Celebrating Twenty Years in Paradise

Annie at South Beach 22315C

We are gathered here today to ponder me being in Oregon for 20 years.

On July 26, 1996, Fred and I left our home in San Jose, California to start a new life in Oregon. He drove a Ryder rental truck, and I followed in the Honda with the dog, my guitars and my Chatty Cathy doll in the back seat. We had no idea what we were getting into.

I had never lived more than an hour away from my family. I had never lived in a small town. I had never lived where it rains 80 inches a year. If we had not moved, I would never have known that the whole world is not like San Jose. Attention suburbanites: There’s a whole other world out there.

For years, we had vacationed on the Oregon Coast and batted around the idea of moving here. After Fred retired from the city and his youngest son graduated from high school, it seemed like we were free to go.

It happened so quickly we didn’t have time for second thoughts until it was too late. Our house sold in five days. We’d expected it to take months. Suddenly we were quitting our jobs, packing and saying goodbye. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t. Certainly if I had known everything that would happen—my mother’s death, Fred’s long illness and death, me ending up alone—I would have stayed on Safari Drive amid the smog, gangs and traffic roaring right behind us on Santa Teresa Boulevard.

I loved my newspaper job and our house. I loved the music groups I belonged to and the church where I played guitar every Sunday. I had finished my term as president at California Writers and had just been elected vice president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the National League of American Pen Women. Life was pretty good. But the money we made at our various jobs wasn’t enough and the Oregon coast called to us. Up here, we could live by the beach in a more affordable house. I could write and play music. Fred could volunteer at the aquarium. As for the rain, we’d buy raincoats.

So, 20 years. Nearly one-third of my life. If we divide it up, the first third was growing up, the second being a young professional, and the third starting over in Oregon.

Let me toss out a few more numbers:

We lived in Lincoln City one year, Newport one year, and South Beach 18 years. I have been walking dogs along Thiel Creek for 18 years. Six days a week, 1.5 miles a day, times 18 years=2,496 walks and 3,744 miles or all the way across the U.S. and partway back. Add the miles we walked in Newport and Lincoln City, and we’re at least back to Utah.

I have made approximately 50 trips back to San Jose, mostly by car. At 1,400 miles a trip, say 45 trips, that’s 63,000 miles and about 90 overnight stays at the Best Western Miner’s Inn in Yreka, California. I should get a gold plaque or something.

I was 44 when we arrived. Fred was 59, younger than I am now. Later this year, I have to sign up for Medicare. What???

Oregon has given me a lot. Six published books. My MFA degree in creative writing. Twenty years as a church musician. I get to spend my days writing and playing music, which has always been my dream. I have a house with a large, private yard only a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. I can go to the beach or walk in the woods whenever I want. The air is clean, the traffic is minimal, and the temperature rarely gets over 70 degrees. Of course, we don’t have a shopping mall, serious medical issues require a trip to Corvallis or Portland, and full-time jobs are hard to find, but there’s online shopping, I don’t mind a trip to the valley, and I don’t need a full-time job. I’m already working full-time at work that I love. In other words, we got what we came for.

A week ago Sunday, I attended a concert at Newport’s Performing Arts Center. Walking through the lobby, I kept running into friends from music, writing and church. Lots of smiles, lots of hugs. We knew just about everybody on stage as well as in the seats. I have spent many hours in that auditorium, in the audience and on the stage. I felt this huge sense of belonging as my friend Pat and I settled into our seats. I would not get that kind of feeling in San Jose in a massive venue where everyone was strangers.

Fred and I lived together here for almost 13 years. He spent two years in nursing homes and died five years ago. He absolutely loved Oregon, never had a moment of regret. Over the years, we have lost many family members, including my mother, both of Fred’s parents, Aunt Edna, cousin Jerry, cousin Candi, cousin Dale, Cousin Irene, Uncle Bob, and more. We have also welcomed Candace, Courtney, Riley, Peyton, Keira, Clarabelinda, Kai and Kaleo, Eddie and Wyatt, and more. The cycle of life includes our four-legged loved ones. We lost our dog Sadie in 2007. We gained Chico and Annie in 2009, then I lost Chico in 2010.

My dad, now 94, has survived heart surgery, a broken wrist and a broken hip. My biggest regret of this Oregon journey is not being close to him all the time instead of just a few days or weeks when I visit. When he complains about crime, traffic and heat in San Jose, I encourage him to join me up here, but he is firmly rooted in the city where he was born.

Over the years, I have thought about going home. I miss my family. I get tired of the endless cold, gray winter days. Why am I in this big house alone now that Fred is gone? Most widows seem to move close to their families, usually their children.

But I stay. Why? The opportunities for connections with writers and musicians are huge here. I am allowed to play, sing and lead the choir every week at church even though I have no music degree and I am not a concert pianist. Yes, there are more opportunities in big cities, but you’re one of a crowd.

I might have better luck finding a new man (do I want one?) somewhere else, but when I sit writing on my deck with the dog sleeping at my side, warm sun on my face and a light breeze tousling my hair, I don’t want to leave. It’s peaceful here.

