Why I don’t move back to San Jose

Last week in Newport, it was “Dine Out for Samaritan House” day. Once a month, a local restaurant offers a percentage of its proceeds to support the local homeless shelter. That shelter was founded and is maintained by people I know, mostly from my church. Years ago, I even did a story about it for the local newspaper.

This month’s restaurant was Nana’s Irish Pub in Nye Beach. I had a hankering to try bangers and mash, so I invited my friend Pat to join me for dinner after her shift at Samaritan House. When I walked in the door and paused by the bar to scan the crowded tables, I realized half the people in there were people I knew. It soon turned into a party, complete with beer and Irish music in the background. We talked, gossiped about our priest, and compared Irish dishes. I don’t have a Celtic palate—more Mexican and Italian—but my bangers and mash were good and Pat nearly swooned over her bread pudding.

I had already been to Nana’s the previous week for the church ladies’ monthly lunch. Best Reuben sandwich anywhere.

The same thing happens at Georgie’s Beachside Grill every Sunday when friends fill the tables after church. Party time. That simply does not happen back in San Jose. People commune with their phones.

Newport has 10,000 people, fewer than fill the average professional sports stadium. Everywhere I go, I meet people I know, and that makes my life as a childless widow a lot less lonely. For example:

* I go to the hospital for minor surgery. The anesthesiologist is a music friend. The nurse goes to my church. All of my friends have the same doctor.

* When I visit one friend at the local rehab facility, another friend is just down the hall, and I pass yet another just leaving.

* When I shop at Fred Meyer, I meet at least one and more likely a half dozen friends as I peruse the vegetables and stock up on dog food.

* I go to see a play. I know the guy handing out programs and most of the cast members. One is my hair stylist; another is a writer. And I know the performing arts center so well it feels like home. I have been on stage, backstage, in the dressing rooms, and in every section of the seating area. I have sung in the lobby and in both theaters. Unlike the enormous airport-like facilities in big cities, there is no way I can get lost here.

* When Annie and I go hiking, we wave at the drivers of every vehicle that passes us, and they wave back.

* I not only know where everything is at the J.C. Market, I know what the J and C stand for: Jim and Cleo.

* My neighbors have promised to take care of me should the mega-earthquake and tsunami come. I know they will. They have already helped me plenty, feeding Annie when I go away, fixing my gutters, power-washing my house, and sharing halibut and elk from their fishing and hunting trips. My dog Annie and their dog Harley are in love.

Also:

* My mortgage for a four-bedroom house on a massive lot near the beach is a third of what people are paying to rent apartments in San Jose.

* I get paid to play piano and sing solos at church, even though I don’t have a music degree.

* We don’t have black widow spiders, yellow jackets, poisonous snakes, or poison oak.

* I can run four or five different errands in a half hour because everything is close, and there are no crowds. I can even renew my driver’s license in a half hour.

* We complain about the traffic if we have to wait for three cars to pass.

*“Nature” is right outside my door. I don’t have to drive for hours to get to it.

* I am still awed by the beauty I see in every direction. Not concrete and cars, but the ocean, hills, forests, and wildflowers.

Some of my relatives don’t understand why I stay here. Sometimes I do want to go home. I miss my family so bad it hurts, and the rain gets tiresome when it comes day after day. I’m not fond of ice and snow. It gets frustrating when I have to drive for hours to the airport or major stores. What I wouldn’t give for an Olive Garden restaurant. And I’d kill for an electric or gas heating system to replace the pellet stove. But I don’t miss the traffic, the smog, or the crowds in which everyone is anonymous. My father doesn’t even know most of his neighbors. When he goes out, he almost never meets anyone he knows, and no one gives way for an old man with a cane.

We born-again Oregonians don’t want lots more people to move here. With luck, the weather and the lack of jobs will keep out the crowds. Maybe I can claim some rights to Oregon soil. My Fagalde great grandparents settled in Oregon back in the 1800s. If only I could visit them on their ranch and talk to them.

This summer I will have been here 20 years. Fred and I lived together on the Oregon coast longer than we lived together in San Jose, and I have stayed five years since he passed away. Someday I may have to go back to California to help my dad or deal with his house. Maybe I will need the kind of health care I can’t get here. But not today. This is where I live. Like the dead hydrangea I have spent the past week trying to dig out of the ground, I have put down thick roots that would be nearly impossible to cut.

