Are you afraid to do things alone?

Ingall, Christine. Solo Success! You Can Do Things on Your Own. St. Albans, UK: Panoma Press, 2017.

I find this book annoying. Who ever said I couldn’t do things on my own? The author begins with the assumption that the aging female reader is suddenly alone via divorce, death, or an empty nest and has no clue how to do things on her own. She assumes the reader is terrified to go out for coffee, see a show, or even take a walk by herself.

Seriously? Okay, I do know women who whine, “I have nobody to go with,” but I don’t think most of us are that helpless. Nor do I think we need page after page about how to make a list of things we’d like to do and more pages of congratulations after we do them. The few pages offering practical tips for various activities are helpful. Don’t carry a handbag on your walk, for example. Do carry a leash, even if you don’t have a dog, so people will think you do. Bring a book to read when you’re dining alone. Overall, the book is shallow, extremely British, and makes assumptions that are not true for most of us.

Or are they? I have been doing things on my own since college. My work as a newspaper reporter required that I venture out with just my notebook and camera for company. But I never thought “I can’t go because I have no one to go with.” Sometimes I would rather not go alone, and sometimes the lack of a companion expecting me to show up has led to me deciding at the last minute to stay home. But I can venture out on my own and I do. I don’t have a husband, children, or nearby family, and my friends are married and busy, so off I go.

Movies? (The very British Ingall calls it “cinema.”) My first husband was never around. I got in the habit of going to movie matinees alone. Remember the Century Theaters in San Jose? Cinerama? There might be a dozen people in the theater for an afternoon show. It’s easier to immerse yourself in the movie when you’re not competing for popcorn or the armrest with the person beside you. Sure, there’s nobody to talk to about it later, but at least you get to see the movie on the big screen.

Live theater is less comfortable, especially before the show and during intermission when you’re alone and everyone around you is in a couple or group. Read the program and relax. They’re really too busy talking to each other to pay you any attention.

As for dining out, some places are more solo-friendly than others. Feel free to reject the tiny table in the corner and ask for a better spot where you have room to read or check your email while you’re waiting for your food. If you sense you’re getting poor service because there’s only one of you, go somewhere else next time.

Walk alone? I do it, but I avoid walking in the dark. I keep my hands free and my eyes open. I have my phone ready to dial 911. Usually Annie is enough discouragement for human predators, but when she’s not with me, I know I have to stay alert. Have I had any bad experiences? Yes.

  • I was grabbed at night at an ATM in San Jose (don’t go after dark!). I cursed, punched the guy, and ran. Luckily he seemed to be too stoned to follow me.
  • One night after an assignment in downtown San Jose, a guy followed me several blocks as I headed toward my car. I made a quick change of direction and scooted into the newspaper office, where there were lights and other people. My mistake that night was carrying so much camera gear I couldn’t run or defend myself.
  • A guy in San Francisco came up behind me asking for sex. I told him to F— off and merged into the crowd crossing the street.

Stuff happens. As with a mountain lion, make yourself as big as you can and yell. A good “Fuck off! can be quite effective. But again, use common sense about where you walk alone and have a plan to get help if you need it.

Last week I wrote about joining the Newport Recreation Center and swimming alone. I am used to swimming alone in motel and hotel pools. Often I’m the only swimmer and keep expecting the “pool police” to kick me out. But what am I supposed to do, go knocking on doors asking people if they want to swim with me? No. I just swim.

The author of this book makes a big deal about being afraid of being “visibly alone.” Is that an issue? Do people look down on folks, especially women, traveling through life alone? I guess I have felt that sometimes. But I’d rather travel alone than not at all.

How about you? Do you feel free to do things on your own? Not just grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, but fun things like going to shows, eating out, traveling, or going for a walk? What would you not be comfortable doing alone? Why?

Do you have any advice for people flying solo?

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The Water is Wide: Relearning to Swim

Pug in Pool

“The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly . . .”

Thus goes the old song that’s playing in my head as I swim at the Newport Aquatic Center Pool for the first time Friday night.

The blue water stretches out forever, and I know the lifeguard pacing around the edge of the pool can tell I’m a lousy swimmer. Two other swimmers, a teacher instructing a kid who already swims better than I can, have gone to the showers, so he has no one else to watch.

“Go away!” I think. But of course he is doing his job.

