It’s rapidly nearing the five year mark since Jeff and I stepped off that airplane. First, to a rioting crowd in the Madrid airport due to bad weather and cancelled flights. Then, on to Valencia on a cold and stormy night, just seven hours late. It’s hard for me to believe so much time has gone by. And that we have lived through all we have. The ups and downs. But here we are.
I See You
If I have learned anything from moving to another country, its that there is one thing that makes all the difference. Feeling seen. And I am not alone in this.
We take being seen for granted where we live in our home country. And the power that has on us. We are seen in our jobs. In the school community that surrounds our children. In our local neighborhood. All of this lets us know that we matter. But, even in our home country, progressively over time, our seen-ness begins to fade. Our children get their own lives. We retire and rarely see those with whom we once spent 10-12 hours of our waking day. Our world and our seen-ness begins to shrink.
You wouldn’t think we would feel this in our early 50’s, but moving to Spain accelerated that for us. Suddenly, we dropped into a place where our presence was noted purely as a curiosity. But, not a requirement. And there were days we struggled to understand why this was so hard.
Sure, over time, we learned to get the things we needed to set up house. And how to perform the required administrivia to function in Spanish society. But, there was something always missing. And, it finally dawned on us.
Finding friends was a top priority. Meeting people with who you can find a common purpose or common interest. But it was the day to day interactions, the small stuff, that made all the difference. Especially to Jeff.
We tended to frequent the same places. Not because they were the finest establishments. But because they were close. And within our small zone of comfort. Some proprietors embraced us. Usually, those who were immigrants themselves. But it took awhile to be embraced by our Valencian neighbors. And, then, one day a waiter asked us if we wanted our usual. And this was the day everything changed for Jeff. As we walked home after dinner that night he threw his arm around my shoulders and smiled.
‘Did you see that? They know us now.’
We had proof that we were seen in our adopted country. It sounds small, but small things matter when you uproot your entire life and move to another country. And are linguistically challenged.
Small Things Are Everything
I read recently that a study found people who have pets, especially dogs, live significantly longer than those who do not. Especially the elderly, and I believe it. You are constantly moving when you have a dog. Feeding them. Throwing a ball. Letting them in and out. Going for walks. Though not the first to do so, Winston Churchill used to refer to being stalked by the black dog for his depressive episodes. But our Fergus is black and this little dog’s impact on Jeff’s and my serotonin levels has had the exact opposite effect. Dogs see us as no other animal does. There is a reason they call them man’s best friend.
My grandmother had dogs the entire time I knew her and she died at age 97. A dog was always in her lap. The only time she was ever without a dog was the final year of her life in a care facility for dementia, and she couldn’t bring her dog, Mandy. Mandy saw my grandmother when she became just an invisible old woman to the rest of the world. But, I would posit that the healing power of dogs isn’t just relegated to the elderly.
When Emilie first came into our home through the Foster care system at four years old, she was terrified of men. And with the abuse she suffered it is no wonder. Jeff could give her food or drive her in a car, but he couldn’t pick her up or even hold her hand to keep her from running into the street. If he did she would wail like a wounded animal. Or freeze and completely check out. Disassociate. Like she wasn’t even there. So we worked closely with her trauma therapist to develop strategies to help her overcome some of these imbedded fears and anxieties. I have pictures of very shy Jeff, asleep in a chair in our living room with his face covered in make-up applied by Emilie. All this as she was smiling while putting pony tails and barrettes all over his head. And glitter. He grew his hair out just so she could do this. Positive touch is what they called it. On her terms. But none of that would have happened with out our wonderful Golden Retriever, Mr Perkins.
Emilie was under-weight and under-height when she came to us. At 4 1/2 she wore toddler size 3 clothes. Her feet were the size Nick wore at age two. So she stood nose to nose with Perkins. One day, we were standing in the kitchen when curious, gentle Perkins came right up to Emilie and gave a little bark – tail wagging. At three years old he just wanted to play with her, but Emilie was terrified. She climbed Jeff like a tree in seconds. He held her above the dog and held his breath as she looked down.
‘That dogs a-woofin.’ She said in her funny way of speaking back then.
But from then on Emilie had two new protectors. Jeff and Perkins. She loved to be swung high in the air, but when Jeff would oblige her Perkins would go crazy barking until his little pup was safely back on solid ground. Perkins followed her around for a few years, until she grew bigger. Desperately protecting her from danger. I had forgotten about all that, until the other day Fergus was on the front porch barking at a passing car. Jeff laughed. ‘That dogs a-woofin.’ An Emilie phrase we will never forget.
Fergus and I had to walk into Melide last week. I needed to meet with our contractor about permissions from the Patrimonio, turismo, and the Concello – more on that later. And I needed to meet with our gestoria to straighten out my social security spaghettini mess.
We walked a well worn path we have walked many times. Pilgrims walked with us. And, we saw all our little old men, in flat caps and black berets, with mandatory sticks walking their dogs. I have seen these men in prior years, but since we have Fergus I stop and the dogs sniff each other. Usually, I am walking into town and they are walking the other direction. At the very least I get a chin nod. For those who have seen me and Fergus multiple times I get a bon dia.
