After the Funeral, the Unpacking Begins

IMG_20190915_080126224_HDR[1]I’m unpacking. It’s weird because now I can unpack all the way. In recent times, I have kept the suitcases handy and partially packed because my next trip to San Jose and another Dad crisis was always just around the corner.

I have the whole 13-hour drive cemented in my head. I know where to get gas, use the restroom, sleep, eat, and find good radio stations. I know how long it takes and when I will arrive.

When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I had to think for a minute before I could define that light area straight ahead. Oh, it’s the bathroom. That’s not where it was at Dad’s house or in the motel. This is my house.

For the 23 years since Fred and I moved to Oregon, my destination has always been my parents’ house. Dragging in after the long drive, I could expect a hug, dinner, and a soft bed. I remember one Christmas when my mother greeted me at the door by telling me, “My Christmas present is here!” Me. Ditto, Mom.

Everything has changed now, and so have we. The house will be sold, and my brother and I won’t visit San Jose as much. We can stop commuting because God is taking care of our parents now.

My father and mother are together again, Clarence “Ed” and Elaine V. Fagalde, side by side. It feels right, but it hurts. Yesterday in Portland, on the shuttle from the terminal to the long-term parking lot, the woman sitting next to me answered a phone call from her mother. Afterward she said, “No matter how old you get, your mother’s still checking up on you.”

I felt the tears coming. “If they’re alive,” I said. “You’re lucky.”

And then we arrived at the Q bus shelter, grabbed our bags, and went off to our cars. She was probably on the 205 freeway before I stopped crying enough to drive slowly toward the parking lot exit.

It’s going to be that way. Obvious triggers and not so obvious ones will bring tears. I’ll sob and scream then go on, refreshed for a while. The tears signify how much you loved them, said the wonderful Fr. Saju on Friday at Dad’s funeral Mass. The priest had seven funerals last weekend, but he made everyone feel as if theirs was the only one.

Putting a loved one to rest involves a lot of quick planning and last-minute detail, but it went well. We didn’t have a huge crowd at St. Martin’s, but every single person who came was special. The music by the talented Ophelia Chau was gorgeous, and Fr. Saju included everyone, Catholic or not. We laughed and cried. The military honors, complete with “Taps” and a flag ceremony, tore our hearts. And then there was a barbecue at Aunt Suzanne’s house, where cousins from different branches of the family got to know each other over hamburgers and linguica dogs, potato salad, chili, beer, and five different kinds of pies.

It was ridiculously hot outside, 97 degrees, so eventually we all crowded into the air-conditioned house and watched cousin Rob’s slide show of old black and white photos, yelling out guesses as to where they were taken and who all those people were. That’s Uncle Don! No, it isn’t! That’s Jack. No, it’s–” We kids have to fill in the blanks now. I hope Dad and Mom were watching together, smiling at the memories, knowing all the names.

I came home yesterday. When the plane landed back in Portland, it was 60 degrees, overcast and raining. Suddenly the light sweater I didn’t need in San Jose was not enough coverage. That’s Oregon. This morning I cleaned, filled and lit the pellet stove. Annie is sprawled on the love seat warming her belly.

It’s odd being home. I already feel memories starting to fade. I don’t want to forget where I was the last few days or the last few months. I want to hold on to those precious memories, just like I wished I could hold on to the red rose I snatched from the funeral flowers. I didn’t know how I’d get it through airport security, so I left it for the motel maid.

Do I really not have to go anywhere until Thanksgiving? Can I actually make plans and expect to keep them? Is my father really gone? And my husband and my mother, too?

This is part of growing up. The cousins whose parents have not already passed away are doing the same caregiving dance my brother and I did for so many years. All too soon, there will be another funeral, another name etched in stone.

But it’s not all darkness. As Dad’s ashes were slipped into the niche with Mom’s on Saturday, my cousin’s daughters and my niece’s son and daughter, ages 1 to 4, ran around between the walls of ashes and the commemorative benches. Knowing nothing about death, they laughed and hollered, rolled and jumped. To them, this place was almost as good as Disneyland.