Swimming was always a rare treat in my family, mostly limited to our annual vacations to Lake Tahoe or Donner Lake. We didn’t have lessons, except for the required swimming unit in high school, most of which I managed to miss by being sick or on my period. I can get across a pool, and I can stay alive in the water, but I admit my strokes are wonky and I never mastered the breathing part.

I feel fairly competent in a motel pool, but this 25-yard pool, the kind of pool where serious swimmers compete, is a lot bigger and I keep running into the rubber lane dividers. Any second, I expect the lifeguard to blow a whistle and tell me to get out of the pool

In my quest in the wake of my father’s death to try new things and fill the hours no longer filled with caregiving and nightly phone calls, I have not only pierced my ears, but I have finally joined the rec center. Now I have access to a full gym, a variety of classes, the lap pool, an activity pool, and a hot tub.

It took me a few days to get here. I didn’t feel well. I just did my hair, I didn’t want to drive all the way into town. I needed a buddy to say, “Let’s go!” Finally on Friday night, with nothing else to do, I decided: I can go swimming.

I’m a worrier. Will the pool be crowded? Will I get in people’s way with my slow swimming? Will my new lock not unlock so I’m stuck wet with no dry clothes and no car keys? I said a prayer and went.

The pool is nearly empty. Having left my glasses in my locker, everything looks blurry. First decision: How will I get in? I sit on the edge and drop into the pool. Oops, not as deep as I expected. Stub my big toe. Shake it off. Swim. What stroke? Okay, okay, pretend this is a motel pool. Breast stroke. I know my face should be going into the water, but I’m not sure how to do that. It’s going to take a million strokes to get across this pool. I need to stop for a minute. Where did the floor go? How deep is it? Swim! Still swimming. God, it’s a long ways. Made it. Cling to the side and breathe.

How do people swim like machines, lap after lap after lap?

Switch to . . . side stroke. Does anybody do sidestroke? Never mind. Maybe an eighth of the way, I’m tired, switch to the other side, switch again to my back, make like a frog, float—can I float in the lap pool? Where is the end? Okay, okay. Back stroke. I can do back stroke.

I keep looking for the end of the pool, and it keeps not being there. I pass under blue and white flags, white ceiling, more flags, on and on. Bang. Ouch. There’s the end.

Okay, I have to try freestyle. That’s the one I see people doing lap after lap, so smooth, so fast. Stroke, stroke. Head out, head in, blow bubbles, glug, come up choking. I never really learned this right. I try it with my head out of the water. My back and neck protest. Back to breast stroke.

Stop watching me!

The water is wide . . .

I can’t do any more. I haul myself out of the lap pool and stagger to the hot pool. My left knee hurts. Pretend it doesn’t hurt. He’s watching you go down the steps. Ahh, the warm water feels good. Just let me sit here for a day or two.

This is a beautiful facility, replacing the funky old pool where the schedule was so filled with lessons and swim team practices that you could only swim laps at like 6 a.m. But this one is different. Opened in 2017, financed by a bond, it’s big, bright and modern. There’s room for everyone. The activity pool includes a meandering river with a current you can ride or fight. I try that, can’t figure out how to swim, but it’s fun.

It’s late. The lifeguard is impatient. Time to quit. To the showers! Like an actual jock. As if. I should have brought shampoo, soap and a brush. Wrapped in my towel, I hold my breath and turn the dial on my combination lock. 38 . . . please . . . it opens.

I dry and dress quickly. My arms and legs feel like overcooked pasta. But my new blue earrings, which I have to wear for two and a half more months to make the piercings permanent, look gorgeous.

Some of my friends take the water exercise class at noon. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to swim. But now I have learned several things: I’m not as young as I used to be, not in as good a shape as I thought I was, and I need to learn to swim properly. I should probably sign up for lessons. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll try that water aerobics class. Or yoga.

I walk out of the locker room with my wet hair going in all directions. The guy at the desk nods. I nod back, so cool, hoping my spaghetti legs will get me to the car.

Did it!

It’s a start. As with my pierced ears, it’s late, but not too late.

