Telling Those Little Green Lies

43624345 - green apple with water drop close upShortly after I cross the border into California, I come to an agricultural inspection station. All vehicles must stop. There’s no way around it. Back in the days of the 1989 Mediterranean fruit fly scare, I trembled at the thought. I can remember having to open up my ice chest for the inspectors, who proceeded to confiscate my produce. I remember having to throw out the vegetables my grandfather had just gifted me from his garden. I remember hurriedly eating an apple so it would be gone before I hit the border.

But when I drove to California after Dad broke his leg in March, I packed a cooler full of produce from home so I could eat it at my father’s house in San Jose. Zucchini, corn, tomatoes, apples, grapefruit. I refused to let it rot. And I did eat it, except for a golden delicious apple that I carried all the way to San Jose and back before consuming back in my own kitchen.

I hid my red and white ice chest under blankets and grocery bags in the back of my Honda Element. I held my breath and put on my most innocent smile. But it didn’t matter. The inspector neither looked nor asked if I was carrying any produce. He just wished me a nice day. Ma’am.

If he had asked, I would have lied. On other trips, I have driven through with apples in my bag on the seat beside me, smiled and said, “Nope,” when asked if I had any fresh fruits or vegetables.

Shame on me. It’s not good to lie.

But here’s the thing. I buy my produce at the grocery store. I don’t pick it off the trees or out of the fields. It does not have bugs. If it had bugs, I would not buy it. Most of it was originally grown in California anyway.

Usually, they take one look at me and wave me on. Aging white lady privilege. Or maybe it’s that I’m coming from Oregon in a relatively small car as opposed to an 18-wheeler from Texas or Tennessee. On my last trip through, I saw inspectors going through a long, low sedan driven by a group of young Mexican men. Trunk open, doors open, stuff out on the pavement. Why are they any more likely to bring contraband food across the border than I am? Racial profiling?

The California Department of Food and Agriculture website reveals some facts I didn’t know. The inspectors are looking for all plant life that might carry invasive species they don’t want in California. That includes things like firewood and hay. Also critters like ferrets and livestock. I suppose if I were carrying some of our legal marijuana that would deserve a look, too. In this article from a Las Vegas newspaper, the writer says sometimes they inspect the vehicle itself for hitchhiking bugs. Thank God Oregon is not a buggy state.

I thought the inspections started with the medfly crisis. Wrong. They’ve been inspecting vehicles at the borders since the 1920s. There are 16 inspection stations in California, located at all the major highways coming into the state. CDFA claims California’s plants are relatively bugfree and they want to keep them that way. The inspectors are not law enforcement agents; the worst they can do for you is take away your produce, but it’s still a worry for drivers passing through.

Most other states don’t have inspection stations. Florida does. Everything leaving Hawaii goes through an agricultural check. Coming into Oregon, folks bringing boats and commercial trucks have to stop, but the rest of us just ease on down the road.

Gosh I feel guilty now about lying. But I will probably continue to smuggle fruits and veggies from the J.C. Market across the border. If I start bringing hay, trees or baby goats, I’ll let them look. And if my dog joins me, she’ll be hanging out the window, ready to spill the beans. If she hasn’t already eaten them.

***

Speaking of the dog, Annie’s incision is healing well and she’s walking on all four feet more often than not. Her fur has started growing back. She is scheduled to have her staples removed tomorrow afternoon. I have been counting the hours since last week. She still has to take it easy, but once the staples are gone, I can remove the inflatable collar, which will make her a lot more comfortable and allow her to go through the doggie door on her own. She will fit in her crate again. Best of all, I can leave the house without her. Hallelujah.

As for my other patient, Dad is still in the wheelchair in the nursing home and itching to get out. His doctor appointment is a week from Tuesday. At his age, healing is not guaranteed. Pray that he gets some good news.

On my next trip to California, I definitely won’t be carrying any fruit. I’m flying, and you  can’t get fruit past the security checkpoint. Wouldn’t it be nice if they served apples or strawberries on the plane instead of those bags of nutritionally worthless pretzel snacks? Come on, Alaska Airlines.

