Dad’s woes lead me back to San Jose

Dad 43018BRemember those annoying commercials that show an older person on the floor saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” As kids, we used to make fun of them, but it’s not so funny in real life.

My father, whose 97th birthday is May 1, had been complaining of pain in his back and legs and of feeling more and more tired. On March 29, he had gone to the emergency department at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, California seeking relief. They gave him extra-strength Tylenol and sent him home. He continued hurting. My brother suggested I come down from Oregon to help.

I thought I would only be gone a few days, but when I arrived at noon on April 3, I found my father in bed, unable to get up. He had run out of steam the afternoon before and had lain there ever since hoping someone would come. He was hungry, thirsty and soaked with urine. It hurt too much to sit up or roll over. I knew in that moment that all my plans for the month were meaningless. I needed to be in San Jose with Dad.

And so it began. I called 911. Paramedics and firefighters gathered in my parents’ bedroom of 70 years and carried my father to Kaiser Hospital. I followed. Part of me was still on the road driving south from Oregon, but now I faced Silicon Valley traffic, a jammed Kaiser parking lot and an emergency department that would become all too familiar.

As of this morning, my father has had five trips to the emergency department, seven ambulance rides, 12 days in the hospital, and five days in a skilled nursing facility, preceded by nine days of me taking care of him at home. We lived in that bedroom with its flowered wallpaper, Mom’s dresser still decorated as it was when she died in 2002, and the silver crucifix hanging over my father’s head. I fed him, cleaned him, and sat into the wee hours talking with him about the old days. But his condition wasn’t getting any better. On Friday, April 12, the pain got so intense he begged me to do something. I called the paramedics again.

The goal all along has been to get Dad out of bed and back to walking with his walker. The doctors—so many doctors—have not figured out the cause of his leg pain. Both legs and one hip have been broken, but he was getting along all right, until he wasn’t. After 13 hours in the ER that Friday, he was transported by ambulance to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) in Los Gatos.

After two days at the SNF, stomach problems led them to send him back to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with an inflamed gallbladder. Because of his age and condition, the doctors refused to do surgery. They gave him antibiotics and installed a tube to drain the bile out of his gallbladder. Soon they were also watching problems with his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough for fear it would turn into pneumonia. Doctors and social workers kept taking me aside to ask what I wanted to do if it looked like he was dying. They didn’t trust his advanced directive, which says he wants them to do everything possible to keep him alive.

Last Tuesday, Dad was discharged from the hospital back to the SNF. I left for home on Thursday. That night, someone from the SNF woke me up to say they were quarantining dad and testing him for a gastrointestinal infection. By then I was closer to South Beach than to San Jose. I needed to catch up on my bills and see Annie for at least a little while, so I drove on. Saturday morning, they called to say he had tested positive for a very contagious infection called c.diff, and they were sending him back to Kaiser. That’s where he is now. As of yesterday, he seemed to be getting better.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had never called 911. Might he have just passed away in peace? He had no gallbladder symptoms. Some of his pain might have been related to the gallbladder, but not all. Might it have eased on its own? It’s hard to tell. He still can’t get out of bed. Every time he starts physical therapy, something happens to interrupt his progress.

I missed four weeks of this blog. I missed a lot of things, including Easter, the biggest event of the year for church musicians. I missed winter turning to spring here on the Oregon Coast. The trees that were bare when I left are all fluffed out with green leaves now, and the azaleas I thought were dead have begun to bloom. I missed a month of events I’d been looking forward to. I missed my haircut appointment. I traded walks in the woods for walks down the long halls of Kaiser Hospital.

I broke my toe, running into Dad’s walker in the dark, and got a cracked windshield on the Honda, which now has over 122,000 miles on it. A rock hit it on I-5.

It wasn’t all bad. It was warm and sunny in Santa Clara. I spent time with my family. Although I received 11 rejections for my poetry and essays while I was gone, I got one poem accepted and was offered a contract to publish my chapbook. I was in my father’s hospital room when the latter email came through. I’m not sure he understood what I was excited about, but it’s a very good thing.

