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