***

Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017, photo copyright: klaikungwon / 123RF Stock Photo

Holiday travel: torn between home and ‘home’

img_20161121_160813536_hdr1

When your family lives far away, you have three choices for the holidays: go to them, have them come to you, or stay home without your family. Frankly, all three choices suck. Number two is not an option for me due to old people, young children, and people with full-time jobs being less portable than I am. I have tried option three, and I do not like being alone on the holidays. Right now, on an ordinary Tuesday with Annie, it’s fine. But Christmas or Thanksgiving? A little turkey loaf for one? How sad is that? Too sad.

So that leaves option one: I go to them. That means another long drive to California. Why not fly? Have you heard about the airports during the holidays? The train is a little better, but expensive, overbooked during the holidays, and it never arrives on time. Also, I need a car when I get to San Jose to drive my dad to my brother’s place, which is three hours from where he lives—unless you take a wrong turn which I did last week. Oooh, you should have heard my father’s reaction to that. Anyway, we made it.

img_20161125_095800469_hdr1
Dad, Hazel, and my brother Mike

 

I hate leaving home. I hate leaving Annie especially in the winter, but she doesn’t travel well. The last thing I need on the wet winding roads of winter is a giant dog in my face, a dog that I can’t leave anywhere to eat, walk or visit family members with cats, a dog that is definitely not going to let me take a much-needed nap at a rest stop while other dogs are perusing the “dog area” nearby. So Annie stays home. She’s such a nervous Nelly that I gave up on the kennel. All those other dogs freak her out, plus I discovered they don’t give the dogs any exercise. Eight days in a cage. Not for my baby. So I hire a dog sitter, who is wonderful, but spendy and who is not here during the long cold nights when Annie sleeps in her crate in the laundry room, quivering when it thunders during yet another storm.

It’s not just the dog, of course. I also leave my work, my piano, and all the comforts of home, such as bathtub, TV, Internet, and food of my own choosing. If I lived nearby, I could just go for a day and come home to sleep in my own bed, but no, I moved to Oregon, so I have to pay the price.

Sometimes it physically hurts to detach from my home and my dog, but once I get on the road, I love the first day of the trip. Oregon is so beautiful, and it feels great out on the open road, music playing, mountains and pastures flying by, towns to explore, restaurants to enjoy.

img_20161125_0955515511
Baby Riley

The second day is not as much fun. The “Bay Area” seems to expand more with every trip. This time, the traffic backup started at Dunnigan and hit a peak at Vacaville, where I endeavored to get lunch and found all roads so clogged with traffic it was nearly impossible to get to a restaurant or to get back on the freeway afterward. In fact, by the time I finished driving in circles and managed to get back on I-5, I was in tears and feeling sorry for myself. Too hard. All alone. Why don’t they come see me? Now I need a bathroom and there’s no place to stop. Etc.

The traffic in the Bay Area is horrific. So many cars driving so fast, zipping in and out of lanes with no warning, clogging up to stop and go, breathing smog, my hands, elbows and shoulders aching from white-knuckling it for a hundred miles. This is why we moved to Oregon! I had left Mt. Shasta at 8 a.m. and should have been at Dad’s house by 2:00. It was nearly 4:00 when I parked in his driveway and oozed out of the car with knees threatening to give out. Dad immediately started nonstop talking, and the visit was on. So good to see him, so hard to get there.

Saying goodbye at the end of the trip makes me cry again. Dad is 94 ½. I don’t know how many more visits we’ll have, how many more times he’ll be waiting for me to call when I get home, how long before he can’t live on his own. The guilt sits on my shoulders like wet cement as I head east on Stevens Creek Boulevard to the freeway, conscious of the now-empty passenger seat beside me.

I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it gets harder all the time.

So why don’t I move back and reunite with father, dog and family? Money is a big part of it. I can no longer afford to live where I grew up. The cost of living is insane. Those 65-year-old tract homes on Dad’s street are selling for a million dollars. A million dollars! A studio apartment, if you can find one, costs more than my mortgage on this four-bedroom house with its massive woodsy yard. Yes, I could stand less rain and fewer gray days, but I don’t want to deal with the traffic and crowds in San Jose. My brother, living on a hill near Yosemite, feels the same way. Dad says he likes both of the places where we live, but he’s not going to leave his house until he has to, preferably never.