As the weeks ticked away and every time I thought I could come home, something else went wrong, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, that this time with my father was precious. Life in Oregon would go on without me and I could catch up later.

I will probably have to go back to California soon. The phone will ring again. My father is old, and one problem leads to another. But he’s tough. Don’t count him out yet.

I am grateful for my brother Mike and Aunt Suzanne helping to share the burden. I am grateful for Fran, who came out of retirement to handle the music at Sacred Heart while I was gone, and my singers who carried on. I am grateful for my friend Pat, who gathered my mail and watered my plants, and my neighbor Pat, who gave Annie food and love, mowed my lawns, and generally kept watch over my home. I am grateful for the many, many people who have been praying and offering love on social media. It truly helps.

Before all this happened, I was feeling stuck in my writing, my life, and my faith. Not anymore. God is good, and I am blessed, no matter what craziness happens next. Boy, do I have a lot to write about now.

 

 

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AWP–where everybody is a writer

Every year, AWP–Association of Writers & Writing programs–holds the biggest writing conference in the country. For the first time since 1998, it was in Oregon, at the Portland Convention Center, so I had to go. Could I afford it? No. Could I afford the time off from work? No. Was my touchy stomach up to the different diet? No. Do my feet have blisters on their blisters? Yes they do. But I don’t care. It was worth every blister, every $20 bill that went flying out, every frou-frou sandwich with ingredients I couldn’t identify, even worth that mouth-burning hot pepper I thought was a crabapple.

AWP was like a massive party where everyone I’ve ever known in my writing life-from Antioch, Fishtrap, the Tucson Festival of Books, Portuguese writers, Nye Beach Writers, Willamette Writers, my Facebook friends, editors who have rejected my work, editors who have accepted my work, and famous writers on whom I have massive writer-girl crushes—were all in one place. I’m not normally comfortable at parties, but I had found my tribe, and I was high on the love—and way too much iced tea.

I was able to walk up to booths and say “I have a story in that issue,” and have the editors say, “Yes! It’s so great to meet you.” To have young writers call me an inspiration. Me? To get a big hug from a grad school classmate I hadn’t seen in 16 years.

I heard there were 12,000 people there. There were more than 700 exhibits with publishers, editors, writers, and college writing programs selling thousands and thousands of books and giving away pens, candy, postcards, poems, and more. There were approximately 500 panel discussions spread over three days, plus all kinds of “offsite” gatherings. It was not possible to do everything, but I’m so pleased about what I did do. I saw my heroes from Creative Nonfiction. I attended a session led by poet Kwame Dawes. I heard readings by Ilya Kaminsky and Tess Gallagher. I saw Oregon poet laureate Kim Stafford in the parking garage and Luis Alberto Urrea wandering around the bookfair. We were all citizens of Writer World, a place where I finally felt at home.

Many of the attendees were so very young, but we older folks were well represented, too. All races and nationalities attended, including men in dresses and girls who dressed like boys. I saw some wild outfits I can’t believe anyone would wear in public. It amused me that everyone put on what they thought looked good. But never mind. We were all obsessed with words.

Unfortunately, one can’t wander around Writer Land forever, living on fast food out of paper containers. After the conference ended Saturday afternoon, I wandered through the exhibit hall. The tables were empty, and workers were busy rolling up the carpet. Where did my people go? It was time to go forth and tell our stories.

I think I did well coming home with only seven new books, a mug and a hat I bought at the Saturday market from a funky old lady named Anita who makes them by hand from scraps of vintage fabric. I spent Saturday morning walking around the Willamette River, which I could see from my room at the Marriott. I had to keep taking pictures because the view kept changing. Sunrise, sunset, boats, birds, bridges, Mt. Hood. Glorious. Exactly the vacation I needed. WordPress is not letting me post photos right now, but I will.