For info on the Aquatic Center, visit https://newportoregon.gov/dept/par/ac/newschedule.asp

photo copyright Teerachat Aebwanawong – Thailand, courtesy 123rf.com stock photos
Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

 

The old house is packed with memories

IMG_20190822_173002965_HDR[1]In the wake of our father’s death, it’s time to clean out his house in preparation for selling it. It’s the house where my brother and I grew up, not changed much since our parents bought it in 1950. Since neither of us wants to move back to San Jose, the place we have always known as home has to go. On top of losing Dad, this hurts, too.

As it became clear that Dad was not going to live in that house anymore, I brought home keepsakes, knick-knacks, books and usable items, such as oatmeal, crochet hooks, and cookie cutters. I bubble-wrapped my grandmother’s blue tea set that my mother always said would be mine someday. It’s bittersweet.

Over the 23 years I have lived in Oregon, I have made many trips back to San Jose, sleeping in my old bedroom, waking up to the chirping of squirrels on the fence. During my father’s injuries and illnesses, I spent long periods of time there, right up to when he died. Now sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m still there. I bang into walls searching for the bathroom before I realize I’m in South Beach now. THIS is my home.

IMG_20190824_081431250_HDR[1]Last weekend, while I was working here in Oregon, my brother and his family did the big clean-out, filling a giant dumpster and packing up things to keep or give away. There’s a memory in every item, but we can’t keep much. We have enough of our own stuff. We have to move on.

Mom and Dad bought the house the year after they were married. Located in a west-side housing tract where half the houses hadn’t been built yet, it contained the family’s history: our baby crib, Dad’s fishing poles, Mom’s needlework, the table on which we ate, and the flowered lamp in the living room that was on when my angry father would greet me in the wee hours after dates and parties, asking, “Do you know what time it is?”

IMG_20190824_081400085[1]There’s the floor heater that collected our errant marbles and jacks, the fold-down ironing board, the pink tile counter where Mom hammered walnuts into bits for cookies and brownies. There’s the circular clothesline that my grandfather built, the patio our father built, and the orange tree that was only a foot tall when I gave it to Dad one Father’s Day. Now it’s massive and full of fruit.

The house is old. It needs extensive repairs. It’s quite possible the new owners will tear it down and start over as others in that neighborhood have done, replacing the vintage three-bedroom one-bath homes with mini-mansions valued at well over a million dollars. That’s what happened to the house on the next block that my late husband Fred and I were renting when we got married. The new owners changed it so dramatically the only thing I recognize is the address.

Our parents’ story in their house is finished. My brother and I have our own homes and our own stories. The house may be filled with renters, or it may be torn down. Maybe it will be lovingly renovated and the garden brought back to its former glory. I hope a young family can use it as a blank canvas to paint the story of their lives for the next 70 years or longer. It’s a good place.

How about you? Is your childhood home long gone or do you still spend time there? What would you keep if you could walk through and take just a few things? I welcome your comments.

After the Funeral, the Unpacking Begins

IMG_20190915_080126224_HDR[1]I’m unpacking. It’s weird because now I can unpack all the way. In recent times, I have kept the suitcases handy and partially packed because my next trip to San Jose and another Dad crisis was always just around the corner.

I have the whole 13-hour drive cemented in my head. I know where to get gas, use the restroom, sleep, eat, and find good radio stations. I know how long it takes and when I will arrive.

When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I had to think for a minute before I could define that light area straight ahead. Oh, it’s the bathroom. That’s not where it was at Dad’s house or in the motel. This is my house.

For the 23 years since Fred and I moved to Oregon, my destination has always been my parents’ house. Dragging in after the long drive, I could expect a hug, dinner, and a soft bed. I remember one Christmas when my mother greeted me at the door by telling me, “My Christmas present is here!” Me. Ditto, Mom.

Everything has changed now, and so have we. The house will be sold, and my brother and I won’t visit San Jose as much. We can stop commuting because God is taking care of our parents now.

My father and mother are together again, Clarence “Ed” and Elaine V. Fagalde, side by side. It feels right, but it hurts. Yesterday in Portland, on the shuttle from the terminal to the long-term parking lot, the woman sitting next to me answered a phone call from her mother. Afterward she said, “No matter how old you get, your mother’s still checking up on you.”

I felt the tears coming. “If they’re alive,” I said. “You’re lucky.”

And then we arrived at the Q bus shelter, grabbed our bags, and went off to our cars. She was probably on the 205 freeway before I stopped crying enough to drive slowly toward the parking lot exit.

