Old Cypress School Brings Back Memories

IMG_20171122_134613513[1]Walking the streets from my childhood home on Fenley Avenue to Cypress School is different now. I’m taller, and I’m not carrying schoolbooks. I walk alone, my best friend Sherri moved to Texas, most of the other kids on the block gone, too. New people, mostly young Silicon Valley workers, live in the homes I pass. Some of the early 1950s houses have been replaced by mini-mansions or apartments. Cars line the streets and fill the driveways.

The dozens of baby boomer kids who walked to Cypress every morning are senior citizens now. So is our school. Cypress became a senior center in the early 1980s. My late husband, Fred, helped supervise its development and oversaw the staff as a supervisor in the San Jose Recreation Department. Where once the space was full of children, now it welcomes seniors for lunches, stitchery classes, concerts, and other activities.

People rent the big multi-purpose room for private events. We had my 50th birthday party and the celebration of life for my aunt and uncle there. That room has so many memories: tumbling and trampolining, eating cafeteria spaghetti on long fold-down tables, playing a wicked stepsister in a Girl Scout production of Cinderella, singing with the school choir, sitting through assemblies and movies. I can feel the dusty green linoleum under my bare legs as we sat on the floor playing jacks or doing lessons in our skirts and saddle shoes.

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Much later, when it was a senior center, I sang and played guitar for the seniors. I did concerts in that room with the Valley Chorale. I played music at my birthday party, too, which was the last event my mother attended before she died of cancer.

While the multi-purpose room is still full of life, more than half the school was demolished years ago, replaced by a senior apartment complex occupied by elderly Asians. Only the front wing with the offices, kindergarten, shop and home ec classrooms remains. The other classrooms and the field where I used to run and play are long gone.

I walk to Cypress now for exercise and respite from taking care of my dad, who still lives in the house on Fenley Avenue. On this particular day, there’s a warm breeze. I hear Lee Greenwood’s “IOU” playing on someone’s stereo. I hear hammering and voices from the apartments going up across the street. An elderly Vietnamese man shuffles by as I sit on the bench outside the multipurpose room. Through the window, I see chairs lined up facing the stage. A sign proclaims “Happy Thanksgiving.”

It’s so quiet I hear the dry leaves falling from the trees. I wish I knew what kind of trees these are. Liquidamber? I know they’re not cypress. I know they weren’t here when I was a child lining up in this parking lot for red and yellow alerts in anticipation of nuclear attacks. With a yellow alert, we supposedly had time to go home. In a red alert, we were to take shelter under our desks or under a bench outside. More than half a century later, we know those moves wouldn’t have done us any good if the bomb hit, but we diligently gathered while our teachers took roll and assured us we would be all right if we followed instructions.

I attended Cypress School from first through eighth grade. A red line across the playground separated the big kids from the little ones. All those years, it was a safe place filled with children’s voices, the smells of paste and pencil lead, and sun shining through the big windows. It feels odd to be here now and realize I could walk in and sign up for senior citizen programs. No one seems to question my being here, my wrinkles and graying hair all the qualification I need.

Like my father, I feel driven to share my memories. I want to tell people: This is where we played four-square, this is where we lined up for lunch, this is where the P.E. teacher tried to teach us the foxtrot, this is where I got my first period, this is where Mr. Blackwell encouraged me to be a writer . . . I expect our longtime principal Mrs. Blyther to come out of the office. I can almost smell the spaghetti, the best I ever tasted. I expect to hear the bell ring any minute, calling me to class.

But the hammering continues. The leaves fall. The light is fading, and my father will be wondering where I am. I snap some pictures on my cell phone, and start walking home.

Text and photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

 

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Celebrating Twenty Years in Paradise

Annie at South Beach 22315C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me toss out a few more numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Halloween photo sparks memories

Halloween at TimberwoodA few days ago, Facebook showed me a photo from 2010 of me and my late husband Fred at a Halloween party at the Timberwood Court memory care facility where he lived most of the last two years of his life. He looks disoriented. I look weary, and my glasses are askew. I wore an orange hoodie, the same one I wore this Halloween, and I can see orange and black decorations in the background. I remember bowls of candy,  somebody’s kids in costumes, and “The Monster Mash” playing in the background. The merriment was forced. Most of the residents had no clue what was happening.

After we said goodbye, I drove home through Corvallis. The trees were so brilliant with fall colors that I had to stop and take pictures. I walked the promenade along the Willamette River among kids in costume, couples strolling, and bicyclists speeding by. Mostly I stared at the river. It was always difficult to come out into the world after a visit to Fred, especially on holidays, which he used to enjoy so much. I didn’t know this would be his last Halloween, but I did know Halloweens were not the same anymore.