Sometimes we see Modesto and his dog. Modesto, if you remember, would come by each afternoon last summer for free white wine at the food truck. And, to dispense sage business advice. Recently, he stopped to chat with Jeff as he was constructing our temporary dog fence. And he asked when we were opening up again. When Jeff told him the Concello has denied our license and we are appealing, Modesto was more than a little disconcerted.
‘Where will I get my free wine?’
Which gave Jeff a chuckle.
Fergus and I walked over the newly refurbished Roman bridge to Feruelos. They took the opportunity during the pandemic to save it from the hand of time. Now, its a smooth stone path where ancient boulders and mud used to make the bridge decking a hazard on the best of days. The new bollards make it hard for Jeff to get his trike past when he rides into town. But walking over this bridge is a joy now.
Then, we made our way up the hill towards Diego’s office. On the way I met a man with his dog. We have seen each other before. Then, Fergus attracted the attention of two gentlemen, one of whom it turns out lived in Miami and Portland, Maine in the US for more than 30 years. He is back living in Melide.
‘I am sure I will see you again.’ He assured me. I know he is right about that.
An hour later, after I was done with all my business in town, which included Fergus being made over like the celebrity the he is by everyone in our gestoria, Jeff drove into town to meet up with us. Fergus was asleep at my feet in the cafe. Walking all the way back home with him was not in the cards. We drove to the grocery store to get something for lunch, leaving Fergus to sleep on his bed in the backseat. As we walked the aisles of the grocery store we saw an older gentleman who nodded our way. Then, at the checkout the man in front of us gave me the Galician chin nod.
Jeff looked confused. ‘Who’s that guy? He gave you the chin nod.’
‘Of course. These are my dog walking guys. Fergus and I see them all the time. They know me.’
The Fountain of Youth
After all that, I’m pretty sure the study about the link between have a dog and longevity is spot on. Fergus gets us up every morning, greeting us with unbridled enthusiasm. Thrilled we are with him for another day. And we feel the same. Because he sees us. And because of Fergus we are seen and recognized by strangers in our community. With him we are constantly on the go, and he deserves only our very best. Jeff assembled his new dog house in the pristinely clean chicken coop.😉 But not before I gave it a little Fergus flair. After all, we need to protect our wiggly fountain of youth. Because, according to science, this little being will see to it that we live a long and happy life. Together.
10 thoughts on “A Long And Happy Life”
Oh I know how you feel. Sometimes Jay and Info what did we do this…it’s always days when you feel you aren’t seen. We are fortunate we have a very close family in Madrid that have become a huge part of.
I remember how I felt when the waiter at our favorite cafe knew how I like my burger cooked! And they give us credit that we try to do some speaking in Spanish.
It’s a huge undertaking to uproot and love to a foreign country with a foreign language. And it being Spain, everything is more difficult, more paperwork and more challenges. We are fortunate our family members fight for us all the time with the different agencies. One day they weren’t going to give us out Padron because the guy didn’t like my husbands last name! It wasn’t Spanish. Our daughter in laws dad challenged him and said you can’t do that they own this property and have proved that!
It’s always something. And it’s always expected lots of paperwork, lots of rubber stamping, lots of what ever they feel like at the moment! Americans don’t know how easy they have it!
I am so sorry to hear you were denied your permit. Fight like hell!! That’s what a Spaniard would do!
I love reading your blog..
BTW..did you get rid of the ghost yet?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Our ghost 👻 is still here. I think it may be because we are changing so much. Remodeling, etc. He/She isn’t thrilled. But we have to wait until our priest friend returns to Santiago after March 6th. They will come perform the blessing then. Until then we are trying to roll with the weird sounds and strange animal behaviors. I’m traveling to Valencia soon, so Jeff will have to handle it on his own for a bit.😳
Garlic🤣🤣🤣🤣I don’t know if your neighborhood is mystic, but my neck of the woods in Arnoia is pretty “witch” challenged. Lots of black cats, an old alter in the woods and so on.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You know – I haven’t asked. But Galicia has a real history of witches. Yew trees in old graveyards. Talismans. And other stuff. I’ll have to make some discreet enquiries. 😉
I’m sorry you two are having to deal with the bullshit of the denial. Sheez. I’m sure it will get sorted out; fingers crossed.
Feeling invisible…I took my daughter to Guatemala in her junior year in high school. I’ve been there a few times and told her if she studied Spanish I would do that. My previous visits were before kids, before hubby. So we are walking down the street, I see a guy and think ‘ooo, he’s cute. He’s someone I would have wanted to meet in my prior life’. And then he smiles! Oh…he was smiling at my daughter 😝. Definitely not her mom in her late 50s! And it’s gone downhill since then as I’m 67.
I was telling my hubby, after reading your post, this is another reason we need to take one of the dogs to France. Two are going to live with our daughter – maybe till we’re settled, maybe longer term. With a dog we are seen, it always opens a door to chat with people, and a dog always breaks down barriers. Like with Emilie 💕
LikeLiked by 1 person
A dog in France 🇫🇷 will be ticket to everything!!
I didn’t know that your license had been refused. Is this to do with the cafe in the town? I hope you get it sorted.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The cafe in the village up the road. But we are appealing.
I hope it’s successful. How petty!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think this must be teaching me something. But I am at a loss as to what. Patience? I have to wear my mouth guard at night as I am grinding my teeth 🦷😳