It’s going to be that way. Obvious triggers and not so obvious ones will bring tears. I’ll sob and scream then go on, refreshed for a while. The tears signify how much you loved them, said the wonderful Fr. Saju on Friday at Dad’s funeral Mass. The priest had seven funerals last weekend, but he made everyone feel as if theirs was the only one.

Putting a loved one to rest involves a lot of quick planning and last-minute detail, but it went well. We didn’t have a huge crowd at St. Martin’s, but every single person who came was special. The music by the talented Ophelia Chau was gorgeous, and Fr. Saju included everyone, Catholic or not. We laughed and cried. The military honors, complete with “Taps” and a flag ceremony, tore our hearts. And then there was a barbecue at Aunt Suzanne’s house, where cousins from different branches of the family got to know each other over hamburgers and linguica dogs, potato salad, chili, beer, and five different kinds of pies.

It was ridiculously hot outside, 97 degrees, so eventually we all crowded into the air-conditioned house and watched cousin Rob’s slide show of old black and white photos, yelling out guesses as to where they were taken and who all those people were. That’s Uncle Don! No, it isn’t! That’s Jack. No, it’s–” We kids have to fill in the blanks now. I hope Dad and Mom were watching together, smiling at the memories, knowing all the names.

I came home yesterday. When the plane landed back in Portland, it was 60 degrees, overcast and raining. Suddenly the light sweater I didn’t need in San Jose was not enough coverage. That’s Oregon. This morning I cleaned, filled and lit the pellet stove. Annie is sprawled on the love seat warming her belly.

It’s odd being home. I already feel memories starting to fade. I don’t want to forget where I was the last few days or the last few months. I want to hold on to those precious memories, just like I wished I could hold on to the red rose I snatched from the funeral flowers. I didn’t know how I’d get it through airport security, so I left it for the motel maid.

Do I really not have to go anywhere until Thanksgiving? Can I actually make plans and expect to keep them? Is my father really gone? And my husband and my mother, too?

This is part of growing up. The cousins whose parents have not already passed away are doing the same caregiving dance my brother and I did for so many years. All too soon, there will be another funeral, another name etched in stone.

But it’s not all darkness. As Dad’s ashes were slipped into the niche with Mom’s on Saturday, my cousin’s daughters and my niece’s son and daughter, ages 1 to 4, ran around between the walls of ashes and the commemorative benches. Knowing nothing about death, they laughed and hollered, rolled and jumped. To them, this place was almost as good as Disneyland.

Take a lesson from the children. Grab joy wherever you can. Fall, cry, get up, and play some more.

I’m home. The next chapter begins.

To Pierce or Not to Pierce? Do I Dare?

IMG_20190909_101510182[1]I don’t have pierced ears. I know, what’s wrong with me? Not having pierced ears means that I can’t wear most of the earrings sold at stores, farmers’ markets, craft fairs, etc. It means that occasionally someone gifts me with a pair of earrings that I regretfully set aside. It also means that I have spent a lifetime collecting clip-on and screw-on earrings at antique stores and wherever I could find them. Loving friends have also made them for me. I’ve got quite a collection now.

I also have numerous single earrings for which the partner has been lost because some of them, especially the screw-on ones, come off pretty easily.

Why am I thinking about earrings? I’m trying to not think about illness and death for once, and I’m slowly going through the things I brought home from my parents’ house. Among those things is a pair of sapphire earrings from my mother’s dresser. They came with a matching necklace and are so pretty I feel guilty for taking them, but I’m the daughter. Besides, who else wears clip-on earrings?

IMG_20190909_101454272[1]I haven’t taken many of my mother’s earrings because we had different taste. She wore button-shaped earrings, no danglers, no whimsical symbols, no cats, dogs, peace signs, etc. (What? No American flag for Fourth of July?) The buttons are my least favorite earrings, not only because of how they look—I like a little dangle—but because they’re heavy, and their clip-on fasteners hurt. First they ache, then the lobes go numb, then when you take them off all the blood rushes in and they hurt even worse. It’s no wonder Mom only wore them for dress-up.

I’m not sure why my mother never got her ears pierced. Maybe her generation, born in the 1920s, didn’t do that. Online articles suggest that “good girls” didn’t wear earrings in her era. Then came the ’60s and pierced ears were the least of our worries.