Take a lesson from the children. Grab joy wherever you can. Fall, cry, get up, and play some more.

I’m home. The next chapter begins.

To Pierce or Not to Pierce? Do I Dare?

IMG_20190909_101510182[1]I don’t have pierced ears. I know, what’s wrong with me? Not having pierced ears means that I can’t wear most of the earrings sold at stores, farmers’ markets, craft fairs, etc. It means that occasionally someone gifts me with a pair of earrings that I regretfully set aside. It also means that I have spent a lifetime collecting clip-on and screw-on earrings at antique stores and wherever I could find them. Loving friends have also made them for me. I’ve got quite a collection now.

I also have numerous single earrings for which the partner has been lost because some of them, especially the screw-on ones, come off pretty easily.

Why am I thinking about earrings? I’m trying to not think about illness and death for once, and I’m slowly going through the things I brought home from my parents’ house. Among those things is a pair of sapphire earrings from my mother’s dresser. They came with a matching necklace and are so pretty I feel guilty for taking them, but I’m the daughter. Besides, who else wears clip-on earrings?

IMG_20190909_101454272[1]I haven’t taken many of my mother’s earrings because we had different taste. She wore button-shaped earrings, no danglers, no whimsical symbols, no cats, dogs, peace signs, etc. (What? No American flag for Fourth of July?) The buttons are my least favorite earrings, not only because of how they look—I like a little dangle—but because they’re heavy, and their clip-on fasteners hurt. First they ache, then the lobes go numb, then when you take them off all the blood rushes in and they hurt even worse. It’s no wonder Mom only wore them for dress-up.

I’m not sure why my mother never got her ears pierced. Maybe her generation, born in the 1920s, didn’t do that. Online articles suggest that “good girls” didn’t wear earrings in her era. Then came the ’60s and pierced ears were the least of our worries.

I do know that when my friends were getting their ears pierced in high school, my mother would not allow me to join them. To her, pierced ears were something that foreigners did, including probably her Portuguese ancestors. God forbid we look foreign in any way. But Mom! All my gringo friends are doing it.

Since then, I have not liked the idea of putting holes in my earlobes, purposely creating a wound and keeping it open forever. Even now it makes me squirm. Also, I love my antique earrings. Can I still wear them if I have pierced ears?

IMG_20190909_101439168[1]But I’m tempted. In the wake of my father’s death, I’m considering all kinds of changes. Piercing my ears is one of them. I’d like to wear those tiny earrings that are too small for clips or screws. It would be wonderful to be able to buy earrings everywhere. I could finally join the cool kids.

My friend Pat has been trying to get me to pierce my ears for years. I might be ready now. It feels like time to change things up. Maybe I’ll grow my hair out. Maybe I’ll change jobs, volunteer for something new, or even take a real vacation now that I’m not always ready to bolt to San Jose to help my father. He would like it if I did that. Go someplace. See something different, he always said.

This time between his death and the funeral, I see-saw between being full of plans and being so mired in grief that all I can do is eat, watch videos, assemble online jigsaw puzzles, and cry. It takes a long time to get comfortable with the grief, and each loss joins with the previous losses to make one massive ball of hurt.

But we’re talking about earrings today. What about you? Does anyone else still have unpierced ears? Why? If pierced, when and where did you have it done, and what made you do it? How long did it take before they didn’t bleed or hurt? What advice do you have for me? Please chime in. I really want to know.

Here’s an interesting article that traces ear piercing back to Biblical times. It says there was a lull in the 1920s-1950s, which explains Mom’s clip-on earrings.

***

My father Clarence “Ed” Fagalde’s funeral Mass is Friday, Sept. 13, 10:30 a.m., at St. Martin of Tours in San Jose. We will gather at my aunt’s house afterward for a barbecue. The funeral home has posted a beautiful slide show online at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584 with pictures from my father’s life. It tells a wonderful story. My father was handsome, my mother gorgeous, and my brother and I pretty darned cute—except for that unfortunate phase with the headbands and braces. And the bare earlobes.