Unfortunately, my buzz was disrupted by worrisome news about my dad, so now I’m on my way to San Jose when I just want to be that writer girl. It sounds like it’s going to be a tough time. Say a prayer, okay?

And buy some books! With so many writers producing so many books, somebody needs to read them.

 

Remembering my favorite tax man

Fred11306Every muscle cramped from sitting in the same position too long, I hit “send” and looked up from my computer. It was nearly dark. My whole Sunday afternoon was gone. Dinner would be late. But my taxes were done, filed, on their way to the government. I’d get $81 in refunds, not the thousands I had hoped for. On the good side, I didn’t have to pay, and I was fairly sure I hadn’t made any mistakes.

I don’t go to a tax professional. I was married to one. Long before I met him, Fred trained to be a licensed tax preparer to supplement his income from his full-time job with the city of San Jose. He sent his kids out to spread flyers all over the neighborhood, and his neighbors became his first clients. He had a mobile practice, taking his big black case to his clients’ homes. In those pre-computer days, he filled out the forms in pencil and sent them to a company that processed them into printed tax returns. When the returns came back, he made photocopies and delivered them to his clients with big white envelopes to mail them to the Internal Revenue Service and the State of California.

In the ‘80s, he computerized his business, but electronic filing was still in the future. Remember the post office lines on April 15?

After we moved to Oregon, Fred continued to serve his California clients, traveling south in January in his blue Mazda pickup, the back filled with boxes of client files, all on paper, along with his trusty calculator, computer, and dozens of mechanical pencils. He turned a friend’s spare bedroom into his tax office and drove around the San Jose area doing returns at kitchen and dining room tables with clients he had been serving for decades. Working with Fred was much easier than going to an impersonal tax office. Many of his clients were also friends.

I helped by answering the phone, typing in numbers, making copies, and going to the post office. During tax season, Fred worked every waking hour. It took a special person to keep at it and to deal with nervous clients as he wrote down all the numbers and came up with good, bad or horrible news. It was so easy to make a mistake, so difficult to console a client who unexpectedly had to pay a large amount to the IRS, and so frustrating when their accounting system consisted of random papers in a shoe box.

It’s too stressful for me. I could never be a professional tax preparer, although the money is good. Taxes financed some wonderful vacations for us.

Once I started dating Fred, I never had to do my own taxes. I’m better with words than numbers. Fred trained me to write down every expense, keep every receipt, organize them by categories, keep track of mileage, and be ready with the numbers when he asked for them. I got good enough at filling out Schedule C for my “sole proprietor” writing/publishing business that I shared my knowledge in magazine articles for other writers.

When Fred’s Alzheimer’s became apparent, he had to quit doing taxes. The last time he tried to do our return, he made so many errors I wound up sitting at the computer redoing it while he stood over my shoulder questioning every entry. It was a horrible afternoon. The tax man couldn’t even do his own taxes anymore. Luckily, I had learned a few things.

The year after he died (April 23, 2011, right after tax season), I went to H & R Block, but they didn’t do anything I couldn’t have done myself, and it cost me $550.

No thanks. Fred used Turbotax for some of his clients, and that’s what I use now. It guides me through each entry and checks everything for errors. As organized as I think I am, I still have to scramble for information. What did I pay for the car registration? Where did I put that donation for music scholarships? How much interest did I earn from the credit union? Why is it saying I owe money? Damned government. Eventually it all falls into place. I hit “send” and take the dog for a much-needed walk, breathing in the crisp spring air, admiring the trillium blossoms that have just popped up beside the road, and forgetting about taxes for another year.

It makes sense that the tax deadline falls during Lent. It’s a good season to suffer.

The deadline is three weeks away. Have you done your taxes yet? Do you go to a professional or do it yourself? Do you know there are volunteers at the senior centers who can help you? Are you worried about how the numbers will turn out? Let’s talk taxes in the comments.