 

P.S. Somebody help me get this stupid plant out of the ground. I have company coming this week, and it looks awful. Anybody got a chain saw?

 

The Ducks Quacked, We Said ‘I Do’

Wedding3_0002It was a spring day like today, blue sky dotted with white clouds, a slight breeze, everything in bloom, as Fred and I hustled to prepare for our wedding. The second marriage for both of us, this was a do-it-ourselves affair. We were already living together in a house on the next block from my parents’ house. I had cooked raviolis the night before for our rehearsal dinner. We were having the reception in our back yard. I put on an embroidered dress from Mexico while Fred donned a Mexican wedding shirt. No tuxes, no ties. My bridesmaids wore knee-length ruby red dresses they could use again. Instead of hiring a photographer to follow us around, we gave our friends rolls of film and told them to take lots of pictures.

Our wedding took place 30 years ago today in an amphitheater beside a pond at Evergreen Community College in San Jose, California. As Rev. Carl Stocking led us through our vows, ducks quacked and a fishing competition took place nearby. We walked in to Pachelbel’s Cannon playing on the boom box. My father escorted me down the “aisle” for the second time, hoping this marriage would stick. While I felt faint and had an uneasy stomach during my first wedding, this time I felt only joy, which I saw mirrored in Fred’s face as we pledged to our lives to each other and came together in one of those famous Fred hugs.

Afterward, we adjourned to our yard, where Fred and my dad had set up tables and chairs borrowed from the recreation department where he worked, with blue plastic canopies from Mel Cotton’s sporting goods shop for shade. Our friend Pat Silva had prepared a Portuguese feast for us, with pork, beans, fruit, salads and more. We rolled my piano onto the patio, and Scotty Wright, our favorite jazz musician, provided music. Dancing, feasting, drinking, talk and laughter ensued as two families, Lick and Fagalde, became one. Recreation workers, journalists, Fred’s kids, my cousins, and so many more partied till sunset. It was the best wedding ever.

Looking at the pictures, it’s easy to feel sad. So many of those people are gone now. Fred died four years ago. On our 25th wedding anniversary, he was living in a nursing home and didn’t know who I was. Horrible. But I need to cling to the good memories of that day and the many anniversaries that followed. In addition to working for the city of San Jose, Fred was a licensed tax preparer. Everything went on hold from January through April, but come May, we would take a vacation. We traveled far and wide, celebrating anniversaries in Canada, Hawaii, Costa Rica, cruising the Mississippi River on the Delta Queen and many other places. Each year, we would remember this day and pledge our love again. It was a good marriage from beginning to end.

Thank you, Fred. Thank you everyone who was there. Cheers!

Torn between San Jose and South Beach

You know how when you’ve been away from home for a while, you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are? That’s how I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. I open my eyes and expect to see windows at the foot of the bed, but no, there’s a closet there. I go to the bathroom and reach for the toilet paper on my left, but it’s in front of me. I open the refrigerator and reach for the milk I just bought, then realize I bought that milk in San Jose and it’s in my father’s refrigerator. 

After a month in San Jose, I find that things are pretty much the same here in South Beach–except for the lawns and berry vines being out of control–but they look different to me. I’m noticing so many things that I never noticed before. Were there always so many trees? Was my bathtub always so pink? How come I let so much junk pile up in my garage? Did they always help me take out my groceries at the J.C. Market?

I feel as if I have come from another planet. In many ways, I have. I spent most of September and the beginning of October taking care of my father, who broke his hip in late August. We were together constantly. I spent my days cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, buying groceries, answering phone calls, keeping track of visiting nurses and physical therapists, tying and untying shoes, and listening to Dad’s stories. In a way, I was living my mother’s life. At night, I lay awake in the room I occupied for the first 22 years of my life, ready to jump up at every noise I heard from down the hall. At first I was afraid to leave my father for even a few minutes. He seemed so fragile and helpless. But Dad is a cat with more than nine lives. By the time I left on Friday, he was elbowing me out of the way to do his own dishes. The doctor had cleared him to bend  and to drive his car. He still needs to lean on his walker, but he’s ready to return to solo living, with occasional visiting helpers.