 

 

It’s Tricky Writing Your Father’s Obituary

Dad patioHow do you sum up a person’s life in a few words and photos? Being the journalist in the family, I got the job of writing the obituary for my father, Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, who died on Aug. 21.

I have written plenty of obits over the years, including my husband’s. They fall into a formula: facts about the person’s death and birth, where they lived, where they went to school, where they worked, extracurricular activities, family they left behind, and funeral information. It only takes a few paragraphs.

But in Dad’s case, which paragraphs? How does a grieving daughter write an unbiased account? What is the most important thing in his life? Each of us might chose a different theme.

In the end, it almost wrote itself. All my years of writing and of listening to Dad came together. I knew what to say. You can see the results online at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584.

Scroll down to see lots of photos. If you have words or pictures to contribute, please add them, following the instructions at the site. He’d like that.

Information on the Sept. 13 funeral is included. We are finalizing the details, but I think our father will be pleased. If you know someone who might want to be there, please share the information with them.

We debated whether to publish a funeral notice in the San Jose Mercury News. Not so long ago, that was a given. But now most newspapers charge a lot of money to publish obituaries, and very few people we know still read the newspaper. Even my father, an avid consumer of print and broadcast news, gave it up toward the end. “Nothing but junk,” he would complain. “I throw half of it away.” Having read a few issues lately, I  agree. The paper that set the standard when I was actively working on newspapers in the Bay Area doesn’t offer much anymore. So we decided to stick with the funeral home’s online obituary.

I received several nice comments on last week’s blog post about Dad. Today a woman who had met him at Somerset, the assisted living place where he spent his last months, talked about how nice he was and how she loved his stories. I know people who saw him as anything but sweet and who got tired of his filibusters.  I admit I sometimes fell asleep while he was talking, and I felt sorry for quiet people like my late husband who couldn’t get a word in edgewise. But he was a good man, and they were good stories, far more than can fit in an obituary.

“You should write a book about that,” he kept telling me about all kinds of things, from his days on the ranch to the people in the nursing home. Who knows? Maybe I will.

 

Remembering Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, Jr.

Dad 43018BAt 6:30 p.m., I look at the clock and think, “I’ve got to call Dad.” Then I remember. I can’t do that anymore. I can forget his phone number. I can stop carrying my cell phone everywhere for fear I’ll miss an emergency call.

That call came at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10 as Annie and I were walking up Thiel Creek Road. Within an hour, I was on my way to San Jose, adrenaline flowing so hard I didn’t feel hungry or sleepy or even need to pee. I just wanted to get there before IT happened.

By the time I stopped in Roseburg for the worst quarter-pounder ever at a McDonald’s where I had to interrupt the worker’s video game to place my order, my brother had sent a text saying that my father was no longer “critical.” Whew.

I cruised into the Best Western in southern Medford at 9 p.m. and went to bed at 9:30. Back on the road early the next day, I arrived at Kaiser Hospital at 3 p.m. My brother Mike was already there. My father didn’t look good. It was the first time I’d seen him hooked up to an oxygen tank. He refused to eat, but we were still able to talk. I’m sure when he saw both of his kids there at the same time, he knew things were not going well.

The hospital sent him back to Somerset Senior Living, where he’d been since June. But the end was coming. Suffering from congestive heart failure, kidney failure, a broken leg that had never healed, and a monster of a bedsore, he went downhill. He stopped getting up in his wheelchair, stopped eating, stopped talking, stopped. On the morning of Aug. 21, Ed Fagalde passed on to the next life.

I’m grateful I had a chance to sit with him. We said all the things we needed to say to each other. I sang to him that last night. At 97, this vigorous, talkative, power of a man was ready to go, and finally God was ready to take him.

“Sue, are you okay?” he asked me at one point. “Is Mike okay?” I assured him we were both fine, just worried about him. That seemed to be his main concern, that we be happy and healthy as we go on with our lives. We are, and we will be, but it’s tough right now.