Now we know the smoke alarm works

Pellet Stove 12518BIt happened Saturday night. I was lolling on the love seat watching a video (McLeod’s Daughters, an Australian series on Amazon Prime that I can’t stop watching). I smelled smoke, but the pellet stove was offering nice orange warmth beside me, so that’s not so weird. Suddenly sparks flew past me like shooting stars. My eyes are a little freaky, with lots of floaters, so maybe it was nothing. I glanced at the stove. Yikes!

Flames were coming out where there shouldn’t have been flames, out the air holes at the top of the stove. Smoke gushed upward as the kitchen smoke alarm started wailing. My show had just reached a critical moment, but forget that. What should I do? Fire extinguisher? Ancient, and it would ruin the stove if it worked. Water? Probably not the right thing. I turned the stove off, unplugged it, and threw open the sliding door. The fire subsided. Whew.

Annie had been sleeping in front of the pellet stove. A spark fell on her leg. I screamed and brushed it off. She ran outside. If the fire hadn’t gone out on its own, if it had caught the carpet on fire, I guess I would have been running, too, standing outside barefoot in my grubby clothes holding the nearest guitar, my purse, and my trembling dog. Where was my cell phone? Probably plugged in with a nearly dead battery.

(Now don’t anybody tell my father about any of this, okay? He’s phobic about fire, and would lose his mind.)

Okay. So the fire was out. Time to assess the damage. I burned my thumb and index finger grabbing the hot rod that’s supposed to help clean out the ash, but was otherwise uninjured. Annie was fine. There were numerous black marks on the ratty mauve carpet where burning pellets had landed. The whole house reeked of smoke. But we were all right. I couldn’t sleep, so I cleaned out the pellet stove, making sure all remaining pellets were in the hopper where they were supposed to be. I didn’t turn it on though. What if it caught fire again while I was asleep?

I had to be gone most of Sunday. In the morning, I turned the stove on low, figuring I could watch it while I was getting ready. It seemed fine. But all day, I wondered if my house would still be there when I returned.

Our Willamette Writers meeting yesterday afternoon was at the Newport Library, where a display about emergency preparedness sits near the stairs. “Are you prepared?” the sign asks. Well, sort of. If I die, all the paperwork is in place for my brother to take care of my “estate.” If the tsunami comes, I’m above the danger level. I usually have some canned food hanging around, and my uber-prepared neighbors have assured me Annie and I can hang out at their house while Lincoln County sorts out its electricity, water, etc. But what if the reality is much worse than what I describe in my Up Beaver Creek novel? What if everything is just gone?

I do not have an emergency bag ready to go. I giggle remembering the E-kits we girls were required to have in our lockers at Blackford High School. I don’t remember what all it contained now beyond deodorant, sanitary napkins and pins. Maybe a needle and thread for clothing emergencies. This is different.

Last fall, I listened in horror to the news reports from California about Paradise and other communities where wildfires consumed thousands of homes. Most people had a little warning, but some had no time to pack, and some didn’t make it out alive.  With all the fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes that have happened in the last year, it’s obvious we all need to think about what we would do.

If my fire had spread beyond the pellet stove, I would have had virtually no time. My classical guitar, my favorite, was close, as was my purse. I’d want my laptop, which was at the other end of the house. What about my unpaid bills and my financial records? I couldn’t carry a whole file cabinet. What about the photos stored in albums and on the hard drive of my desktop computer? What about clothes? Jewelry? Shoot, I don’t go away for a weekend without taking half my possessions with me.

While I was at church yesterday, I wondered if I would have to wear my St. Patrick’s Day green sweater for weeks if all my other clothes burned.

What about my pills? I’d be in trouble without them.

If I was home, I’d need to get the car out immediately. If the garage door opener didn’t work, I’d have to figure out how to disconnect it. I’ve done it before, but I don’t remember. I think I needed a ladder.

