As of this week, it has been 17 years since my husband Fred and I moved to Oregon. The other day while walking my dog Annie, I saw a U-Haul truck at a nearby house. Looks like somebody is finally moving in. I’ll probably meet the new neighbors soon. I won’t be surprised if they moved up from California like we did.
The moving truck brought back so many memories. While we thought about it for years, our move was sudden—the house in San Jose sold in five days—and difficult—the truck broke down twice, it was over 100 degrees out, and we had to leave a lot of stuff behind for a second trip. (You can read all about it in my book Shoes Full of Sand.) By the time we left, I was beginning to realize what and who we were leaving behind. We both quit jobs we loved and said goodbye to family and lifelong friends. We had moved before but only within the Bay Area. We had no idea that this was a lot more than another change of address; we were embarking on a whole new life.
From the get-go, Fred loved it all, while I wanted to go home. We had never lived anyplace so beautiful or where the people were so friendly, but we had almost never encountered so much wet, cold, windy weather. We had never lived in a small town without shopping malls and lots of places to work. The gynecologist and the music store were 50 miles away in Corvallis. The airport was in Portland, a three-hour drive through snow and curvy roads. That first year, Fred went back to San Jose for two months to continue his income tax business while I was alone in the worst of the winters, missing my family so bad it hurt.
But we adapted. Although we knew only our realtor when we moved in, we made friends at the church, the aquarium, and various singing and writing groups. It got so we couldn’t go anywhere without running into people we knew. We relaxed into life surrounded by trees, rivers and the ocean, with clean air and no traffic. No more lines, no more crowds, no more angry, stressed-out people. With time to dive into our dreams, Fred volunteered at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, worked for the Flying Dutchman winery, and sang with the Coastalaires barbershop chorus. I wrote and published five more books, earned my MFA in creative writing, taught at the community college, sang in several different groups, and got a job playing music at church. Would this have happened in San Jose? Probably not. We’d still be stuck on the freeway.
Life brings sorrow as well as joy. We have suffered many losses in these Oregon years: my mother and both uncles, Fred’s parents, our dog Sadie, many other loved ones, and finally, two years ago, Fred himself, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. I often find his loss unbearable. This house we bought together is too big, and the loneliness can be overwhelming. But my new dog, Annie, already five years old, is a huge comfort, and God has filled our lives with many blessings.
I love Oregon. When I come back from visiting California, I shout and honk my horn as I cross the border back into the Beaver State. When I think about moving back to the Bay Area, I feel as if I have been here too long to go back. After all, 17 years is almost one-third of my life. Of the 26 years Fred and I were married, we spent 15 of them north of the border. If we were plants, by now we would either have died or become firmly established in this sandy Oregon coast soil. How long does it take to become a real Oregonian? It depends on who you ask. To many, I’m an old-timer now.
My family’s roots go way back in California to the 1800s, to the arrival of John Cameron Gilroy, said to be the first English-speaking settler in California. And yes, they did name the town of Gilroy for him. But the Fagalde branch originally settled in Oregon. Jean Fagalde and his wife Maria Refucia Alviso lived in Damascus, southeast of Portland. They had 13 children, one of whom was my great-grandfather Joseph, who moved to California and married Luisa Gilroy. I’m still learning about that Oregon connection, but it makes me feel good to know I’m not the first Fagalde to live here.
Do I have regrets? Some. The biggest is not being close to my 91-year-old father at this time of his life, or to my brother’s family, who live near Yosemite. Fred’s kids and grandchildren have all grown up while we weren’t around. I hate that. But I don’t regret moving here. I just wish I could convince everyone to join us so we could all live here together.
Will I stay here forever? I don’t know. It’s where I am now, and I thank you for taking this journey with me. Keep coming back. We have so much more to explore.