MY MIND WANDERS INTO THE LAND OF ‘WHAT IF’

Thiel Creek 12218BSometimes I think about moving back to California. Hold on, coastal friends, I’m only thinking. If you know me, you know I think about a lot of stuff, but keep living the same life.

On those days when I’m tired of the cold, I yearn to live someplace warm, someplace where I could grow tomatoes and roses and sit in the sun in February. When I talk to my father and think about how much better his life might be if I were there to help him, I think I need to be in San Jose. When family members get together without me, I think what the heck am I doing up here alone in Oregon? That’s what my family thinks, too. They don’t understand why I’m still here now that my husband is gone.

If not San Jose, maybe I could relocate to Merced, near my brother’s family and not too far from Dad. It’s warm there. Okay, in the summer, it’s damned hot. It’s cow country, conservative, possibly sexist, and my allergies would probably go nuts. But they do have a Catholic church where I could sing. There’s a writer’s group I could join, a community college where I could teach, and all the stores we don’t have here. I could make it work.

But after 22 ½ years on the Oregon coast, I’d have to start over, wouldn’t I? Here, I run into people I know everywhere I go. When I step out the door, my neighbors wave hello, and it continues in the nearby towns up and down Highway 101. Friday night, for example, I went to listen to friends playing music at Canyon Way, an old bookstore where two of its rooms have been transformed into a nightclub. My friend Renae, outside grabbing her last pre-gig smoke, hugged me on the way in. My friend Debbie found me a seat with Twylah, a woman I hadn’t met yet. We had seen each other all over town, and now we are friends, too. I got many handshakes, hugs, and smiles. I came alone, but I didn’t stay that way. I can’t imagine this happening in San Jose.

On Sunday, after playing music at two Masses at Sacred Heart, where I knew almost everybody, I attended the Oregon Music Teachers Association concert at the Performing Arts Center. I had friends on stage and friends all around me. Again I came alone, but I didn’t feel alone. Of course I also got drafted to sing at an event this week, but that’s okay.

When I think about the crowds in the vast theaters in big cities, I get nervous. Talk about feeling alone. I probably wouldn’t know a soul, and I’m not the kind of person who chats easily with strangers. And yet I know all these wonderful people here on the coast. In a small town, that happens. Even if we don’t know each other, we talk in line at the J.C. Market or in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic.

When Fred died, my father and brother were amazed at how many people came to the funeral. The chapel was full. Friends sang and took care of the food, so I didn’t have to do anything. I was not surprised. That’s how it is here.

In Oregon, people know me as a musician and a writer, the identity I have carved out for myself. That and Annie’s “mom.” They know I worked for the News-Times, taught at the college, have published books, performed at various events, and sung and played at Sacred Heart for years. They know me from yoga class, the Central Coast Chorale, the Nye Beach Writers Series, Willamette Writers, and the vet’s office. They see my name in the paper. They know I used to be married to Fred. Except for the part about being married to Fred, most people in my family don’t know any of that, although Facebook helps.

How many of our families really understand who we are?

Back in California, I’m Ed and Elaine’s daughter, Mike’s sister, his kids’ Aunt Sue, and cousin to a bunch of people who barely know me. It’s sad but true. I love my family and wish I could spend more time with them. Commuting to San Jose to be with Dad is exhausting and expensive. I wish the family would come here sometimes. I-5 does go both ways. They have their reasons.

Sometimes I truly hate the weather here. Cold, wet, windy, icy, bleh, but oh, when the sun shines, it’s glorious. I love the ocean. I love the trees. I still look around and say, “It’s so beautiful!”

I always get this feeling when I cross the border back into Oregon that now I can breathe and be myself. I didn’t grow up in a family that sang together, attended poetry readings or plays, or considered the arts a worthy investment of time. I was the odd one, but here, I have found my tribe. Also a place with no yellow jackets, no poisonous snakes, no poison oak, and no real traffic, except the occasional slow-moving motorhome.

A week from Saturday, I’ll be 67 (yikes!). Do I want to start over again? I don’t think so. I might move into a smaller home nearby with less maintenance. I wouldn’t mind a vacation to somewhere sunny and warm, preferably with a handsome man who could pay for it all. But this is where I live.

The house across the street from my father, built around 1950, an ordinary post-war tract house, just sold for $1.5 million dollars. It’s nuts down there in San Jose. So when I think about moving, I’m just thinking, not doing. No worries.

Some things you just can’t do alone

I’ve been thinking a lot about doing things alone. After all, I’m alone most of the time. It’s me talking to the dog the way Tom Hanks talks to Wilson the volleyball in that movie where he’s stranded on an island. At least the dog wags her tail, and I have discovered that if I wink at her, she will do her darndest to wink back, usually with both eyes. She will also yawn if I yawn. But if I start making funny faces, she just stares at me like I’m nuts, which is totally possible.

Anyway, I’m alone a lot. This April, it will be six years since I became a widow. It’s already eight years since Fred went to the nursing home. After so much time, being alone feels like my default situation.

