A moving letter from Porto — How experience gifts change the way we see the world

As this letter testifies, it’s never too late for new experiences. After a gift from their granddaughter, an elderly US couple visit Portugal for the first time and their lives are seemingly changed.

Dear Katie,

Sending you big hugs from Northern Portugal.

I’m sorry it took me so long to write to you and to thank you for that wonderful Tinggly gift box you gave us. But, your Grandpa and I are like kids in a candy shop and we really haven’t had a free minute since we arrived.

To be honest, Katie, I’m also so switched off I don’t know where the time is going. Just strolling the streets of Porto, dipping into little restaurants and back-street cafes, discovering beautiful old churches and monasteries, sitting by the river in the evening sunshine, listening to the street musicians play, and just living life as it was meant to be.

Oh my, Katie. We’ve both fallen completely in love with this country, its people, its food, and the wine. As you might have guessed, the wine bars are your Grandpa’s particular candy shops. Every time he tries a new one I have to remind him what Dr. Neumann said about drinking, but you know your Grandpa, “Do you see Dr. Neumann anywhere here?” he says.

I think the locals have really taken a shine to him also. It seems the Portuguese people love to laugh just as much as your Grandpa. It’s funny, I think his laughter was the one thing that really made me fall in love with him all those years ago. It was kind of infectious, as soon as Saul started laughing the whole world seemed to join in.

You know Katie, I missed that laughter over the last several years. There were times when I was sure that I would never hear him laugh again. There were times when I cried and times when I prayed to hear that jolly man’s laughter, even if only one more time.

But someone was watching over us, Katie. I’m so thankful every day that Saul is still here by my side and laughing out loud with me and with strangers. My Saul is back with me.

First, let me say the biggest thank you that I can muster.

It was you who has helped to put that laughter back where it belongs. Sure, the doctor’s did their bit, the physical stuff, but it was your gift which gave him a new goal, and the realization that — as he now likes to say over and over to anyone who’ll listen — “It’s not over ’til the fat lady sings, and I don’t hear no fat lady singing”. You helped to bring my Saul back to me.

At first, when you gave us that gift box, Saul was so negative. He didn’t want to travel, he didn’t want to get into an airplane again. He didn’t want to go to Europe. He didn’t want to go anywhere, and he didn’t want to meet a ‘bunch of foreigners who don’t even speak English’.

But Katie, I wish you could see him now. I’m writing this at a table on the outdoor terrace of our beautiful little hotel overlooking the Douro River, he’s busy slapping the backs of his new friends, Jose and Manuel, as they try to communicate in some kind of common language (I think wine is the language they share).

I don’t know where he found them, but if you could see them together, you would think they’ve been the best of friends all their lives. You know, last night over dinner, he even said that he could live here forever. Can you imagine that, your Grandpa? As for me, if your Grandpa is happy and healthy, I’m happy too, no matter where that might be.

We could have chosen so many things to do from your incredible gift, we even thought about taking a helicopter ride over the city, but you know me, I don’t have a head for heights. In the end, we decided on a wine tour along the Douro River.

It was amazing. We traveled from Porto by bus and followed the river into the countryside. The mountains on either side of the river were so beautiful and were covered by vineyards and lavender fields growing in terraces on the hillsides.

The winding Douro River — Photo by Brendan Harding

Every little village we passed looked like the perfect place to happily retire. We stopped in so many wineries and tasted so many different wines, your Grandpa was hanging on the guide’s every word. Did you know that this is where Port Wine comes from? Ask your Grandpa to tell you about it when you see him next time (if he ever comes back).

We stopped for a delicious lunch in a tiny hotel with a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the river. It was like a little piece of heaven under the bluest sky you’ve ever seen. Your Grandpa held my hand across the table. I think I even blushed.

Dear Katie, I can never thank you enough for the gift. Such a grandaughter you are.

It was more than a trip overseas. It was more than meeting new people and tasting new tastes. It was even more than all those beautiful places we visited. It was like we were living life all over again. The years had disappeared and everything was so… wonderful.

Thank you, my dear Katie. Yours was the most thoughtful gift we’ve ever received. We have so many stories to tell and so many new memories.

It’s funny, at our age people say that we should live off the memories we created when we were young. They’re wrong, so wrong! It’s never too late to start making new memories.

I’m sorry dear, but I should go. I can see that Jose and Manuel are getting ready to leave. Like little boys, joking and laughing and hugging, so I’ll finish my letter for now.

With all of our love and so many thanks. We love you dearly.

Grandpa and Grandma.