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:

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Am I a Real Oregonian yet?


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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 Coastalairesbarbershop 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.

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.”

Just South of the Airport

I woke up this morning to the sound of a plane flying over my house. UPS? Fed Ex? A private plane heading to Portland or Silicon Valley? A couple years ago, I would have guessed it was a Seaport commuter plane doing its 4:45 a.m. run to Portland. That airline, like several others, tried flying out of Newport and couldn’t make enough money to stay. In the 14 years since Fred and I moved into our house a half mile south of the airport, we have watched Harbor Air, Sky Taxi and Seaport come and go. Each time, they left the airport a little more modernized for the mail transports, charter flights, and Coast Guard helicopters that continue to fly there. With new lights, expanded runways and fences to keep deer and elk off the tarmac, Newport Airport can accommodate the biggest jets, but it just can’t support regular flights that would let us avoid the three-hour drive to the Portland airport. Imagine being able to walk up the road with my suitcase and hop on a plane. Unless I buy my own plane, it’s not happening.

When we were looking at the house, the previous owner noted that sometimes the helicopter noise gets annoying. He was right. Although it’s nothing compared to our previous experiences with airports in San Jose and Los Angeles, it does get tiresome when the helicopters warm up on the runway for an hour or when pilots in training practice takeoffs and landings.
It’s also a little disconcerting to be sitting in the office and see a plane appearing to fly straight toward the house. But it’s fun to sit on the deck or be soaking in the spa and watch the planes fly over, to wonder about who’s inside and where they’re going. I have heard rumors that Bill Gates and other famous wealthy people fly into Newport to relax at the beach. I often wave at the planes, although I know the people inside can’t see me. It reminds me of when I was kid in San Jose and blimps from Moffett Field would fly over. Everyone would run out of the house to watch.
At night, the airport lights flash in the darkness, like constant sheet lightning pulsing like a heartbeat. I often hear the planes before I see their red and green lights blinking among the stars. If it’s cloudy, I may not see them at all, but I hear them flying over, hear their engines growing louder, then softer, then sighing into silence.
Living so close to the airport has its risks—and not just a plane falling out of the sky onto our house. Over the years, rumors have circulated about a resort, a housing development, new roads, and most recently an air museum practically in our back yard, but none of this has happened. Annie and I still take our walks around the open land just south of the airport, gazing across the ravine at the runways and the lights. The only thing that has changed is the pine trees and Scotch broom getting taller.
Sometimes it feels like we live out in the middle of nowhere here in the woods. All I can see from my windows are trees, but the sky is wide open and the aircraft flying over remind me that we’re not alone and civilization is not far away. I wake up to the sound of a plane flying over the house. It’s time to get up.

I write a lot more about the airport in my book Shoes Full of Sand, available at Amazon.com and at http://www.suelick.com/Sand.html.

My berry-picking dog


Our daily walks are journeys of discovery. Last night Annie and I saw a calico-colored mouse, dead but totally intact, with its feet in the air. Tonight it’s gone. I thought I saw a really long garter snake under my bushes. Annie dove down to smell it and looked up, confused. It was a snake’s skin without the snake in it. Probably about two feet long. Now I want to know, where’s the snake that left its skin behind?

There’s always something to see. We’ve seen eagles and deer, dead birds and sea lions. Early in the year, we found three-leaved trilliums signaling the beginning of spring. Orange-bellied newts slithered slowly across the street. As the trilliums turned from white to pink to purple, scotch broom painted the landscape yellow. 
Then came the rhododendrons in pink, red, white and yellow. Now it’s purple foxglove, white and yellow daisies, buttercups–and berries.
While I was on vacation and Annie walked with the dog-sitter, my pup learned to pick berries. Now I can’t get her to stop. I’m too busy laughing anyway. She’s particular about her berries. Nix on the thimbleberries. Huckleberries are a last resort. She goes for the blackberries and salmonberries (which look like salmon-colored blackberries).
I admit to snatching the occasional ripe blackberry off the vine, nibbling it delicately as red juice drips down my fingers. But Annie has no patience for delicacy. Nor does she seem to care whether the berries are green or past their prime. She will pass up every other plant and plunge her face deep into the bush, grabbing as many berries as she can, swallowing them whole, then looking up at me with a crazed grin. What a miracle; you can grab food right off the bushes.
I think the miracle is that she hasn’t gotten sick or cut herself on the stickers. She’s one good berry-picker. Are you looking for a picture of the berries? She ate them all.
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I try not to advertise here, but I have a new book out. It’s called Childless by Marriage. Mostly memoir, it is about how women who wanted to be mothers never have children because their husbands or partners are unable or unwilling to bring a baby into their lives. The chapters talk about the decision not to have kids and the grief that follows, birth control, step-parenting, the “mom club,” old age without children, and, of course, being a dog mom. Find out more at http://www.suelick.com/Childless.html.
I have several other books out, including Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. Click hereto read about them. All are available at Amazon.com in paperback, and all but Stories Grandma Never Told are also formatted for the Kindle e-reader.
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End of commercial. I like coming here to get away from the business of selling books. The blackberries and salmonberries are almost done. Poor Annie won’t know where to find snacks on our walks when the berries are gone, but I’m sure she’ll find something.

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?

Black Friday? Not for me

If we’re to believe what we see and hear in the media, everybody is shopping today. Stores opened ridiculously early and in some cases, they opened last night, so shoppers didn’t even have time to digest their turkey and pumpkin pie. I know people who were almost as excited about shopping today as that crazy woman on the Target TV commercials they’ve been airing approximately every five minutes. But I’m not going anywhere near a store today. I hate shopping and I hate crowds. Plus there’s a rumor the sun might make an appearance on the Oregon Coast. After this last week of wild storms, I don’t want to get stuck in a store and miss it.

Instead I’m doing some writing and cleaning up the layers of stuff dumped all over the house. I might dig out the Christmas music, and I might start the Christmas cards.  Or I might just go hang out at the dog park.

This year’s Christmas cards present a dilemma. Not everyone on my list knows that my husband Fred died in April, seven months and two days ago. I hate to break the news in a Christmas card, but I know I’m going to get lots of cards addressed to “Fred and Sue” this year, and I need to explain why my cards are signed by only “Sue.” What a downer. This is actually my third Christmas without Fred because he was living in a nursing home, so it’s not as hard as you might think, but it’s odd not being able to buy gifts for him or sign my cards with both our names. He loved Christmas so much. I know he’d be bugging me today to go get a Christmas tree. But things change and we adapt.

The other big news this year was the publication of my book, Shoes Full of Sand, in July. I like to think it honors the memories Fred and I shared of our early years in Oregon. Don’t want to fight the crowds this Christmas? Buy books. Some of my favorite bookstores are closing at the end of the year because they’re not selling enough books anymore. If you love books, support your local bookseller. Remember, books are easy to wrap and easy to mail, and they last forever.

Two weeks ago today, I had my second cataract surgery, so I’m typing this without glasses. My closeup vision is amazing. I see a lot of things I never noticed before. I’m still going to need glasses for distance vision, and I can’t order them for a few more weeks because my vision has not stabilized yet. It’s frustrating and exciting at the same time.

That’s the Black Friday news from South Beach. Happy holidays to everybody.