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.”
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Help, It’s Not Raining!

 We had some freakishly hot days on the Oregon Coast last week. Saturday got up into the 80s. We figure that was summer. Seriously.

Nobody knows how to handle these days. Bugs come out of nowhere, including crane flies and flying carpenter ants as big as hummingbirds. We don’t know what to wear because we finally have to take off our fleece jackets and our fleece vests and our fleecy Ugg boots, and let a little pale skin come out. We don’t even have any suntan lotion; thank God the Dollar Tree reopened yesterday. Our bodies do this weird thing we can’t identify until someone from somewhere else explains that it’s sweat. And my dog, poor Oregon Coast pup, is dragging around wishing she could take off her fur coat.
I remember well getting into my car in California and burning my hands on the steering wheel, walking into buildings just to feel the air conditioning, and getting a new pair of sandals every year. Around here, nobody has air conditioning. What for? All we can do is open a window. I’m used to lolling on my deck as much as possible, soaking up the sun, not hiding from it. I know it was only in the 80s. The temperature got up over 100 on a regular basis from June through September back in San Jose. Eighty was a nice day. It’s all relative. After 15 years, I’ve acclimated.
Anyway, it’s cloudy today. It dripped a couple drops of rain, and I’m hoping it will rain good and hard because it’s muggy, like Massachusetts in August, and I miss my fleece.
***
On a slightly related note, Friday turned out to be a good day to take photos on the beach. We’re working on the cover for the paperback edition of my new book, Shoes Full of Sand (already available on Kindle, hint, hint) and I decided to take some more pictures. Here’s some of what I came up with. I’m sure people thought I was nuts taking pictures of sand and my own bare feet and my shoes. But hey, it’s Shoes—Full—of—Sand. And they were.

Singin’ in the Wind

Join me in this little ditty to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain”.

I’m singin’ in the wind,
just singin’ in the wind,
what an allergized feelin’,
I’m sniffling again . . .

I’ve done it five years in a row, played at the annual charity garden tour and at the Toledo Wednesday market. Why do I keep coming back with the fantasy of perfect weather, an attentive audience, and notes coming out of my throat like I’m some kind of angel? The reality: it’s hot, freezing or raining, and always, always windy. The few people who really listen tend to talk to me as if I could sing, play the guitar, and carry on a conversation at the same time. I’m usually planted right under a giant flower pot or on the grass in front of a lush flower bed, so my throat feels scratchy, and my mood gets cranky as I try to control pages of music that keep wanting to blow away.

Meanwhile people keep saying I have a beautiful voice and isn’t it a wonderful day? Yeah, peachy keen.

Why do it? I could say I’m singing for a worthy cause, but mostly I want the publicity and it fluffs my ego. Maybe somebody who takes my card will ask me to sing inside on a stage where people are quietly listening instead of asking what they put on that azalea to make it grow so well.

Also, it’s good practice, and this time I got to try out my new amp (love it) and the new action on my old guitar (love that, too).

When they call me next year, I should say no, but I probably won’t. I’ll throw on a hat, take an antihistamine and off I go . . .

Singin’ in the wind,
just singin’ in the wind.
Why do I do it
again and again?
I’m playin’ my tunes
on weekends in June,
just singin’ and snifflin’ in the wind.

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2009 😉

Working and running in the rain

It’s another rainy day on the Oregon Coast. We have had so many wet, cold, gray days that some of us can’t help fantasizing about driving south until we hit sunshine and warmth. The weather reports from back home in California taunt us with temperatures in the 70s and a big “S” for sun. My computer says it’s 39 degrees here right now at nearly 9:30 a.m.

But Oregonians are tough. They know that if they don’t work in the rain, nothing will get ever get done. As I type, the concrete guys are back. A couple days ago, these bold gentlemen in their slickers dug out the mud and scraps of lawn in the shady side of the new dog enclosure to prepare for the concrete. Now they’re laying strips of metal within the wooden forms and getting ready to pour, even though it’s raining sideways. If the rain continues, the slab will be stippled with raindrops. It seems appropriate.

I’m tempted to run out and write something in the wet concrete as soon as they leave. Meanwhile the dogs and I keep looking out the windows, the same mixture of eagerness, curiosity and anxiety on our faces.

Being unable to let the dogs into their enclosure the last two days has been a challenge. Chico jumped the old fence twice yesterday. On the next block, I met a neighbor named Sandy. “You’re the writer, aren’t you?” she asked as Chico zoomed past me and out of sight. “Yes,” I said and resumed the chase. Lord, that dog loves to run. He darted in and out of the driveways somewhat in the direction I was going. We arrived home at the same time. As I opened the door, he skidded over the step and across the carpet, his tongue hanging out like a foot-long piece of baloney. Whew!

