Arlene Lighthall: Off to Spain

WNLP editor’s note: Here’s another chapter from the memoirs of La Porte native Arlene (Ahlgrim) Lighthall. Arlene, who now lives in Del Mar, Calif., grew up in La Porte. Arlene graduated from La Porte High School in 1949 and earned degrees from Ball State and Indiana universities; she also studied in various European countries. This is about her first trip to Europe.

No machine guns nor bombs were found in our luggage in Montreal. The body scan revealed no machetes or dangerous ball point pens, so we were cleared to have our airline tickets validated. It was a routine process until a young man in front of us set off all the alarms.

Obviously caught, he looked around nervously. For an accomplice? We watched him take off his overcoat and hand it to the guard. The screeching bleeping did not abate. Off came a sport jacket. No silence. Beneath it was another sport jacket. The warning continued to howl. We guessed he’d have to strip when the guard escorted him to a nearby screen. One pair of pants dropped onto the floor beneath the screen. Another. Another. Another. We couldn’t watch any longer because we had to continue to another ticket checkpoint. Could the young man not afford a suitcase?

We were to board the plane in 10 minutes, just enough time to fidget nervously before my first trip to Europe. Would all four of us like living in Barcelona? Dick was antsy, too, and got up to discard his airline schedule.

“First see what our in-flight meals are,” I requested. He said they were listed with our tickets and he’d look. His ticket, oh yes, where was it? He felt his pockets, over and over; he looked in his chair. He peered under the seat. He asked me and the boys if we had it, so we stood up to check our seats and pockets. Just a few feet from where we were sitting was the last checkpoint where he’d shown it.

In a panic he rushed to the agent. Had she kept his ticket? Would she please make a public announcement to ask everyone in the waiting room to look around, to see if it would appear. No one responded, and now fewer than ten minutes remained. A little bell in my brain began to chime. I dashed across the waiting room to the older couple who had stood behind us in line. Would they please look at their tickets to see if they had an extra one. Voilá. There it was!

Once on the plane I forgot all about the meals during our four-hour delay for a radio repair.

After arriving at our fourth-floor apartment in Barcelona,
three of us were ready to flop, but Dick went out for basics: bread and detergent. Because we were in the center of the city, he figured he could find the items somewhere. But could he find us again afterwards? We were too tired to ask.

After his return and rest, we started the inspection. The narrow balcony was wide enough only for standing to look down upon small gardens belonging to first-level dwellers around the block. The apartment was clean and airy with pleasant furnishings in a living-dining area, kitchen, and two bedrooms. The use of marble was ubiquitous: floors, stairs, counters, and even walls. In the warm-to-very hot summer, we came to appreciate the cool stone under our bare feet, but the counters were another matter.

“Well, Mom, I finished my milk,” became bad news, for I knew that if I didn’t jump quickly someone would set down an empty glass with too much gusto on the marble counter top–a handful of crushed glass. The same for a coffee cup. The light touch we did not have, but we developed it as the replacement bills mounted. Getting milk was not a problem. We had learned that non-fat milk wasn’t available in Spain, so we took along two suitcases of powdered milk. Geoff was lactose intolerant, and we all accustomed ourselves to “blue milk.”

Summer light lingers long in this part of Europe. We were famished and sought a restaurant that opened before 10 p.m. An evening meal at 7:30? at 8:30? Ridiculous. No 24-hour Denny’s? Where were the Golden Arches? Luckily we came across a small bar with a varied menu. Geoff had ravioli; Dick, chicken; I, a local fish in a tomato-red pepper sauce. Sam was most disappointed with a tortilla, which he expected to be Mexican and was an omelette in Spanish.

With mental maps in mind and in lingering sunlight, we found our way home to discover the lights in the boys’ room were kaput. A call to the landlady, the elegant Sra. Solá, whose beautiful Spanish was constantly on fast forward, assured us that she would have them repaired.

Because I would have to attend classes at set hours, it seemed only logical that, as a family, we attempt to follow our home schedule. It wouldn’t be hard since we had a kitchen and no need to adopt the insane hours of our new country. Like recent immigrants to the U.S., we wanted to keep some of our old ways.

The next evening the boys were in bed at nine, even though the sun had not retired. Dick and I were quietly reading until alarmed by the doorbell at 10:15. Whoever it was got into the locked building and way up to our apartment. Why didn’t the porter at the entrance stop someone? Had he been mugged? We bravely opened the chained door to find a pleasant-faced, middle-aged man with a heavy head of black hair and a jet mustache to match. Most politely he introduced himself.

“Señor, Señora, I am Franco, the lampista. Sra. Solá wants me to repair the electric lights that do not function.” We gasped in unison: “Now? At this hour?” “But, of course.” With some effort he lifted a worn leather satchel of heavy tools to follow me to the bedroom. We woke the boys and put them into our bed, but they wouldn’t settle down because of the excitement of our first visitor. By the time Franco finished his rather complicated task, it was nearly the same bedtime hour as the night before.

This incident marked the beginning of the end of our resolution. Timing in Spain would require a serious attitude adjustment.

2 Responses to “Arlene Lighthall: Off to Spain”

  1. Kathy

    Oct 01. 2021

    Thank you for sharing these memories, I love reading them.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Sam

    Oct 02. 2021

    Dear Arlene,
    What an extraordinary life you have led. I so enjoy reading about your journeys-please keep them coming. Thank you for sharing!!

    Reply to this comment

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