My father and I were close. You know how you have that person who when they call, you say, “Oh, hi,” and sit down to enjoy the call? He was that guy in recent years. Both widowed, we shared the frustrations of living alone. I gave him cooking tips, and he advised me on home repairs. When I was in San Jose, we went to everything together. Sometimes people mistook me for his wife. I do look like my mother, and at 67, I have almost as much gray hair as Dad had. During those times, it was nice not to be alone.

I was always proud of my father. Smart, handsome, and strong, he was a farmer, a WWII veteran, and an electrician, blue collar, not rich. So what? He could have been anything, but he chose to work with his hands. Lord, those hands took a beating. In his spare time, when he wasn’t fishing or goofing around with his CB radio, he was working on the house and yard; he built so much of it himself.

And when he finally sat down to rest, he told stories. So many stories. He could make a story out of a trip to the gas station. I think that’s how I got to be a writer. I learned the gift of story from him, but never able to get a word in edgewise, I wrote my stories down.

Thank you, Dad. I’m so glad you’re not suffering anymore, but I sure will miss that voice on the phone, those stories I’ve heard so many times and wouldn’t mind hearing again.

The funeral Mass for Ed Fagalde will be held Sept. 13 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose. An online obituary will be posted soon. 

 

 

 

Shootings change the look of everything

What a difference a week makes. Last week I posted about binge-watching comforting TV shows to get away from the real world. I had no idea how much more frightening the world would become. Three mass shootings in eight days. Thirty-two dead, many more wounded. I’m afraid to type this for fear another shooting will happen today. I’m starting to feel like our nation is at war with itself. People are afraid to express their views for fear the people they’re talking to are on the other side of the red-blue divide. We never know where some young man with an assault rifle will start shooting random people. Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton. Where next? I’m drawn to the news reports, yet I know I need to stop listening. I can’t sleep. How about you?

While the latest shootings happened, I was at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. It was a great chance to hang out with writer friends, buy each other’s books, and learn about writing and publishing. And wow, the pastries the Airport Sheraton puts out. We tried to stay in our writer bubble as long as possible before tuning in to the constant news reports listing the numbers of dead and wounded. On the way home, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe in my car I was safe because I was not standing in a crowd. Would I be safe if I stopped at the mall? Even as we keep praying that the shootings stop and that stronger gun laws will be passed so deluded kids can’t get assault rifles, we can’t forget the sound of the gunshots from the videos played repeatedly on the TV news.

The shooters were mentally ill, the president says. I think they have been brainwashed to believe that certain kinds of people deserve to die, that a brown mother, father or child is less deserving of life than a white one. What makes people cross the line? Social media, violent games and movies, the president’s rhetoric? I don’t know. Something makes the shooters decide it’s okay to kill people. It’s horrifying. Please God, let it stop.

I will not talk politics here. It doesn’t feel safe, and I like to keep a happy blog. Instead, I will share this poem I wrote after the Gilroy shootings a week ago. Gilroy, named after one of my ancestors, John Gilroy, is close to my heart. About 30 miles south of San Jose, it’s where I had my first full-time newspaper job, and it’s close enough to home that any of my loved ones might have been there.

THIS TIME IT’S GILROY

Little boy licking an ice cream cone,
Mom trying on a crocheted hat,
old lady fanning herself with her program.

The summer air reeks of garlic
grown in the nearby fields,
chopped, minced, bottled, sold.

Why not hold a festival,
sell garlic hats, garlic bread,
garlic cookies, garlic pie?

Everybody comes. Why not?
Something to do in late July.
Safe. They scan you coming in.

And then they hear the shots.
Firecrackers, someone says
before they see the blood, the boy

killed, ice cream melting in the dirt.
People falling, screaming, running.
Rides stilled, music stopped.

Cops take the shooter down.
We can never ask him why
he cut through the chain link fence.

News cameras, press conference:
Mayor, police chief, the haggard guy
who organized the festival.

Behind them, Christmas Hill park
waits to be cleared of litter, bullets, blood
while the stink of garlic lingers on.