So I drive and drive and drive. I swear I’ll never do it again. I take the coast route when it’s snowing in the Siskyous and it takes forever. Miles of winding roads with rain making it hard to see. I pass all kinds of vacation destinations but can’t stop because I need to get to my destination before the traffic, before it gets dark, before Dad panics. Maybe someday, I promise myself, but not now.

I spent $900 on my car before I left. New brakes, everything checked, fluids topped off. The service guy said I needed new tires, but I didn’t get them. I hoped these would last another trip, and they did, thank God.

So was it all misery? No. I had a great time at my brother’s house. I enjoyed listening to Dad’s stories and just being with him. It was wonderful seeing the sun. I ate delicious foods and saw gorgeous sights, including a rainbow over the mountains and another one extending into the ocean. I got away from all of my usual chores and worries and felt my mind open up to new ideas and possibilities. I ate a marionberry muffin in Gold Beach and wrote a poem near Roseburg. I got to hold Riley, my 5-month-old great niece and feel her tiny fingers gripping my big hands. I got to talk face-to-face instead of Facebook to Facebook with my niece and nephew, my brother and sister-in-law, and her extended family. I ate a ton of pumpkin  pie. I played the 1880s cabinet grand piano at Dad’s house, feeling its mighty power under my fingers. Memories came flooding back, and I slept better in my old bedroom than I sleep here at home.

The day before Thanksgiving, a writer friend had surgery for a brain tumor. The doctors couldn’t take it all out but hoped to buy him a year, maybe two if he is lucky. This is a man at the height of his career, a brilliant writer, beloved teacher, devoted father and husband. Suddenly he has to quit his job and doesn’t know what he’ll be able to do in the short time left before he dies.

None of us knows what’s going to happen. So we hit the road and take what it brings, whether it’s rain and bald tires or a giant slice of pumpkin pie and a chance to hold a baby.

How about you? Do you travel for the holidays? Are Christmas and Thanksgiving always at the same places or do you trade off? How do you make the travel tolerable? Any experiences you’d like to share? Please comment and let us know.

 

 

 

 

My father offers stories for dessert

img_20160914_1740485941Meals with my dad, Ed Fagalde, are a slow process. It takes him forever to get ready to sit down, and if I’m not careful I’m halfway through eating before he’s finished adding condiments. Slow down, mustn’t rush, I tell myself. We’re going to be sitting here for a while. While I’m itching to check my phone or read a book, now it’s time to listen. Even at breakfast, when I’m still waking up, he stirs Sweet n Low into his coffee, clears his throat, and begins to talk. He’s still talking 12 hours later over ice cream at The Country Inn restaurant and a few hours after that, standing in my doorway while I’m getting ready for bed.

I believe part of the reason I’m a writer is the fact that my father and his father before him were storytellers. While the stories go on, you don’t take notes; the teller would become self-conscious. No, you listen. You nod and react and ask the occasional question while the words flow like a waterfall that never runs out.

Some stories are of modern times, tales of a frustrating visit to the bank or a friend dropping by. With these, Dad gets times and places mixed up, forgets names, and does not understand the computer-based modern world, but the stories of the past are unmarred by his 94 years. Usually, I’ve heard them before, but there are always new details. For example, the ranch house where Dad grew up was not always on the spot where I remember it. The house was moved from another location, with a new room and a porch added. I had no idea.

He’s surprised that I remember that house. I was 9 in 1961 when  Grandpa retired as foreman of the Dorrance ranch and moved to Seacliff Beach. I’m amazed to realize I’m now almost the age that he was then.

I remember the  barn, the house, the patio, the fish pond, the chickens, the smell of prunes in the dehydrator. I feel as if I remember so much more because of Dad’s stories: the rabbit pens, the blackberries, the acres of prune, cherry and apricot trees, the multi-national crews who worked in the trees and the packing sheds, the horses that waited for Dad to come home from school and feed them the peelings from his mom’s apple pies.

