Within a matter of ten days from leaving the family on the farm with remodeled kitchen, I was back in Spain, working my “executive” life, focusing on business growth in the US and following up on the restructuring of both the Swiss and the Dutch companies. Frequent calls were reassuring me that all was well. Patrick II and Terence had begun schooling at the local public school after their earlier school-years in France and then Spain. The US school system was a real shock for them. Let’s let Patrick II & Terence give you their impressions.
From Patrick II
“School in Williamsburg provided a significant contrast to what I was accustomed in Spain. The small school we attended in Cabrera de Mar consisted of two classrooms; one for the boys and one for the girls; in both instances for grades 1-8. School started at 9am and went through noon with a 3 hr time for “siesta”. The school-day finished from 3pm to 5pm. The atmosphere was relaxed, the students were mostly keen on learning their lessons and there was a tremendous amount of respect for the “Maestro”. Although “Sr Miguel” brooked no nonsense in his classroom – with the occasional raps on the head with the blackboard pointer doled out to the dawdlers; nonetheless he received a standing ovation from the students on the first day of class.
“Of course the greatest challenge in Spain was learning a whole new language in short order, as well as a whole new culture, but young children are very adaptable and 6 weeks into the school year we were more or less fluent. It was an unusual, but very old-fashioned approach to teaching. Juggling three different lesson plans to a class of 35 students must have been challenging. Of special note was the fact that he was able to discern who the special students were and always made a point of tailoring his lesson plans to the needs of the children. In some cases working with students whose faculties were simply not up to the rigors he imposed on the majority of the class, and in other cases working with kids who had mastered their lessons in short order and needed greater stimulation. I seem to recall that he spent time teaching one eager 2nd grader the fine points of trigonometry.
“Seventh grade is arguably a difficult time for most people and when you add the challenges of a different culture to the uncertainties and insecurities of puberty; that can make for a rather cranky teenager. I can only hope that my parents have since forgiven my sullen moods during that time.
Berkeley Elementary was quite a change of pace from the two-room schoolhouse in Spain. In my mind, no expense had been spared – a dedicated gymnasium, a library with thousands of books and dozens of computers, a full cafeteria with a kitchen (serving industrial food), a large music room, a cavernous art studio stocked with supplies, offices, dozens of buses, lockers, a clinic with a full-time nurse, a program for everything and everyone, a dedicated cleaning staff, a landscape department, fire drills, procedures, standardized tests and on and on. And everyone even used the same textbooks!
After the novelty wore off, it became apparent that the outcome had more to do with who was sitting in front of the classroom than anything else. The old maestro may have had to deal with forty kids in eight grades but I suspect I learned more from that man than from any single teacher at Berkeley. He more than made up for the lack of a curriculum with his years of experience and general wisdom. There were some good teachers at Berkeley, too, and most were better than Rosa, the other teacher from Spain.
In October, the first container had arrived with our furnishings and belongings from the house in Spain. We had even managed to get a formal approval from the State ABC to bring in the content of our extensive Spanish wine cellar. We looked around for a wine cellar where we could store our precious Rioja bottles and found out that in the eighties, wine cellars, or even cellars for that matter, were not terribly widespread in Virginia. There was more furniture than what the little house could hold, so we stored some well packed items in one of the barns.
The second container of the furniture from the house outside Geneva had also arrived after having been kept in storage for almost three years. When calling the freight forwarding agent, I was advised to sit down and learn the fate of what had happened. The instructions had been misread and the container that we had purchased and was to have been kept sealed until arrival at the farm had been opened on the docks in Norfolk and unloaded on the spot with all these cherished possessions left in the rain until hastily repacked in another container.
The unloading took place in one of the large sheds on the farm with rather sad faces. Many items had been damaged by the rain. Some of the boxes of books were dripping water and had only one possible destiny: the dump. I am a book worm who had a large collection of books and seeing all the results of that mindless negligence was infuriating, not to speak of the wet oriental rugs and scratches on antique furniture.
The relatively large stock of wine bottles from the cellar we had kept near Geneva had been considerably reduced. All the cases of First Growth Bordeaux had vanished. Still, some of the old private reserve Burgundies had survived. To this day (May ’12) I still have some in my cellar.
Plans were set to invite Peggy’s mother, sister, brother and his wife to come and join us for a Xmas celebration on the farm. Xmas over the previous ten years had been celebrated in Europe, several times with my family. A new oil furnace heating system had been installed with ducts running underneath the house in the crawl space to distribute the heat on the main floor. We thought of the weather in Virginia as being relatively mild. So the upstairs which had couple of vents from the downstairs room would be a bit chilly but relatively comfortable.
I flew in from NYC on December 23 just in time to greet the arriving family. The interior of the house was decorated and we had all the food and wines we needed to provide for a memorable Xmas. In European tradition, we had our meal on the evening of the 24th. That was when the weather began to turn chilly, then outright cold, and soon, bitter cold. The outdoor thermometer indicated eighteen degrees Fahrenheit with the wind blowing from North-West. The oil furnace was pumping warmer air non-stop. The old house was creaking and was allowing the warmth to seep out from multiple spots. Still, by candlelight and with traditional Xmas music the mood was happy.
Then on the morning of the 25th, we were looking at the snow outside and wondering how long that cold weather might last. It was picture perfect for the holiday. Then the heat stopped running…… We checked everything and realized that the furnace had gobbled up the entire content of the oil tank. Finding furnace oil on a Sunday, December 25th was hopeless. I called a local hotel and sent the family packing to the comfort of a nicely heated space. Peggy and I opened the cots and the sleeping bags and stretched out in the kitchen with a moderate amount of heat from the electric oven, took in the dogs and fell asleep bundled up in a room where the temperature had fallen to around 40 degrees.
The next morning, we woke up and checked the other rooms. It was well below freezing in the living room. With the cold around twenty degrees, the poinsettias had simply collapsed. We spent the balance of the time with the family between their hotel and the farm. They were good sports and never, at least that I know, raised any serious question on our sanity.
For the New Year, we were just the four of us, Peggy, Patrick II, Terence and myself, we had stocked on furnace oil, the weather had warmed some, we cracked a bottle of bubbly and had schnitzels of venison hunted on the farm, cleaned and dressed by the wood-cutters. We were grateful at our good fortune in spite of all the hurdles. Peggy had been absolutely marvelous at coordinating all the work that was being done and keeping track of all the various issues that needed attention. A radical change, indeed, it had been. But, there were bright prospects, we thought, and cheerfully discussed those around the table, looking forward to 1984.
That was the end of the first year of the new settlement. It was a starting point.
(To be continued)
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Patrick G. Duffeler
Founder & CEO