What if everything was suddenly gone? No backsies. Look, Marie Kondo, guru of cleaning out clutter, I’ve gotten rid of everything. For so many people, this is not funny because it has really happened. I was not prepared. I was lucky.

This time.

This Napoleon pellet stove insert is a lemon on the order of the bright yellow 1974 VW Rabbit I drove while I was living in Pacifica in the ‘80s. It was in the shop more than on the road, and I sold it before I paid off the loan. The poor fool who bought it took it to San Francisco for a test drive. He called to say he’d parked and turned it off, and now it wouldn’t start. I’d warned him the starter was bad. He still bought it! Yeah, it’s that kind of pellet stove. If it weren’t two months past its warranty, I’d demand a refund and/or a different source of heat. But if I keep the pellets where they belong, it should be safe enough.

Meanwhile, I think I need to start packing my emergency kit. Nobody knows what will happen or when. I have been ignoring that library display for too long.

The Red Cross offers a list of supplies to have on hand and a quiz to see how well you’re prepared at https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html.

Here’s another resource: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can buy an emergency preparedness kit at amazon.com. They really do have everything.

Are you prepared? Want to join me in getting our act together? Let’s do it.

Annie says, hey don’t forget my Milk-Bones.

Out, out, piles of unread boring books

Books piled up

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday or maybe it’s because I find myself surrounded by piles of unread books yet find nothing I actually want to read. Sunday I decided it was time to purge. If I live to be 110, I won’t have time to read all of those literary journals, anthologies, heavy history books, how-to-write-better books, and the various gift books people have bestowed on me that have been sitting there for years. There’s nothing wrong with any of these books, but I just want a good story to get lost in, preferably attractively bound and printed in type that doesn’t hurt my eyes. I read on Kindle, too, but I prefer paper.

I want to read dessert first for a change. I do not want all these books guilting me for not reading them yet. That doesn’t mean I’m going to start reading Harlequin romances, but it does mean that if a book makes me tired, I’m going to toss it. Yesterday, I found several that had bookmarks a little ways in, meaning I started to read them and pooped out. I’m giving them away, along with other books I realized I’m never going to want to read—even though they seem to be wonderful books.

I love books. I’m the kid who read Dickens for fun in junior high. I will take the time for a long novel with a strong story, beautiful language and old-fashioned careful editing. But something tossed out and full of typos, no. Books that change characters with every chapter so I need a spreadsheet to keep track of them, no. Nonfiction full of surface psycho-babble, no. Poetry collections I can’t make sense of, be gone.

The literary magazines wear me out. They’re full of great writing. I’m delighted when I can be published in them, but I can’t read them all. I just can’t.

I know I’m not the average reader. I read a lot, at least a book a week. I read many books as research for my writing. In addition to the piles of actual books and more books collected on my Kindle, I have an overflowing folder with lists of books I want to read. I read as a writer, considering more than just the story, looking at how the writer writes and criticizing the faults I see. I love it when I can forget all that and just enjoy the book.

I grew up in a house where my mother, brother and I read all the time. We got our books at the library and took them back in two weeks. We did not pile them up at home—with the exception of my Nancy Drew books and my brother’s Hardy Boys mysteries, which we donated to younger cousins years ago. There still aren’t many books at my dad’s house. That doesn’t mean we didn’t read. We just didn’t collect unread books. We checked them out, read them, checked them in. That didn’t earn the authors a lot of royalties, but it kept our books from weighing us down.

On New Year’s Eve, I promised myself that this year I would read all the piled-up books, but I have changed my mind. I will read the ones that still appeal to me and send the rest to new homes. Life is short. Read the good stuff first.

How about you? Do you have a lot of unread books? Do you keep books after you read them? Does anybody want a lot of literary magazines? I’m happy to share.

I thank everyone for the birthday wishes. Another birthday survived. Whew.

