Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Barcelona: Banks, the Beach, Beer, and a Brother

There were lots of interesting things in Barcelona.  But two stand out.  The first is our US bank will NOT bank in Spain.  Under any circumstances.  Even if you are stranded there without cash and three kids.  My suggestion, to anyone traveling, is to check with your bank before you go to see what school yard fights they may be involved in.  Trust me, it is a GIANT pain in the ass when you find yourself without access to credit cards or debit cards. 

Luckily for me, I have a father who doesn't seem to mind being woken up at 4 am, by his daughter begging for money. By lunch. 

The other was the elevator in the building we were staying in.  It was tiny, designed to hold 300kg and it bounced when you got in. It reminded me of the 'cage' elevator in an apartment building in San Francisco my brother lived in.  Equally small. Equally rickety. But the door to his elevator was a swirl of painted gold ironwork, much prettier.  It opened to his beautiful apartment in the heart of San Francisco. Perched on a hill, the apartment was airy and light with high ceilings and huge windows.

I was 19 when I went to visit him. He was only 21.  But had been living there a couple of years already.  As soon as he graduated from high school, he packed his bags and left.  Found a friend there and starting making his way. 

Unfortunately, his way included beer. A lot of it. And before he probably knew it, he had a huge problem.  He would fall asleep with a beer in his hand and wake up to have another.  His refrigerator was barren except for a few condiments.  We had a good week though. He took me everywhere.  The Sutro baths, the wharves, Alcatraz, the shop he worked at.  He worked in a toy store that sold a lot of very deluxe kites. He got really good at flying them and one way or another we all ended up with a kite or two.

He must have been good at this job because his boss asked him to open a store in Hawaii.  He packed and left San Francisco.  But he took his drinking problem with him.  Where it got worse. 

His life on Hawaii came to a screeching halt when he ended up with a traumatic brain injury after a drunken brawl.  Three weeks in the hospital and a parental escort back to the US mainland.   This time he not only brought his drinking problem but also seizures as a result of the TBI.  Life grew even more complicated.  He tried though.  Worked.  Bought a truck.  Lived in an apartment on his own.  Enrolled in a few classes. But he was sick.  Drinking, seizures, and now thyroid problems.  He tried to deal with all of those things but it's hard when you're unwell, have lousy insurance, and only accept help sporadically.   Then he had a major heart attack.  Followed by three more. 

The fourth was too much. He died while out walking. On a street he was familiar with and had walked many, many times. Only two blocks away from where he grew up.  His cup of tea still on the porch.

That is why on the beach in Barcelona, when a guy came through selling cervesas at 10 am, I talked to my two oldest kids about alcohol and drugs and all the damage that can happen. We went through their family tree. I laid things bare.  They listened.  I hope.

I took the elevator after that.  Still reminded me of Dan but maybe that's not such a bad thing.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded.


  1. Jen, I am so glad that your Dad was there for you guys!! I think the kids will heed your warnings, if for no other reason other than you ARE a very good mother and they have ALREADY experienced more great times and traveled more distance than most any 100 adults...collectively!! PLUS they are good kids to begin with. Love Pearl

  2. Have I told you lately that you are amazing? Cause you are. First, I have never heard of a bank that would not allow you to use their credit card in another country. How outrageous! Pray tell us what nefarious institution left you begging in Spain? I think I might have dissolved into a puddle at that moment of rejection.

    Second, I admire your honesty with your kids. This was not an easy story to live through or to share. When people you love are hurting and struggling and there is not a damn thing you can do to help make a change, it is very frustrating. I hope Dan knew he was loved. You are a good sister and your kids have a fantastic Mom. Each day a new challenge. Hang in there!! <3

  3. We love the person we hate the behavior and you definitely knew the difference and loved him very much. I believe your kids will learn from your story but also take away from it the good memories that you had with Dan. Life happens and some of us deal with it differently. Jen, your kids have two loving parents who are together this makes a world of difference in a childs life without a doubt you are on the right track bumps will happen but together Mom and Dad will be up for the challenge.
    I have fond memories of staying with you all and your Mom in Hartford :)


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