I do know that when my friends were getting their ears pierced in high school, my mother would not allow me to join them. To her, pierced ears were something that foreigners did, including probably her Portuguese ancestors. God forbid we look foreign in any way. But Mom! All my gringo friends are doing it.

Since then, I have not liked the idea of putting holes in my earlobes, purposely creating a wound and keeping it open forever. Even now it makes me squirm. Also, I love my antique earrings. Can I still wear them if I have pierced ears?

IMG_20190909_101439168[1]But I’m tempted. In the wake of my father’s death, I’m considering all kinds of changes. Piercing my ears is one of them. I’d like to wear those tiny earrings that are too small for clips or screws. It would be wonderful to be able to buy earrings everywhere. I could finally join the cool kids.

My friend Pat has been trying to get me to pierce my ears for years. I might be ready now. It feels like time to change things up. Maybe I’ll grow my hair out. Maybe I’ll change jobs, volunteer for something new, or even take a real vacation now that I’m not always ready to bolt to San Jose to help my father. He would like it if I did that. Go someplace. See something different, he always said.

This time between his death and the funeral, I see-saw between being full of plans and being so mired in grief that all I can do is eat, watch videos, assemble online jigsaw puzzles, and cry. It takes a long time to get comfortable with the grief, and each loss joins with the previous losses to make one massive ball of hurt.

But we’re talking about earrings today. What about you? Does anyone else still have unpierced ears? Why? If pierced, when and where did you have it done, and what made you do it? How long did it take before they didn’t bleed or hurt? What advice do you have for me? Please chime in. I really want to know.

Here’s an interesting article that traces ear piercing back to Biblical times. It says there was a lull in the 1920s-1950s, which explains Mom’s clip-on earrings.

***

My father Clarence “Ed” Fagalde’s funeral Mass is Friday, Sept. 13, 10:30 a.m., at St. Martin of Tours in San Jose. We will gather at my aunt’s house afterward for a barbecue. The funeral home has posted a beautiful slide show online at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584 with pictures from my father’s life. It tells a wonderful story. My father was handsome, my mother gorgeous, and my brother and I pretty darned cute—except for that unfortunate phase with the headbands and braces. And the bare earlobes.

 

 

It’s Tricky Writing Your Father’s Obituary

Dad patioHow do you sum up a person’s life in a few words and photos? Being the journalist in the family, I got the job of writing the obituary for my father, Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, who died on Aug. 21.

I have written plenty of obits over the years, including my husband’s. They fall into a formula: facts about the person’s death and birth, where they lived, where they went to school, where they worked, extracurricular activities, family they left behind, and funeral information. It only takes a few paragraphs.

But in Dad’s case, which paragraphs? How does a grieving daughter write an unbiased account? What is the most important thing in his life? Each of us might chose a different theme.

In the end, it almost wrote itself. All my years of writing and of listening to Dad came together. I knew what to say. You can see the results online at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584.

Scroll down to see lots of photos. If you have words or pictures to contribute, please add them, following the instructions at the site. He’d like that.

Information on the Sept. 13 funeral is included. We are finalizing the details, but I think our father will be pleased. If you know someone who might want to be there, please share the information with them.

We debated whether to publish a funeral notice in the San Jose Mercury News. Not so long ago, that was a given. But now most newspapers charge a lot of money to publish obituaries, and very few people we know still read the newspaper. Even my father, an avid consumer of print and broadcast news, gave it up toward the end. “Nothing but junk,” he would complain. “I throw half of it away.” Having read a few issues lately, I  agree. The paper that set the standard when I was actively working on newspapers in the Bay Area doesn’t offer much anymore. So we decided to stick with the funeral home’s online obituary.

I received several nice comments on last week’s blog post about Dad. Today a woman who had met him at Somerset, the assisted living place where he spent his last months, talked about how nice he was and how she loved his stories. I know people who saw him as anything but sweet and who got tired of his filibusters.  I admit I sometimes fell asleep while he was talking, and I felt sorry for quiet people like my late husband who couldn’t get a word in edgewise. But he was a good man, and they were good stories, far more than can fit in an obituary.

“You should write a book about that,” he kept telling me about all kinds of things, from his days on the ranch to the people in the nursing home. Who knows? Maybe I will.