No, don’t get all sorry for me. I do that enough for myself. Besides, I love not having to deal with another fussy human’s needs. Today I’m on a scientific quest which could lead to a longer project in the future. Let’s explore what you can and cannot do alone.

It’s like having two hands or just one. When I sprained my wrist a few years ago, I discovered it’s almost impossible to open a can, cut meat, hook a bra, or play the guitar with one hand.

You can play the harmonica with one hand or even no hands. You can eat a hamburger and fries with one hand. You can drive with one hand, preferably the right hand so you can turn the key and shift the gears. But open a bottle of beer? Not unless you smash it on the edge of the sink and drink around the jagged glass.

You can make love with one hand, but two hands are better.

All those one-handed things can be done if you have another person to help you. But what if you don’t? Let’s look at what you absolutely cannot do alone.

  • Get a hug
  • Make a baby
  • Sing a duet
  • Play football
  • Get a decent picture taken
  • Play Frisbee
  • Play Marco Polo
  • Water ski

Search online and you’ll find religious sites that eventually get to the fact that you need God. Agreed, but God won’t help me move my megaton TV to the other room (hint, hint) or hold the ladder while I clean the gutters.

You’ll also find various inspirational sites and go-get-‘em women’s sites that urge you to try going to a restaurant or a movie all by yourself because somehow it will make you a better person. No it won’t, but at least you’ll get to eat all the popcorn.

Some things you CAN do alone, but it’s not a good idea. I have done most of them.

  • Move furniture bigger than you are.
  • Eat an entire large pizza.
  • Hold a wine-tasting party.
  • Go hiking or rock-climbing
  • Drive way out into the wilderness where there’s nobody but bears and the guys from “Deliverance” and your cell phone doesn’t work.
  • Soak in a hot tub until you fall asleep and stay asleep until the rain wakes you up.

A lot of things, like eating out and going to a movie are just not as fun alone. Here’s an amusing page that talks about things you can do solo but would probably rather not.

And some things are good to do alone:

  • Think
  • Read
  • Sleep (actual sleep, not sex)
  • Pluck, shave, wax, nuke unwanted hairs.
  • Learn to play the violin.

I need your help with these lists. Add your suggestions in the comments. I really want to get a comprehensive list going, and Annie is no help at all. Wait, yes she is: Here’s something you cannot do alone: Get snuggled by someone who loves you. Annie, here I come.

Tempted by all that Darned Sunshine

I just returned to Oregon after nearly a month in San Jose with my father. Dad is suffering from heart problems and will be having surgery in early December. Meanwhile he needed help, so I ditched everything here and hurried down I-5 to the place where I grew up.

Once I was there, I experienced this weird Dorothy-waking-up-from-the-dream-of-Oz feeling. I was home. The sun was shining. Every day. Every day for 28 days. Here, if the sun comes out, we rush outside to look at it because it’s such a fickle visitor. There, it’s the rain that’s a rare guest. It clouded over briefly a couple times, but cleared up without dropping any moisture.

I love the sun. I spent a lot of time sprawled on the old chairs in the patio soaking it up. Dad’s yard is like a nature preserve, full of shrubs and fruit trees, with three resident squirrels as big as your average cat, blue jays, mockingbirds, sparrows, crows, hummingbirds, and the biggest bumblebees I’ve ever seen. It’s nice back there, and it’s nice being warm. I barely noticed the constant roar of the nearby 280 freeway.

I slept soundly in my childhood room, and I enjoyed being close to the scenes of so many memories. It was also great being near my family, especially my father. I liked the fact that every store or business a body could think of was within a few miles, and I always had four reception bars on my cell phone. That first week, I thought: This is crazy. I should move back home. Now that Fred is gone, why am I staying in Oregon? I can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, where everything costs about three times what it costs here, but I’d have a lot more chance of finding a job there than I would here. I could rejoin my old writing and music groups. It would be great.

Over the weeks that followed, the feeling faded. Even perpetual sunshine gets old. Folks there are always worried about not having enough water because it rarely rains. Everything is crowded, and the traffic is unbearable. A week ago today, I took Dad to San Francisco to meet the surgeons who will be doing his procedure. I don’t like to drive in big cities, and I definitely don’t like to drive in the dark. The directions were good, and I made it successfully to the parking garage next to the hospital. But we got out at 5:30, the height of the evening commute. Stop and go all the way. Red brake lights in front of me, white headlights to the left, eight to ten lanes across. Gripping the steering wheel, afraid every minute of crashing and dying. After a couple hours of that, I told my father, “If anybody asks why your daughter moved to Oregon, this is why.” We agreed that no job is worth fighting that kind of traffic every day.

No, I live here. Right now, it’s raining. Out my window, the big Sitka spruce waves in a gentle wind. My dog Annie is asleep on her chair. And I’m writing in my bathrobe. This is home.

They say you can’t go home again. Well, you can, but it’s never the same, and you might not want to stay there.