A Visit to Fatima, Portugal
By K.S. Mueller
Part of our gig in the student travel industry is to organize, and often attend, the annual “Yuletide in (pick a city)” International Teacher Convention which is a perk offered to some of our employees, as long as we don’t mind taking a week away from our families between Christmas and New Year’s. Since I don’t have any kids, and my mother was in relatively good health for many years, I would attend the Yuletide Convention every holiday season for many years. Traveling in December takes a bit of getting used to. The days, particularly in places like England and Germany, are very short in the winter. The weather is gloomy. Stores and museums are closed. Pair that with jet-lag and the holiday rush and you have a decent recipe for seasonal depression. Nevertheless, both prior to and after each convention, I would summon the courage to extend my trip and do some personal sightseeing.
The year I turned 40, I sadly realized I was probably not going to have any kids. To fill the void, I decided I needed another dog. Hobie came into my life in May of 2000. At just five months old at the time, I dubbed him Millennium Dog, since he was born in January. I fell instantly and hopelessly in love with this dog – he was the child I never had.
Begrudgingly, I still booked my annual Yuletide trip at the end of 2000, and left my two dogs, Timba who was 17 at the time, and the newly-crowned leader of our pack, Hobie, at home with a friend who was nice enough to house and pet-sit. I left for Lisbon, Portugal on December 22, 2000, and quickly discovered that I, not my dogs, suffered from separation anxiety! It was gonna be a long, lonely fourteen days.
The advent of the digital camera was upon us, and I had taken a moment to take one shot of Hobie as he snoozed on the bedroom floor before I whisked off to Logan Airport, knowing nary a word of Portuguese and basically nothing about the history of Portugal. During the trip, I would consult that photo of Hobie too many times, to soothe my ever-growing heartache.
Our post-convention travels took us to two places that stand out in my mind. The first is Obidos, a very small town halfway down the west coast of Portugal, and very reminiscent of the Cape Cod National Seashore. The entire time leading up to our visit to Obidos, my friend and I kept repeating “Obidos!” because it sounded like “Hobie Dobe!” my nickname for Hobie.
The second memorable city was the very famous spiritual destination of Fatima. Imagine, visiting Fatima just two days after Christmas. It was incredible. We witnessed dozens of people making pilgrimages to the Marian Shrine, many of them crawling on their knees as a symbol of their devotion. The Marian Shrine is known for the Marian apparitions – when, in 1917, three peasant children claimed to have seen an apparition six times, and on July 13, 1917 the apparition divulged three secrets to the children.
While at Fatima, we visited several gift shops. It’s important to mention here that when I first adopted Hobie he had a deformed left ear, which later miraculously righted itself. In one of the gift shops at Fatima, just off the highway, I found a section of the store that contained cute little animal figurines that would change color when weather changed. I remembered having something like that as a kid, it was a weathervane that would be pink if it was going to rain, or blue when the weather was fair, or some such thing. I have always collected figurines of dogs, cats, and horses, and was feeling the separation from Hobie in particular that day, having then been away from him for about ten days, our longest separation ever. Of course, he was probably home, snoozing, oblivious to my heartache. And so, I thought, I’ll pick up a souvenir -- a doggie figurine that predicts the weather. I carefully picked out one that looked almost exactly like Hobie. The tour bus was waiting for us outside and my companions were getting antsy, so I hurried to the cashier. When she picked up the Hobie figurine, it slipped out of her hand, and, as if in slow-mo, I saw it crashing onto the countertop, head-first. I heard my own voice saying “Nooooooo!” in slow-speed. I dove for the figurine, and saw to my horror that its left ear had broken off. Dejected, I just looked at it, clutching the two broken pieces in my hands, the dog itself in one hand, and a tiny piece of “ear” in the other. The cashier spoke no English. I spoke no Portuguese. Yet, somehow, we communicated. She managed to offer, “Go get another one, to replace.” I said, “I want THAT one!” (I had spent ages picking out “the” dog that looked just like Hobie-Dobe.) She somehow retorted with, “Keep this one, and take another one, too, and I will only charge you for one.” I thought, that sounds like a good idea… by now the tour bus driver is honking his horn, hollering at us to get a move on. I ran back to the shelves, which now seemed to carry thousands of little dog figurines! Too many choices! How would I ever find another one that looked just like Hobie? No two were alike. The handiwork was extraordinary. I just grabbed one, any old one, and ran back to the register, paid the lady (was it Euros?), shouted to her an “obrigada!” and leapt onto the bus.
Back in our hotel, I opened up my little bag with the two canine statues inside, and much to my shock, they were BLUE! We figured out that they must be made out of weather-predicting materials and chocked it up to that, rather than some religious epiphany. We did later find out that there are lots of Our Lady of Fatima figurines sold in Fatima. They’re made of weather-sensitive materials that are supposed to change color and predict the weather. They come in many different figurines such as chickens, cats, goats, horses, etc.
When I returned home to Massachusetts, I put those two weather dogs on my bedroom bureau and more or less forgot all about them. Every so often, I’d notice they’d change from pink, to blue, to white.
Six months later, Timba passed away, and soon after, we adopted our hound-dog, Hector. One day, I looked over at the two weather dogs on top of my dresser and realized they are the spitting images of Hobie and Hector.
There are no coincidences. It took me eleven years to write this essay about the weather dogs. I finally wrote this on October 13, 2011, having done no prior research whatsoever. The Fatima apparitions visited the three shepherd children monthly in 1917 from May through October, and always on the 13th of the month. The last apparition occurred on October 13, 1917 exactly 94 years ago.