Lots of other people have moved to the Oregon coast since Fred and I came. I’m an old-timer now. California retirees are still falling in love with the place and moving in. But we are unlikely to see our population grow to the point that it’s a problem. Our weather is too challenging, and there’s no easy way to get to the rest of the world–tough roads, minimal bus service, no plane or train service. Also, jobs and housing are scarce. Good. Keeps the riff-raff out.

I like this place where I know lots of people, where the rain has dirt to sink into, where strangers wave at me and Annie as they drive by in their pickup trucks, where I hear the ocean at night instead of freeway noise and sirens, where I can slip away to the beach in five minutes if I feel like it or doze on my loveseat with the dog sleeping beside me. Driving over the Yaquina Bridge into Newport, I look down at the blue waters of the bay, the white boats bobbing there, and the green hills around it and am still awed by how beautiful it is.

On our anniversaries, Fred and I used to ask each other if we were willing to stay together another year. We’d click our wine glasses and pledge not just a year, but forever. It’s time to ask myself that about Oregon and this house. I can’t pledge forever or even a year. Things happen. But for now, I’m staying. It’s home.


You can read the story of our journey to Oregon and what followed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. Follow this blog to continue the story.

S is for . . . Shoes Full of Sand

Long before I wrote a book titled Shoes Full of Sand, I wrote a song by that name. It was inspired by my then-new love for Fred Lick. Our first date took place just before Christmas. Dinner and a movie. Then Fred went to Southern California for two weeks to spend the holidays with his family. After only one date, we were already in love. We agreed to meet in Monterey.

I arrived first. I remember looking for him by the carousel, walking down the steps and seeing him coming toward me. Just like in the movies, we flew into other’s arms. We spent a magical weekend at the beach, where every moment confirmed that we were meant to be together. That was 1984. We were married in May 1985 and lived in San Jose, where Fred finished out his career with the City of San Jose’s recreation department and I worked for several newspapers, ending up as editor of the Saratoga News.

In 1996, we moved to Oregon. We both wanted to live by the beach, and here we could actually afford it. We longed for those shoes full of sand.

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. We never suspected back in 1984 that our lives would take such a turn. As I dig my feet into Oregon’s cool gray sand, I hear “Shoes Full of Sand” playing in my head again. I recorded it for you the other day. Dressed up, arranged the perfect background, repeated it till it was perfect. Unfortunately, that computer is in the shop today with a virus, so I tried it a capella on my phone. Note the dog helping in the lower right.

I’m participating in this month’s A to Z blogging challenge. S stands for “Shoes Full of Sand.” My alphabetical posts are distributed among my various blogs. Here is the schedule:

Tourists Invade the Oregon Coast

It’s Labor Day weekend, time for the Oregon coasties to hide while tourists take over the town. Most of us moved here to get away from crowds, to escape stop-and-go traffic, cities full of strangers, and long lines at restaurants, stores and gas stations. We like our small-town setting where we can move around freely, never wait in line, and always run into someone we know.

So does everyone else. The Oregon Coast is one of those places people go for recreation. As a result, from around Memorial Day to sometime after Labor Day, the place is packed with visitors. Every other vehicle crawling down the highway is from somewhere else. Lots of those vehicles are slow-moving RVs and big trucks towing boats, but even the little cars slow us down as the drivers gawk at the sights. I’m thinking okay, it’s the ocean, it’s a bridge, it’s a lighthouse, take your picture and move along.

At the grocery stores, travelers fill the aisles, not knowing where anything is and having to confer on every purchase. Shall we have corn with that? What kind of cereal do you like? Me, I’ve got my list, and I’m still in my church clothes. Let me get my food and go home. 

I drove through Nye Beach yesterday to take pictures and found nowhere to park. Visitors wearing shorts, leading children and dogs, and snapping pictures with their cell phones, clogged the sidewalks and spilled out of the eateries. Great sweating masses of visitors stared at the ocean. I surprised a couple kissing on the stairs by the Visual Arts Center.

I want them all to go home, but like everyone who lives here, I know our economy depends on folks from out of town coming here to spend their money. They stay in our motels and RV parks, eat our food, fill their vehicles with our gas, and buy our glass floats, thereby enabling the local kids to have school clothes and me to buy groceries. I get it.

Like a large portion of Oregon Coast residents, I moved from a place people leave for vacation to a place where people come. My husband and I were tourists here, too. We walked on the beaches, visited the lighthouses and aquariums, shopped in the gift shops, and ate in the restaurants. We fell in love with the place and resolved to move here someday. And then, like so many Californians who first came as visitors, we sold our house and drove the big rental truck north.

Now I have the nerve to resent all those tourists. Twenty years ago, I was one of them with my California license plate, slowing down traffic to take pictures. I must try to embrace these wide-eyed tourists as just like me. So come, let me show you my beautiful home. Then, either learn to drive the speed limit or go back to wherever you came. And by the way, put away the cell phone. Why drive hundreds or thousands of miles if all you’re going to see is your iPhone?

Tomorrow, the local kids are going back to school. Soon the weather will turn, the tourists will trickle away, and we will reclaim our town. But today, I’m staying home in my little piece of paradise.

Am I a Real Oregonian yet?

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.

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?

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