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

 

Online series save us from the real world

Mcleod's_daughters_screenshotWhen you find yourself praying for the well-being of a TV character on a show that ended 10 years ago, you might be having a problem with reality. As you wander through your real life, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “I wish Alex would come home” or “Lord, don’t let Tess lose the baby.” Yeah, yeah, they’re fictional. The actor playing Alex is not really in Argentina, and the actress playing Tess is not really pregnant. But their world is so real!

What am I talking about? This time it’s “McLeod’s Daughters,” an Australian series that aired in the early 2000s. It was quite popular there, and now it’s available on Amazon Prime. The story takes place on a cattle and sheep ranch called Drover’s Run in the Australian Outback. A feminist “Bonanza,” one writer called it. Owner Jack McLeod having died, it is run by his daughter Claire. Soon her half-sister Tess, who grew up elsewhere, moves in. Along with workers Meg, Jody and Becky, the women run the ranch and get into all kinds of adventures and romances. The scenery is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the horses are beautiful. What’s not to love?

Next door to Drover’s Run is the Killarney ranch, where the handsome Ryan brothers Nick and Alex live with their irascible father and society maven mother. They have an assortment of handsome employees, too. The folks from the two ranches are always visiting, borrowing things, helping each other, and getting together at the Gungellan Pub. They also do cattle drives, shear sheep, and fix a lot of fences. They deal with thieves, droughts, sick cattle, and a shortage of money, but they always come out all right. And of course, the men and women fall in love.

The series lasted eight seasons, with 32 episodes per season. That’s a lot of video to watch. Over the years, characters left and new ones came in. Rodeo queen Stevie moved in to take Claire’s place. Tess and Nick moved to Argentina. Cousins Grace, Jaz and Regan moved in and out and back in again. Meg went off to write a book; Moira moved in. Toward the end, viewers complained that it was too much of a soap opera. Agreed. But by then I was so hooked, I took a morning off to watch the last two episodes. I couldn’t wait all day.

I didn’t want to risk finding out what was going to happen until I had seen it all. Early on, I looked up one of the actors and found out something terrible was going to happen. No! I don’t want to know these things in advance. So yesterday, after I watched the end, clutching my dog for fear the good guys would be killed at the last minute, I prowled the net looking things up. I learned that most of the cast changes happened because the actors decided to leave. I learned that the show waned in popularity the last two seasons. The “where are they now” features were unsettling. Everybody looked different. Wait, is that Stevie on an episode of Baywatch? Where’s her cowboy hat and red hair?

I had it bad. It was not the first time. Ask me about “Downton Abbey” or the “Gilmore Girls.” Or “Offspring,” another Aussie series.

I don’t have a “smart” TV. I watch these things on my Kindle Fire tablet. Yeah, it’s small. I forget that after a few minutes. Annie and I curl up on the love seat, and the hours go by. Unlike dramas on the broadcast networks, where you watch one episode and then wait a week for the next, I can watch one after another. There are no commercials. If I need a break, I can pause the video. But I don’t want to.

Am I addicted? Probably. But my doctor says I can’t drink, I don’t want to do drugs, and I don’t have much of a social life, so it’s a safe outlet.

Things have been crazy in my real life lately. My father’s condition is getting worse by the day. After trying to talk with him on the phone every night, I’m usually frustrated because his hearing is so bad he misses most of what I say, and there’s not much I can do. I can’t fix his legs that don’t work anymore. I can’t improve the care or the food or heal his wounds. Nor can I be with him every day. I’ll be heading back to San Jose next week. Meanwhile, I send myself to Drover’s Run, where no one is ever alone, help is always on the way, and you can always count on your “mates.”

When trouble at work is keeping me awake, I send my mind off to Stevie and Alex’s wedding. The horses, the gowns, the vows; was there ever anything so beautiful? When I despair of getting enough pre-orders for my upcoming book (Gravel Road Ahead, order here), I think about how Meg’s book got published so easily. Soon she was signing copies all over the country. I can be like Meg.

Fiction.

Thank God for made-up stories that make us feel better. What makes the TV networks think we want to watch game shows and reality shows all summer? We don’t. Please, take us away from reality for a while.