Revisiting Stories Grandma Never Told

Stories Grandma Never Told_justified text.pmdOnce upon a time there was a journalist with long curly hair, big glasses, and a penchant for blazers with padded shoulders who traveled around California interviewing Portuguese women. She carried a steno pad, a micro-cassette recorder, and a heavy Minolta Camera with extra lenses and a detachable flash. She used Tri-X black and white film. The women wondered why she might find them interesting, but they welcomed her into their kitchens, living rooms and shops. The result was a book, Stories Grandma Never Told, published by Heyday Books in 1998.

The day the book came out was the day this young journalist felt like a real author. It was released at the annual Dia de Portugal festival held at the San Jose Historical Museum. As Portuguese music played, young queens in white paraded, and crowds feasted on Azorean pastries and linguica, she sold book after book after book. Women bought them for their mothers, sisters and daughters. People featured in the book came to have their pictures taken with the famous author. Her whole family was there. It was heaven.

That was my third book but the first one that was my idea, my words, my pictures, me on the page. I had gotten the idea while writing The Iberian Americans, an overview of Portuguese, Spanish and Basque immigrants. Very little had been written about Portuguese women. I could see how I was a direct product of my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and beyond. I had never asked for their stories, but now I dove in, starting with everything “Portuguese” listed in the telephone book. It was a long process, and I had a hard time finding a publisher. I was about to give up when Malcolm Margolin at Heyday offered me a contract.

Sue interviewing MarieBalshorThe book came out 21 years ago. Heyday did a great job producing and promoting it, but they decided after eight years and three printings to let it go. I republished it under my own Blue Hydrangea imprint. Decades later, it’s still selling better than my other books. To increase distribution, I am republishing it this month with Ingram, the company that supplies most bookstores. This means that if you request this book at any bookstore, they should be able to order it for you. Amazon.com will not be the only place to get it.

To bring “Grandma” up to date, I have been looking up the women I interviewed. A lot has changed. Many of the older women I interviewed have died. I’m grateful that I was able to capture their stories. Otherwise, they’d be gone. Some of them documented their lives for their children and grandchildren, but others never thought it was important and the kids didn’t ask, just as I didn’t until I started working on my book.

Finding people is a lot easier these days. I didn’t have Google or Facebook back in the 1990s. I collected my interviewees by word of mouth—“you should interview so-and-so”—by showing up at events, and by many hours taking notes by hand in various libraries.

So many of these women became friends. They felt like family. We exchanged letters, Christmas cards, and phone calls. We met every year at the Dia de Portugal, where they’d wear their Azorean costumes with full skirts and white blouses as they peddled food or marched in the parade. It’s hard to lose them. I already knew about many of them, including my Aunt Nellie, Aunt Edna, my mother, and my college mentor Dolores Spurgeon. I mourned the loss of my buddy Marie Gambrel. Now I know that Virginia Silveira, Edith Mattos Walter, Bea Costa, Pauline Correia Stonehill, Doris Machado Van Scoy, Maree Simas Schlenker are also gone.

But I also know that former student Krista Harper is now a college professor, that Katherine Vaz got married and lives in New York, and that former Sacramento news anchor Cristina Mendonsa now broadcasts across the United States. It has been a long time, but many of the younger women are still celebrating their heritage the way they used to.

Books on Portuguese Americans occupy a lot more shelf space than they used to as a younger generation of immigrants go all-out to tell their stories. Portuguese Heritage Publications of California and the University of Massachusetts Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture have both put out numerous books about the Portuguese. But Stories Grandma Never Told was one of the first.

I’m proud of that young curly-headed woman who pushed through her natural shyness to make the phone calls, take the trips, and ask the questions that resulted in Stories Grandma Never Told and of the stubborn older woman I am today who refuses to let those stories disappear.

The new Ingram edition, with a return to my favorite cover, will be out on my birthday, March 9. You can still buy Stories Grandma Never Told in print or as an ebook at Amazon.com, too. That version will soon be updated, too.

God bless my Portuguese ladies.

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.