MUSTERING OUT When the war ended, we were ready to go home. We heard about troop ships delayed, being prepared, but anything that could float was fine with us. We slept on the decks, didn’t have much food, but that was nothing new. I lost almost sixty pounds in those years in Australia, Manila, New Guinea. Not much chow. Dengue fever. I almost died. No, we’d have jumped in and swam if we could. I’ll never forget our first sight of the Golden Gate. Everybody was out on deck, crying and cheering, hundreds of people waving back at us. Mustering out in San Francisco took forever. Paperwork, medical exams, giving up our uniforms for fear they carried diseases. They probably did. They invited us to stay for a talk about the Army reserves. Hell no, our CO told the guy. He turned to us: “Do you want to get out of this man’s army?” “Sir, yes sir!” we shouted back. I got a ride from a Mexican guy down to San Jose. His family had come to pick him up. We got to the ranch near midnight. I rang the bell, got everybody out of bed, surprised my mom and dad. We were all crying, couldn’t believe I’d made it home. My brother was six feet tall with this big deep voice. Yeah, it was something. I kept looking around. It was all the same, but different, you know? No, I’ll never forget that day. None of us will. --Sue Fagalde Lick Previously published in Rattle Poetry Journal
How 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.
At 6:30 p.m., I look at the clock and think, “I’ve got to call Dad.” Then I remember. I can’t do that anymore. I can forget his phone number. I can stop carrying my cell phone everywhere for fear I’ll miss an emergency call.
That call came at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10 as Annie and I were walking up Thiel Creek Road. Within an hour, I was on my way to San Jose, adrenaline flowing so hard I didn’t feel hungry or sleepy or even need to pee. I just wanted to get there before IT happened.
By the time I stopped in Roseburg for the worst quarter-pounder ever at a McDonald’s where I had to interrupt the worker’s video game to place my order, my brother had sent a text saying that my father was no longer “critical.” Whew.
I cruised into the Best Western in southern Medford at 9 p.m. and went to bed at 9:30. Back on the road early the next day, I arrived at Kaiser Hospital at 3 p.m. My brother Mike was already there. My father didn’t look good. It was the first time I’d seen him hooked up to an oxygen tank. He refused to eat, but we were still able to talk. I’m sure when he saw both of his kids there at the same time, he knew things were not going well.
The hospital sent him back to Somerset Senior Living, where he’d been since June. But the end was coming. Suffering from congestive heart failure, kidney failure, a broken leg that had never healed, and a monster of a bedsore, he went downhill. He stopped getting up in his wheelchair, stopped eating, stopped talking, stopped. On the morning of Aug. 21, Ed Fagalde passed on to the next life.
I’m grateful I had a chance to sit with him. We said all the things we needed to say to each other. I sang to him that last night. At 97, this vigorous, talkative, power of a man was ready to go, and finally God was ready to take him.
“Sue, are you okay?” he asked me at one point. “Is Mike okay?” I assured him we were both fine, just worried about him. That seemed to be his main concern, that we be happy and healthy as we go on with our lives. We are, and we will be, but it’s tough right now.
My father and I were close. You know how you have that person who when they call, you say, “Oh, hi,” and sit down to enjoy the call? He was that guy in recent years. Both widowed, we shared the frustrations of living alone. I gave him cooking tips, and he advised me on home repairs. When I was in San Jose, we went to everything together. Sometimes people mistook me for his wife. I do look like my mother, and at 67, I have almost as much gray hair as Dad had. During those times, it was nice not to be alone.
I was always proud of my father. Smart, handsome, and strong, he was a farmer, a WWII veteran, and an electrician, blue collar, not rich. So what? He could have been anything, but he chose to work with his hands. Lord, those hands took a beating. In his spare time, when he wasn’t fishing or goofing around with his CB radio, he was working on the house and yard; he built so much of it himself.
And when he finally sat down to rest, he told stories. So many stories. He could make a story out of a trip to the gas station. I think that’s how I got to be a writer. I learned the gift of story from him, but never able to get a word in edgewise, I wrote my stories down.
Thank you, Dad. I’m so glad you’re not suffering anymore, but I sure will miss that voice on the phone, those stories I’ve heard so many times and wouldn’t mind hearing again.
The funeral Mass for Ed Fagalde will be held Sept. 13 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose. An online obituary will be posted soon.
Last week didn’t turn out quite as expected, especially for my dad. He fell and broke his leg above the knee. It was a bad break, requiring surgery and an extended stay in a care home after the hospital. He has survived heart surgery and a broken hip in recent years, and he will survive this, but for a person one month shy of 95, this is not good. My brother rushed over from his mountaintop home near Yosemite while I hit the road from Oregon. I didn’t know how long I would be gone or how well Dad would recover, but when these things happen, you do the best you can to tie up loose ends and go.
Winter lasting forever up here, the Siskyous were still loaded with snow, so I took the coast route down. After nine days, I returned up I-5. It’s an all-too-familiar 1,400-mile round trip commute. But I took pictures of some things I thought it would be fun to share here.
Dad seeming relatively stable, I came home to get back to work, Annie, and taking care of my own house, but I will be going back soon, I’m sure. It’s not easy having your heart torn between two states. Meanwhile, please keep my father, Ed Fagalde, in your prayers.
All contents copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017
When my brother and his wife drove Dad to lunch in San Jose on Sunday, he suspected a few people were gathering to celebrate his upcoming birthday, but he had no idea so many people would be there, or that I’d be walking out of the restaurant to greet him. After all, I live in Oregon and I was just there a few weeks ago. He’s a hard man to surprise, but we did it.