So here I am back in Oregon, trying to catch up. I have thousands of emails to deal with, bills and mail piled high, stories to write, music to practice, and lawns to mow. My dog Annie is thrilled that I’m back, and I’m glad to be with her again, but she has developed a new pre-dawn barking habit in my absence. I’m happy that the weather is pleasantly cool after San Jose’s incessant heat. But I find myself just sitting still, trying to grasp where I’ve been and where I am. I’m not as worried about my father now, but I miss him. Both of us widowed, I think we both enjoyed having someone to hang out with. But we each have our own lives. He is very old, and I have no doubt there will be another crisis. Someday he will be gone. Meanwhile, I am here, unleashed in Oregon again.

One Big Snow Cone

White. Everything is white with snow that fell during the night. Unable to drink from her frozen water bowl, Annie vacuums up the snow. Her world is one giant snow cone. As I crunch along in my slippers, I look up and see blue sky with white etchings, the top of the Sitka spruce tipped with sunlight, the leafless branches of the red alders flocked with snow.

It has been a crazy-weather weekend. Just last Friday, I sat outside in the sun reading a book while Annie chewed on a branch fallen from the last wind storm. Saturday we had light rain, but the snow predictions seemed unrealistic. Sunday, I awoke to the sound of Annie barking at the hail banging on the skylights. But that soon stopped. In church, as we stood to go to Communion, I glanced out the window and saw snow falling. So beautiful and so worrisome. We all had to drive home. But by the time Mass ended, the snow was gone, everything merely wet.

The restless dog and I went walking, she just in her collar, I so bundled up I could barely move. Tiny flecks of hail fell around us, no big deal. It wasn’t until we turned back onto our street that the serious hail came,  half-inch balls of ice pounding on our heads, gathering on my coat and Annie’s fur. “Hurry!” I urged, but the dog kept trying to dive under bushes instead of heading for the sure security of the house. When the hail stopped a few minutes later, the earth seemed to sigh as the pounding ceased.

Around 4:00, the snow finally came, thick, fluffy, some of the flakes looking like shreds of paper floating down onto deck, lawn and concrete. Staring at it made me dizzy, but I couldn’t look away. Annie stood beside me at the window, amazed. Beneath the arborvitae out front, two dark-feathered birds flittered around, pecking for bugs, undaunted.

For the rest of the night, the snow came and went, but this morning, everything was covered in smooth white, untracked until Annie started eating it. Our ratty patio furniture looked perfect, its nicks and rust-stains hidden in a coat of snow. Sunlight sparkled off the white surface, making everything glow. Ah, snow. Online, I read reports of cars sliding around, danger on the roads, homeless people gathering in a shelter at the fairgrounds, but here at home, all is safe and special today.

We first saw snow here in February 1996, when Fred and I drove up from California for the annual Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Prepared for rain, we were surprised by the biting cold and had to go buy warmer clothing. Staying at the Ester Lee in Lincoln City, we awoke to snow on the window sills and on the beach. Does it snow here on the central Oregon coast, we wondered. We needed to know because we were already planning to move here. Oh no, people told us. This never happens. Snow on the beach? Nah.

Hah. Yes, it does. It’s the beach, but it’s also the Northwest. Nearly every year, it gets cold enough to snow, and if the rain comes at that time, it does snow right here on the beach and all around us. It’s icy, slippery, dangerous, and so pretty. Would we have moved here if we knew this? Probably. We wouldn’t have believed it. Just like Annie keeps putting her tongue on that frozen water, expecting to get a drink. 

Seeking the end of the road

I always wondered what lay at the end of Thiel Creek Road, also known as 98th Street, the road I take to my house in South Beach. I had heard rumors that you could drive all the way to the city of Toledo, Oregon on it. A couple times I started out on it, but in those days I had more of a city car. When the road turned to gravel and then got so narrow I feared I would soon run out of room, I chickened out. I also kind of feared to meet the villains from “Deliverance,” if you remember that movie.

But I have a sturdy four-wheel drive now, and since I have become a widow, I am more daring. In the face of recent events, every other challenge seems pretty small.

So, one grouchy day last week, after a mid-day post office run, I turned onto 98th Street from Highway 101 and thought: Why not drive that road all the way to the end? The weather was great, and I had no reason to hurry home.

The road comes to a V just past Cedar Street. The north portion goes uphill into the sun, and the south branch goes down into the trees. I took the latter, a damp and shady road.

To my amazement, as soon as I left the paved portion, a bear ran across the road in front of me. Although I have heard many tales of bear sightings, I had never actually seen one here. This black bear was on the small side, streaking across the road and disappearing into the bushes, not far from where my dog Annie and I walk several times a week. 