When I write fiction, it takes me away. I can create my own Oregonian version of Drover’s Run. I guess I did that with my novel Up Beaver Creek. And now that I have left Drover’s Run, I think maybe my time was not wasted. I have some new ideas for PD and her friends.

I need to take a break from the videos for a while to clear my head and write my own stories, but I know I’ll get hooked on another series.

What about you? What shows do you binge-watch? Can you watch one episode and move on? Is it okay to escape reality this way for a while? Come on, share your guilty video pleasure.

 

Don’t Forget Your Hat and White Gloves

mckees,souzas 1960

Times have certainly changed. Check out this photo from 1960. I found it while going through my parents’ old photo albums—black and white shots attached to black pages with sticky fasteners on the corners. It was taken at my Uncle Bob Avina’s wedding reception at St. Lucy’s Church in Campbell, California.

I was eight years old, awed by all the glamour of the gowns and tuxedos that day. Somewhere in that church hall, I sat primly with my parents, wearing a dress, hat, and buckled-on shoes with lacy white socks. My little brother, with his spiky crew cut, black slacks and white shirt, would have been looking for trouble with the younger male cousins. To me, the older people were just . . . old people. My grandmother was one of seven siblings, so there were a lot of aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and their offspring, who also seemed old to me.

Pictured here in the front row are, from left to right, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Nellie (Souza) McKee, Aunt Mamie and Uncle Ted Souza, and Aunt Edna Souza. That’s probably Uncle Tony next to her. In the back row, I can see my mother’s cousin Lorraine and her sister Addie.

I note Uncle Ted’s happy-to-pose expression and Aunt Mamie’s I-do-not-like-having-my-picture-taken face. But I’m especially impressed by the way they’re dressed. When we think of the ’60s, we think of love beads and mini-skirts, but in 1960, the grownups, at least the working class Portuguese American ones I grew up around, dressed up like this. Ladies always wore modest dresses, girdles and nylons, and high-heeled dress shoes. In this case, the shoes all have a little opening for the toes. Those were bloody uncomfortable, I can testify.

White gloves were a necessary accessory, along with the clutch purse. All the women wore hats. We weren’t allowed to walk into a Catholic church without one. Aunt Nellie, the youngest and most stylish of the Souza siblings, went big with her hat, and, if you look closely, on her lap, she’s got a mink stole, which if I remember correctly, had little heads and feet attached. Gross!

In most cases, the curly hair came from a home perm. Anybody remember the Toni home perm?  What a stinky mess. Between perms, I wore curlers to bed every night until I rebelled in my teens. Somehow curly hair was good; straight hair was bad.

I am sure some of the aunts needed glasses but wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them in public. Ah, vanity. Many years later, when I married my first husband at St. Martin’s in San Jose, I handed my glasses to Aunt Nellie at the last minute before the ceremony. I had a heck of a time getting them back from her afterward. She didn’t understand that it was more important to me to see than to look good.

You can’t see it in the photo, but I’m sure the air was rich with the women’s perfume and the men’s aftershave. One didn’t go out unscented in those days. Now everyone, including me, screams “allergies!”

Do you wear perfume or cologne?

Except for the little girl whose barrette you can see in the center of the back row, everyone in that photo has passed away. Aunt Edna on the right made it to 100 years old. Like me, she was a widow for a long time, and she never had children. I wish I had gotten to know all of them better, but back then, they were old people, and I was a child. If only I could assemble the crowd at that wedding and talk to them grownup-to-grownup. I did interview Aunt Nellie and Aunt Edna for my book about Portuguese women, Stories Grandma Never Told, but I know so much more about life now.

If the wedding were taking place today, we’d see women in slacks or maybe in dresses but with no girdles, no stockings, no gloves, no hats, no home perms, and no real fur stoles. The older men would drag out their suits, but the younger ones might not bother. In fact, there might be people of both genders wearing jeans. We’re more inclined to comfort these days, but back in the olden days when we dressed up, we DRESSED UP.

Please share your thoughts and memories in the comments.