Monday, March 7, 2011


A couple of years ago I ran across a term that was new to me - a Portuguese word saudade. It's one of those "impossible to translate" words that doesn't have a clear or easy definition in English. It's close to nostalgia or melancholy, both of which have Portuguese equivalents, but there's another aspect to it that makes it uniquely Portuguese (though a few other languages have similar expressions). Of the many attempts at definitions on the wikipedia page, the one I like best is "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist." Emphasis added - it's that last bit that I like best - the feeling of longing for something that no longer exists and yet could not exist, or maybe never really existed.

I've felt saudade several times over the past couple of years - most often in the summers on family vacations that bring up old memories and old echoes of family history. I feel it when I think of my tenuous connection to my Portuguese heritage, and how ever more fragile it is for my children. And I feel it when I think of the loosening connections to the eastern shore, and my mother's family and my old friends.

A couple of weeks ago for some reason I was thinking of how much we document of our modern lives. The blogs, the videos, the 10,000 photos on my computer. But the past is all just memories. If I close my eyes, I can remember the cadence of both my paternal grandparents' accented English. I have a vague feeling that I remember a little of my maternal grandmother's, but almost no memory of what my maternal grandfather sounded like - it's moved just beyond my memory. I do still hear the voice of my mother's sister in my head. Oh, honey, is what I always remember her saying.

A few years ago my parents sent me a self published memoir/recipe book written by a woman who knew my paternal, Portuguese grandparents when they lived in Brunswick, Georgia. My grandfather, who immigrated by himself at age 16 to this country, was a pillar of the Portuguese community there. He welcomed new immigrants, help run the social structure of the community, and it was he who raised the money and traveled to Portugal to bring back the statue of Our Lady of Fatima which is still used for the Blessing of the Fleet on Mother's Day.

My grandfather is the man on the far left in the front. We went to the Blessing of the Fleet once, when I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents were still alive and I don't actually remember much. It was hot. There was a lot of Portuguese spoken, which my brother, mother and I did not understand. It was just a little boring for me and my brother. My grandparents, who followed the shrimp and left Brunswick for Key West in the 1950s, were very proud to be there, and very popular among their old friends.

I believe there is a small plaque in the church that talks about how Our Lady was brought to the US. I believe it may mention my grandfather, but I'm not sure. I think maybe someday I'd like to at least stop by on some family trip, with Elizabeth and Andrew in tow. They will be bored. I will sit in the cool, dark church and light a candle for Our Lady and feel just a little saudade.

The From Left to Write Book Club consists of over 100 bloggers who read books and then write posts inspired by the book (not a review of the book). This month's post was inspired by Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, by Natasha Solomons, a lovely book that was entirely about saudade. As a member of the book club, I was given a free copy of the book, and, because I quickly and eagerly accept free items and was one of the first 20 bloggers to sign up for the book, also a package of Walkers Shortbread. Thank you, publishers. I usually pass along these books to someone else, but I think I'd like to hold onto this one for a little bit. You can borrow it. Or visit your local library or Amazon or better yet a small, quaint local bookshop in the countryside and you won't be disappointed.

Tell me, when do you feel saudade?


Moms Who Click said...

what a wonderful post. I love that word, "Saudade", I'll have to add that to my collection of unique words.

Jen said...

Love! Good post, and good memories. :)

Elaine said...

I spent about a year of my life connected to a tape recorder. My favorite is a gem from my grandfather singing "In heaven there is no beer. That's why we drink it here. And when we're gone from here. Our friends will be drinking all our beer." I hope I never forget that memory.

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

Sometimes I feel the same way about making sure my children know as much as their Vietnamese heritage (mine) as much as possible. We live far away from my family and my husband isn't Vietnamese. I just do my best, I guess.

Emily said...

I love your post and I love Saudade!

I was too young to remember my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandfather died when I was seven. I did have my mom's mother for a long time though.

I am third generation American on all sides. I am Polish, Russian and Italian, but have only been to Italy. My husband is Russian and Hungarian, which would make our son mostly Russian! I've got nothing really to tell him about his heritage and it's sad.

Thrift Store Mama said...

Beautiful post Susan. I'm going to think about saudade.

Unknown said...

Beautifully written post. Is there something about Portuguese culture that creates this feeling of saudade?

Ryaanne said...

Absolutely beautiful post. I learned so much about you and your life. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I love saudade and will probably write a post about it soon.

Laurie said...

Thank you for sharing this Susan. It's lovely. I was very close to my paternal grandparents. Scott and I moved to Georgia to be with them as they were getting older. I cherish that time there. We spent a day with them telling stories that I recorded. I'm so happy for that tape.

Mom said...

I just got to read this and having lived in Brasil I know the word saudade, it is also like the equivalent of being homesick, missing an era that is over, missing a person thta is no longer around or not close in distance. I have saudades of my life in Brazil with my parents, and siblings. Those 3 years in Sao Paulo were the happiest of our lifes. Just last year my parents and 2 sisters were here and we were listening to some brazilian songs that were playing on those years and we got very sentimental and bawled over the songs that reminded us of happy times. We have saudades do Brasil.