We sold out.
We sold the house, we sold the cars, we stored the furniture and we packed the cats off to a friendly cousin.
We moved to Spain. No, we have no "post" here, and we have no jobs. It's just the three of us, Carol, Bob and 7-month-old Cary.
Altea is a long way from Arlington. Miniature cars compete with swarms of motorcycles for the road, disposable diapers are called Dodotis, and the hot water is irregular. Laundromats apparently do not exist; we had to pay $15 to get our wash done once. Still, Spain seems to be a modern and energetic country, one which is gradually emerging from the shadow of the Franco years.
We are glad we came. It was somthing we had to do because it was time to leave Washington. Our son had everything to do with why we came. His birth reminded us how quickly time passes, how responsibilities can multiply exponentially. There is still so much we want and need to do.
Cary's birth also precipitated a financial crisis of sorts. We simply could not afford to live in Arlington any longer. After Carol quit her job with the Treasury Department, our savings just seemed to slip away. But we knew we would all be happier if she didn't return to work. Happier, but poorer.
So we've done it. Thrown it all over to live a little closer to the edge.
We sold the house because we didn't intend to return to it and, if we rented it, the profits from any subsequent sale would be subject to capital gains tax. Instead, we will pay the tax in a year when we have very little income. The interest we are earning on the profit is being deposited in an international bank account and sent to us here. With the sale of our cars and our small savings, that constitutes the entire financial underpinning of our adventure.
Total estimated cost for one year: $9,000. That breaks down to $6,000 for living expenses, with the balance dedicated to small trips.
Living here is not cheap. Spain's inflation rate is worse than our own and continues to rise. Clothes cost more than at home and eating in restaurants (Michelin one-forks) only slightly less.
It is the way we are living here that makes the difference. We don't have a car (gas is $2.60 a gallon); we are not buying clothes; there is no need to buy anything for our furnished apartment (two bedrooms, $275 a month), and our costs for medical insurance are almost nothing.
It is possible to live within our budget. The average annual income in Spain in 1977 was around $3,000, according to U.S. government figures.
In the suburban communities of Washington, dual-income families earn well over $20,000 a year and still feel the pinch. That kind of money makes for all sorts of subtle peer-group pressure: the neighbor's new car, the ads for spring clothes, the Sunday sales at Hechinger's. The message is always spend, spend, spend.
In Spain hardly anything is open on Sunday. Most stores close from 2 to 4 in the afternoon for lunch. When shopping for basic necessities we must go to a different store for each item, to the carneceria for meat and cheese, the panaderia for bread, the dropgueria for soap and shampoo. In each shop we ask for what we want, which makes for little impulse buying. (And, of course, we have no credit cards.)
Before we left, several of our friends admitted feeling envious of us and our proposed trip. It sounded so exotic, so romantic and so far away. It is far away, but life here is not always that glamorous or thrilling. We still have to do most of the chores we did at home, and with fewer conveniences.
We wash our clothes daily in a special sink with a heavy soap and hang them to dry on the roof. We have no rugs or vacuum cleaners, so we sweep and mop the floors every day.
It is constant, physically-demanding work just taking care of this family's basic needs, but there is something particularly gratifying in each day's accomplishments. Perhaps it will be the little things that will leave the lasting impressions on us.
To find our home, we went to the Spaniards. We knocked on doors and talked to little old women dressed in black and men with berets and cigarettes. tIn an afternoon, we were able to find the kind of arrangement we wanted, and at a price cheaper than many of the rates we had been quoted.
It has been gratifying to discover that the Spaniards seem to truley love children. When Bob hauls Cary around in the backpack (most Spaniards carry their very small children in their arms), heads turn and voices exclaim.
He has been a good-luck charm, something that sets us apart from the hordes of older and well-to-do northern Europeans who flock to the villas at this time of year. He has been our entree to the Spanish people; they approach us in the streets and stores to admire him.
We must eventually come home. But home will not be Washington, in spite of the years we have spent there. We both graduated from area high schools; we have both worked for the federal government, Bob as a technical writer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The years, the friends, the jobs are not enough. The people move in, the people move out. The cost of living, at last glance, was just about the highest in the nation. Home prices seem to go up daily.
We will not return to the Washington suburbs and the cul-de-sac of the dual-income life style. The luxury of spending our days together here as a complete family is becoming something we hope not to have to do without again.
We will have to live less expensively. With luck, we will be able to find part-time jobs and a place to live in a small community. We want a town with a main street and a couple of movie theaters. We want our children to be able to say with pride and a sense of tradition that they hail from a specific area. t
There are few Americans here, and American concerns are seldom discussed. We still wait for news of the hostages in Iran; election news filters through the foreign press; economic news worsens. There is something refreshing, however, in escaping the constant assault of information to which we are subjected at home.
For Walter Cronkite, we substitute the idle evening drone of kids, dogs and cars in the street of our small neighborhood. We occasionally buy the International Herald Tribune.
But we are beginning to feel that slight hunger for things American, and that's good.
Meanwhile, it is a delight to wake up to the bright blue sky over a bluer Mediterranean, to eat breakfast croissants baked only hours before, and to leisurely compose the day's shopping list.
We've done it. Close to the edge of living, the days glide by like sea birds, one at a time.