The road always leads back to California



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Seventeen years ago next month, my late husband Fred and I moved from San Jose, California to the Oregon coast. I had never lived outside the Bay Area before. I was always within an hour’s drive of my family and all the landmarks of my youth–the schools and churches I attended, the newspapers I worked for, and the parks, beaches and theaters I had enjoyed all my life. My parents still occupied the same house they had bought in 1950.
I had no idea what a shock it would be to move away from everything I knew. When Fred and I came to Oregon, we knew three people in the whole state: the real estate agent who had rented us our house and friends from San Jose who had moved to Bay City, up the road a couple hours from our new home. We also had no idea anyplace could have so much rain and wind. That first winter was brutal for California kids who were used to annual rainfall in the single digits, not Lincoln County’s 80 inches per year average. And the homesickness! I was a weepy mess and would have gone home to California except for two things: We couldn’t afford it, and Fred loved it here.
Instead of moving back, we visited. A lot. That first year, we went back so many times our friends suspected we hadn’t really moved away. Gradually over the years, our visits have stretched out to two or three times a year. Now, with Fred gone, I go back to California alone. I’m guessing I’ve done the drive about 40 times. It’s a beautiful drive, whether I take the meandering coast route or zoom down I-5. Either way, it’s about 13 hours of driving, two days for me. I can tell you all the landmarks along the way, the good places to eat, the scenic attractions worth seeing, and the places where the driving gets hairy. I wrote a book about our move to Oregon and what followed. (Shoes Full of Sand—buy a copy please). Maybe someday I’ll write one about the road to California.
Various reasons take me back home. Holidays (rain and snow), the annual Dia de Portugal (hot!), funerals, and reunions. Most recently, it was my cousin Rob Avina’s wedding reception with the beautiful Candace Bates. It’s the best kind of occasion to drive down for because I get to see a maximum number of relatives at one time. Rob and Candace got married on a cruise ship just before it left for Alaska. But their families threw a bang-up reception at the Santa Clara senior center, where several of them work or volunteer. Nachos in the courtyard, a banquet in the auditorium with a Hawaiian band AND a DJ, lots of toasts, lots of photos, lots of dancing, and lots and lots of hugs. And now I have a wonderful new cousin.
I bunked at my childhood home, where my 91-year-old father and I talked nonstop for four days. And then it was back on the road again. I swear sometimes I think I live on the freeway or at a Best Western motel. I hated saying goodbye to my dad and everyone in California. It physically hurts every time. But when I cross the border back into Oregon, which is my adult home, where my work and my dog are waiting, and where I have acquired more friends than I can count, I shout and pump the horn. I’m back!
It won’t be long before I return to California by plane, train or car because half my life is there and half of it is here. As my father is fond of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”

Homesickness in heaven

I have lived in Oregon for 15 1/2 years now, a quarter of my life. I lived the other 44 years in California, mostly San Jose. My roots go back to the 1800s there. I love the Oregon Coast. I love its natural beauty, its attitude, its friendliness, its slower pace. The weather can be brutal, but even the snow, wind and rain are beautiful in their own way. And yet, as I watched the National Figure Skating Championships, being broadcast from San Jose over the weekend, every time the announcer said “San Jose” or I saw it written on the side of the rink, something chimed inside me. I longed for shots of the area outside the building and scanned the crowd for familiar faces. The building they were in hadn’t even been built when I lived there. Downtown has changed so much I’d get lost there now, but Santa Clara Valley holds so many memories and so much of my history. I yearn for the sun-browned oak-covered hills.

I still feel “Saudade,” a feeling of longing and loss that I wrote about in  my latest book, Shoes Full of Sand. It’s a Portuguese word, common among those who left their homeland for a new life in the United States. We only moved from California to Oregon, but the feeling is the same. Now, with my husband gone and no family here, perhaps it would make sense to move back to San Jose.

But would I trade my big quiet yard with its alders and Sitka spruce for a much smaller space surrounded by people and noise? Would I trade my open two-lane roads for freeways full of cars creeping along bumper to bumper?  Would I trade the friends, the music, and the long walks with Annie for the crowded craziness of “Silicon Valley?” Would you?

Much of my family is gone now, died or moved away, but I miss those who remain in San Jose. It’s time for a visit. And then I’ll come back to Oregon, where on the way home from an interview, I can stop to enjoy scenes like the one above on the beach in the Taft district of Lincoln City.  After days of storms, the sun had come out, and I just had to stop. Beats the freeway, doesn’t it?