Words by Melissa McGavock
Photography by Eric Killingsworth
Originally published in Lake Granbury Living VOL IV 2019 (pgs 31-36)

Opportunity knocks and you have to take it. However, for the American Dream, there is no fast lane to success. There’s bumps, obstacles, sweat, sometimes blood, definitely tears and at the end of the day, few make it big. In most cases, those that have met success do so because the work is real, the jobs are real, the sacrifice is real, the hours are real long, and the sense of fulfillment is not usually what they expected.   

In 1983, Al Couto transitioned from concrete work to building houses in the suburbs of Long Island, New York. For years, he’d worked from and studied the blueprints always laying around the jobsite. Having acquired a solid understanding of homebuilding, Al decided to open Couto and Sons Construction. Just a few years later, the economy took a turn and he was motivated to return to concrete. 

In 1991, Donny Couto, age 12, was sent to Portugal to live with his grandmother following his parents’ divorce. Together they raised pigs and sold them for auction at the fair. This was a pivotal, also humbling time in Donny’s life, one that seems to have heavily influenced him. The nearest town to them, Caldas da Rainha, was not unlike our nearby Mineral Wells. Maybe more picturesque, literally translated it is the “Spas of the Queen,” named for the natural, unpleasant smelling water that had healing powers. 

Forward type thinking is prevalent in Portugese culture. Located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe, Portugal has no shortage of brilliant views and natural surroundings that inspire passion, fearlessness, and great minds. As well, much of the art and architecture is influenced by the scenery, particularly agricultural and maritime elements. 

Close by Caldas da Rainha, in a parish called Cabreiros, Donny’s experience was at times very difficult. For months, he and his grandmother had no running water. They retrieved water in blue buckets from a well and his grandmother boiled it for bathing and drinking. Everyday actions we sometimes take for granted were challenging, just using the restroom was a production. It was during this time in Donny’s life that he gained perspective on some of life’s beautiful, and sometimes brutal truths. He began to gain a sense of identity here. This experience shaped the man he was going to be.

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