My mind goes back to 1997. Halloween occurred just a few days after Fred’s father died suddenly of a stroke. Perhaps it was unseemly, but we decided to go ahead with Halloween at Fred’s mother’s house in Newport. Fred’s brother and his wife were there, and we brought our dog Sadie. Mom Lick had a cold and stayed in the back room while we “kids” took turns handing out candy. In that neighborhood behind the Fred Meyer store, folks block off the streets every year and hundreds of trick-or-treaters come seeking candy. That year, they came in such a steady stream that we never really got to close the door. One of us had to hold the dog to keep her from bolting outside while the other tossed mini tootsie rolls in their bags or plastic pumpkins. It was cold and windy, but it was fun. Fred talked to all the kids, praising their costumes. Friends who knew my father-in-law had just died seemed surprised to find us doing the Halloween thing, but Mom insisted. She hung up her spooky stuffed monkeys in the window, set out her pumpkins, and we did Halloween as usual. We continued the tradition for another four years, until she too passed away.

It was a nice change from Halloween here in the woods where it’s so dark and spooky nobody ever comes trick-or-treating. I hang up orange lights, light a candle in a pumpkin and buy candy just in case, but always wind up eating it myself. I just finished last year’s bag of little Hershey bars. Now I have Tootsie Pops. You know what? They still taste great, especially when you get to the chocolate in the middle.

Our weather usually changes to winter in October. This Halloween, just before dark, it started raining like a hurricane, coming down so hard it looked like the ocean was coming to get us. I imagined the scene at many homes where the kids were set on going out and the parents were just as set on staying dry. Downtown was set up for the usual Deco District festivities where merchants hand out candy, but I didn’t see a single kid there. In Mom’s old neighborhood, over a hundred souls braved the storm. You’ve got to be tough growing up on the Oregon coast.

Growing up in San Jose, my brother and I did the typical Halloween thing. I remember smelly plastic masks, scratchy store-bought costumes and embarrassing homemade ones. I remember going door to door with our Halloween bags while Mom or Dad watched from the sidewalk, making sure we said “thank you” at every stop. As we collected Three Musketeers bars, Life-Savers, suckers, candy corn and other wonders, we never worried about the weather or had to cover our costumes with raincoats, gloves and hats. We also never worried about running into bears or cougars in the dark. Different worlds.

This Halloween, I sang at the 5:30 Mass, ate a late dinner and watched three episodes of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD. In the glow of my orange Halloween lights, Annie snored in the big chair and I contentedly sucked on a chocolate Tootsie Pop.

I hope your Halloween was good. Now it’s time to brace ourselves. It’s standard time, and winter is here. Will it be a trick or a treat? Wait and see.

The Ducks Quacked, We Said ‘I Do’

Wedding3_0002It was a spring day like today, blue sky dotted with white clouds, a slight breeze, everything in bloom, as Fred and I hustled to prepare for our wedding. The second marriage for both of us, this was a do-it-ourselves affair. We were already living together in a house on the next block from my parents’ house. I had cooked raviolis the night before for our rehearsal dinner. We were having the reception in our back yard. I put on an embroidered dress from Mexico while Fred donned a Mexican wedding shirt. No tuxes, no ties. My bridesmaids wore knee-length ruby red dresses they could use again. Instead of hiring a photographer to follow us around, we gave our friends rolls of film and told them to take lots of pictures.

Our wedding took place 30 years ago today in an amphitheater beside a pond at Evergreen Community College in San Jose, California. As Rev. Carl Stocking led us through our vows, ducks quacked and a fishing competition took place nearby. We walked in to Pachelbel’s Cannon playing on the boom box. My father escorted me down the “aisle” for the second time, hoping this marriage would stick. While I felt faint and had an uneasy stomach during my first wedding, this time I felt only joy, which I saw mirrored in Fred’s face as we pledged to our lives to each other and came together in one of those famous Fred hugs.

Afterward, we adjourned to our yard, where Fred and my dad had set up tables and chairs borrowed from the recreation department where he worked, with blue plastic canopies from Mel Cotton’s sporting goods shop for shade. Our friend Pat Silva had prepared a Portuguese feast for us, with pork, beans, fruit, salads and more. We rolled my piano onto the patio, and Scotty Wright, our favorite jazz musician, provided music. Dancing, feasting, drinking, talk and laughter ensued as two families, Lick and Fagalde, became one. Recreation workers, journalists, Fred’s kids, my cousins, and so many more partied till sunset. It was the best wedding ever.

Looking at the pictures, it’s easy to feel sad. So many of those people are gone now. Fred died four years ago. On our 25th wedding anniversary, he was living in a nursing home and didn’t know who I was. Horrible. But I need to cling to the good memories of that day and the many anniversaries that followed. In addition to working for the city of San Jose, Fred was a licensed tax preparer. Everything went on hold from January through April, but come May, we would take a vacation. We traveled far and wide, celebrating anniversaries in Canada, Hawaii, Costa Rica, cruising the Mississippi River on the Delta Queen and many other places. Each year, we would remember this day and pledge our love again. It was a good marriage from beginning to end.

Thank you, Fred. Thank you everyone who was there. Cheers!