his mouth downwards, did as he was told and reached for the key.

“I believe your daughter said you had new glasses. Do you have them with you?”

Flashing her a glance from the corner of his eye, he groaned and put on the glasses,

“Now can we go?”

He started the car, put it in drive and lurched forward, stopping short of the garage door.

“Got a little excited,” he said sheepishly.

“That’s alright, no harm done,” said Sally, slowly lifting her foot off the brake pedal.

He put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway, swinging it around to the right.

Sally watched him put it in drive, keeping her left hand on her left knee, inches from the gears and steering wheel, with her right foot hovering over her brake.

She told him to drive straight ahead and at the next intersection make a right-hand turn.

“But I always go to the left into town,” Gus protested.

“ I just want to keep you on the side streets until you get used to the car and me sitting beside you,”

she said patiently.

“How long will that take?”

“As long as it takes,” she said kindly.

For the next half hour Gus drove around the residential area close to home, following directions with a sour disposition and a lead foot.

“WHY do I have to drive so slow?”

“The speed limit is maximum 50 km depending on the conditions. Some of the them are parked cars,  narrow roads, weather and playground zones, one of which you are driving through,” Sally answered.

“But there are no kids around,” he exclaimed, rolling his eyes.

“No, but you slow to 30 km when the playground zone is in effect. Do you know the times?”

“Heck no!” said Gus. “I just look for the kids, then slow down if I think they’re going to run out in front of me.”

“Well, you need to know the days and times. Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to one hour after sunset.”

“Do you know when your school zone is effect? She asked.”

“Ah, no,” he replied, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

Sally explained the times, and other rules of the road, all the while keeping an eagle eye on his driving.

After a couple more turns with one minor incident where Gus got a little too close to a parked car, they entered a busier residential street and came up to a red light.

Gus slammed on the brakes, lurched forward then back in his seat.

“ I’m not used to this car, by gum,” wiping his brow with his sleeve.

“Just press gently on the brakes and try not to stop over the pedestrian crosswalk.”

“Where’s THAT?” trying to crane his neck over the hood, knocking his glasses off at the same time. “ I always stop up close to the intersection so I can see the traffic better.”

“You’re supposed to stop further back to leave room for the pedestrians,” said Sally as she picked up his glasses and calmly gave them back to him.

“But there are no people around. Are you sure you know what you are doing?” he said, frowning.

“Yes, I do. Please watch the lights. They’re about to change to green.”

“I know that!”

When the light changed, Gus stepped hard on the pedal and sped through the intersection, barely stopping in time to avoid hitting the car in front of him.

 He could feel his brake go soft and looked down, puzzled.

“I stepped on mine to slow us down,” Sally said, never taking her eyes off the road and traffic.

“Ah,’ moaned Gus. ‘HE…RE we go again.”

An hour flew by and Gus finally pulled into his driveway.

“So, whadya think?” he asked, giving Sally a sour look from the corner of his eye.

“Well, you do need some work, but I think we can manage. Same time next week?”

Gus turned his head slightly, made a large circle with his mouth, “ You mean you’ll drive with me again?”

“Yes, I’ll take you driving for as long as you want Gus.”

Old Gus’s glasses began to steam up and he swallowed hard, glancing shyly at Sally. His eyes went soft and his thoughts drifted to the past, full of happy memories and fun times.

“I used to love driving my family to the cabin on the weekends. We’d all pile in our old Studebaker station wagon full of kids, dogs and my mother-in-law, stopping for ice cream along the way. For summer holidays we’d take road trips across the country in our motor home,” he said, his bottom lip quivering.

“I taught all three of my children how to drive. When the kids left home, my wife and I used to take Sunday drives together, stopping for dinner along the way; we never missed a Sunday. Those were the good days,” he said wistfully.

Sally smiled softly, “ I think I understand how hard it is to lose your independence. My husband has muscular dystrophy and he needs help with almost everything now. A caregiver comes in while I work, and some days can still be a challenge, but we manage. He never got used to someone doing everything for him. He’s my whole life.”

When they reached home, Gus pushed his walker through the door and gave his daughter a big hug. “Sorry for being such a grump,” he said, for the second time that day.  

Spring gives way to glorious summer. Tuesday morning, Gus was up early, ironed his best shirt, ate an early lunch and washed the dishes, all the while humming to himself.

After a quick nap, at 1:45 pm, he leaned on his walker at the top of the driveway, and with patient eyes he searched the quiet residential street for a familiar sight. His eyes lit up when he saw a grey sedan pull in with the sign on top.

“Hi Gus, how are you?” a soft voice said as he settled into the driver’s seat. “Which route do you want today, past the seniors center or down by the river?”

“Hi Sally, the river route please. Maybe we’ll see some geese or a meadowlark on the way,” Gus grinned, as he fastened his seat belt, adjusted his mirrors, gently turned on the ignition, and popped the gear into reverse, “Ok, Sally?”

“Yes, Gus, all clear. Gently release your brake and roll backwards.”

At the bottom of the driveway, Gus waited until a car went by, put it in drive and off they went, laughing and chatting away. They both knew the route so well they could do it blindfolded, well, almost – a few blocks in his neighborhood, a turn onto the road close to the river where he used to take his daughter fishing, a pleasant drive on the pebbled road, eyeing a meadowlark flutter over the hood. No traffic lights – a stop sign at an intersection- a pause for traffic to clear while Sally gave an extra check, nod her approval, gently stepping on the gas all the while smiling to himself.

As the first part of their journey ended, his favourite café was waiting, and a warm, frothy cappuccino. Then the joy of driving the same route home again. Gus had his two perks in one, his weekly thrill of sitting behind the wheel and going to his favourite cafe….well, maybe three- maybe the best of all – a chance to chat with a new friend.

‘Let’s go, Sally!’                  

                                                                        The end

Please be patient…I’m trying, I swear!

Because this is a new site, it’s taking me longer than I expected to set up my website. My host WordPress is helping me with guide videos, meeting seminars, etc., but it’s still complicated and time consuming. I just spent another long day learning how to set it up, and progress is being made.

I’m trying my very best, and will keep working diligently on getting my website looking enjoyable and informative as soon as I can.

I appreciate your patience,😁

Junebug🙃