I stopped the car, my heart pounding. “I saw a bear! I saw a bear!” Thank God I was in my car and not on foot.

Well, that turned my bum day around. Excited by my bear sighting, I drove on.

The road was narrow and mostly gravel. I passed the deserted blue house where Annie and her siblings were born. Beyond that, the road narrowed and the trees closed in. Ferns filled the roadside among the spruce and Douglas firs.Thiel Creek gurgled through marshland. Milepost 1.

I passed another house, then a for-sale sign and a big clearing with a bulldozer parked on it. More houses were hidden among the trees, one with a white goat in the front yard, but much of the road was unoccupied. On the right (south), a vast green area opened up. The road rose higher. I could see another road heading south down below but it was blocked by a gate and one of many no-trespassing signs. Milepost 2.

Although the road was already so narrow I didn’t know what I’d do if another car came, a sign warned of a “one lane road” up ahead. Narrower, wetter, darker. Time to turn around, I thought, not wanting to chicken out again, but not wanting to get stuck either.

Suddenly the road took a big curve north and I ended up on someone’s property. Thiel Creek Road ended at the front door of a massive blue house. Definitely the end of the road. If it ever went to Toledo, it didn’t now.

The road was riddled with private property signs, but I had thought they meant the areas to the sides. On the way back, I saw a blue gate that I had missed the first time. Oops. I really was trespassing.
I turned around and bumbled along the gravel road toward home, happy in my adventure, seeing a bear and making it to the end of Thiel Creek Road.

Now I know.

Well, La De Da

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A parade, pies and pups filled the streets of Yachats (pop. 749) yesterday for the annual La De Da parade. With temperatures in the high 60s and a sweet breeze, hundreds of people from all over hunkered along the sides of the roads for the annual parade that is like no other.
Instead of precision marching bands, we had the umbrella drill team with actual umbrellas, a little girl in a wagon celebrating her fourth birthday, seniors doing tai chi, a string quintet playing in the back of a pickup, dachshunds wearing hot dog buns, belly dancers, ecologists dressed as trees, fire trucks, tractors and more. Marchers tossed candy and passed out cartoons and real estate ads.
Poodles, labradoodles, spaniels, greyhounds and every other kind of dog marched or panted on the sidelines, dressed, like their owners, in red, white and blue or tie-dye.
Once the parade had made its circuit from the Yachats Commons—a former school that is now city hall, community center, concert venue and everything else—down past the Lion’s Club and around the bend to where the road overlooks the rocks and crashing surf and back, the crowd dispersed to eat barbecue at the fire department or pie at the commons and shop at booths set up all around. Then they went home to rest up for Fourth of July fireworks over the bay at dusk.
My friends and I adjourned to the Salty Dawg Saloon in nearby Waldport: great burgers, sports on the TV, sea shells embedded in the tables, and a giant photo of James Dean in the ladies’ restroom.
This does not happen in Silicon Valley.
***
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Where everybody knows your name

When I lived in San Jose, I rarely met anyone I knew outside of the expected places: work, church, groups I belonged to. When I visit now, I occasionally see people who look like I might know them from somewhere, but I’m not sure. Even if I did know them, it’s unlikely that either of us will acknowledge the other’s existence. That’s life in a big city. With so many people, the odds are good that everyone you meet will be a stranger.

Here in Newport, Oregon, however, it’s a completely different story. It didn’t take long after I started attending Sacred Heart to build a new church family. I soon acquired new writing, music, and yoga friends, too, and I got to know the neighbors right away. When you share a pocket of the forest with just a handful of other families, you talk to each other.

The cool thing about living here or in any small town is that you constantly run into people you know. Yesterday, for example, I went to Rite Aid after Mass to fill a prescription. I met another member of the church choir there, stocking up on bargains for his grandkids. The lady in front of me in line works at the library, and sitting at the blood pressure machine was my neighbor, Bob. Each person had time to stop and talk.

It’s always that way. If I go to lunch, the person seating me knows that I need a large iced tea, stat, and someone I know will be seated at one or more of the tables. At the grocery store, Deb the checker always asks about my dog. If I don’t know somebody, that’s okay, because strangers actually talk to each other here. It’s not for nothing that Newport’s slogan is “The friendliest.”

I like this. It makes me feel that wherever I go, I’m not alone. Of course, it also means everyone knows what I’m up to, but that’s okay. For me, it’s worth losing a little privacy.