Lozenge on my teeth

As I crawl into bed, the wind huffs and puffs against the walls and windows. Outside, the trees bend and dip. Patio furniture scatters like Lego toys. Pine needles turn the street orange. When I turned the TV off, the news was all about snow in Portland. Again. Here on the coast, we have had precipitation in the form of snow, hail, and rain. It has come down in puffs, rocks, needles, sheets, drizzles and gully-washers. The extended forecast? More of the same. It’s enough to make a born-again Oregonian scream, “I want to go home!” I want to make like the Canada Geese and fly south in the fall. But of course, no one can afford to buy a house these days, especially in the Bay Area. So we put on our slickers and waffle-stompers and go on.

***
One of my jobs is assistant director of the contemporary choir at Sacred Heart Church, over the bridge in Newport. It’s a wonderful brick edifice opened the year I was born, very old-fashioned inside with creaky blond-wood pews, lots of statues and a giant dying Jesus on the cross up front, much like the church I grew up in before it got modernized. The choir sits in chairs on a plywood platform to the right of the altar.

Our director’s husband had open heart surgery last month. I was in charge the whole month of December. However, she was coming back yesterday and wanted to pick out the music, as well as play the piano. Fine. I needed a break. However, she didn’t actually pick out the music until late Saturday night and she was going to be very late on Sunday. She e-mailed the list of songs to the choir, but I was the only one who was online at that point. I had hoped to get to church early and organize the music, but somehow when my alarm rang, I shut it off and went back to sleep, waking up an hour later. It was a miracle that I managed to shower, eat breakfast, dress and be in the car at 9:15.

When I arrived, the choir was in a dither. Although she didn’t have the list of songs, another choir member had already started trying to do the music. There were papers everywhere, and nobody knew what was going on. I was singing the psalm and had not practiced it. Meanwhile there were microphones and music stands to set up. We were still figuring things out as we tumbled out of the chapel into the sanctuary. Father Brian stopped us early in verse two of “We Three Kings”. I thought he had paused to welcome our director back. But no, the number on the board was wrong. He asked us to start the song over from the top so the congregation could sing along. Lord, Lord.

When I went up to the lectern for my solo, I was still sucking a throat lozenge, trying to chase off the gunk in my throat. I had to either get rid of it or sing with this chunk of yellow stuff in my mouth. So there I stood on the altar, biting down, feeling as if the crunching sound was so loud the reader could surely hear it. In fact, it might be going out over the microphone across the whole church. Crunch. Crunch. Swallow. I had pieces of lozenge stuck to my teeth. Picture me clutching my choir book, gazing the over the lector’s shoulder at the sacred words, and trying like crazy to push the sticky lozenge remainders off my teeth with my tongue. There’s a period right after sucking a lozenge when your throat is still adapting to it not being there, and that’s when I took my place at the microphone, nodding at Mary Lee to play the introduction. I had no idea what would come out.

It could have been worse. We got through Mass and even received some applause. After Mass, for the first time since I woke up and saw what time it was, I could finally breathe. I thought my voice had sounded a little raspy, plus this was the psalm with all the place names, like Tarshish and Sheba, but a couple I met during coffee and donuts after Mass gushed over my beautiful voice. “What a gift,” the woman said.

Naturally I decided to ditch everything to become a world-famous singer. Again. But at this point in life, I’ll settle for famous in Newport. That and a maple bar washed down with Ruby Mist tea.

Rain? What rain? Ah, the artist’s ego.

Oh, the mud!

Mix two nine-month-old lab-terrier puppies, a rainy day and a pile of dirt and what do you get? Mud. I have never seen so much mud in my life. In fact, the robe I’m wearing right now is decorated with muddy pawprints, and my husband is wiping more paw prints off the kitchen floor because he accidentally let the dogs in. I had already mopped the floor and was trying very hard to keep it clean.

Annie, the smaller but trickier dog, added some mud prints to the green chair by the window. I barely got her back outside when her brother Chico (the one on the chair) slipped in. What’s a little more mud on linoleum? But in the laundry room, where the dogs live, oh, the horror. The floor is completely covered with mud and so are the tops of the dogs’ crates. The edges of the walls and the washer and dryer and are also paw-painted with mud. It’s everywhere, including smeared all over the sliding doors in the dining area. No matter how many times I wipe the dogs’ paws, they get dirty again. It’s only November. We’re in for many more months of rain. Ahhh!

There’s hope for today though. Blue sky shows through the holes in the clouds and they’re predicting some sunshine for the next couple days. Time to dry out and clean up. Welcome to life in Oregon.

Of course we could have snow and below-freezing temperatures. We don’t want that. Or do we? Snow covers the dirt, which means no mud.

Happy day after Thanksgiving to all.