I can’t remember all that. I was just a little girl in mary janes and ruffled socks sitting politely in the living room while the grownups talked. I remember a wood stove, an upright piano, lots of clocks, Dad’s stepmother Rachel’s dachshund Gretchen. I don’t remember my dad’s mother, Clara, at all, but her spirit was still in that house. Last week while visiting Dad, I learned that she never had a washing machine. She washed everything by hand with a scrub board until she got sick and started sending the clothes out to be laundered. Imagine how dirty those work clothes must have been.

I learned that my grandfather, Clarence, decided to retire because the ranch owners had started selling off chunks of land to housing developers and he could see the whole thing disappearing soon, like so many ranches in what was to become Silicon Valley. When my brother came to visit last weekend, we took a drive down Dry Creek Road past where the house used to be. Now there’s a million-dollar house on the site next to many other million-dollar houses, all beige and decorator-furnished. Dad still recognizes the winding road between Bascom and Meridian roads and the giant Sycamore that marks the site of the old driveway. In his mind, he can still see the orchards, the irrigation ditches, the tractors and the packing shed, but I just see these houses and a tree that sparks my imagination more than my memory.

Dad tells about the boxes piled up on the dry ground that became infested with bees. When Grandpa tried to move them, he suddenly ran to the water trough where they dipped the prunes and dove in, covered with bee stings. He swelled up all over, but healed without going to a doctor.

There were so many other stories: going to the “fights” with his dad, riding the water wagon with his grandfather in the days when men sprinkled the dirt roads to keep the dust down, riding his grandfather’s horses bareback down what became Meridian Road, dancing at the Balconades ballroom to the music of the Tony Passarelli Band.

He tells of signing up for the Army Air Corps, of training to be an airplane mechanic, of preparing to go overseas but not knowing where they’d be landing, of making an airstrip out of a road in Manila, of crashing at Leyte, of the guys he kept in touch with after the war. He tells the whole story of his career as an electrician, the different shops for which he worked, the jobs that stick in his mind, his long friendships with co-workers, his decision to retire.

He talks about his Fagalde grandparents, who owned a gas station and store at their home on Almaden Road near Branham Lane, along Almaden Creek. Grandma Lou, handy with a gun, always wanting to go shooting, Uncle Louie starting a business hauling gravel from the creek, Uncle Lloyd getting drunk and beat up, Grandpa Joe training his horses to come when he called their names.

My father talks and talks, as if he has to get it all out, has to tell me everything while he still has time. After he goes to bed, I make notes, trying to remember the details.

The stories go on and on. I feel like a bobble-head doll nodding as I listen. My eyes grow heavy with sleep and sometimes I nod off. When my brain screams stop, I push back my chair and start clearing the dishes. The talk temporarily peters out, but as soon as I sit down again, it continues. I fear the day when it stops for good. Meanwhile I do my best to soak it all in. I know what an important gift it is.

**************

Sorry I missed posting the last two weeks. No Wi-Fi at Dad’s house. But I had some adventures while I was gone and will share them in upcoming posts.

Do or did your parents share their stories with you? If they’re still around, ask questions. See what happens.

 

Dad’s 94th birthday full of surprises

Dad42911People can be rude, annoying and selfish, but sometimes they can be so very, very good.

Yesterday was my father Ed Fagalde’s 94th birthday. I couldn’t be in San Jose to help him celebrate. I worried that he’d be spending the day alone, that even though he says, “It’s just another day,” he would be sad. But people stepped up, people you wouldn’t even expect.

Yes, Dad’s cousin called from Texas, my aunt took him to lunch on Saturday, and my brother’s family took him to lunch on Sunday (Thank you!). Yes, I sent a gift, which arrived on his doorstep on time. But nobody expected a neighbor he barely knew to call hto wish him happy birthday and invite him to come over. And nobody expected what happened when he went to dinner alone at his favorite restaurant, the Country Inn on Saratoga Avenue.

Eating dinner alone at a restaurant can be daunting. You find yourself surrounded by couples and families while you have no one to talk to. I always bring a book, but Dad just eats in silence since Mom died in 2002.

Not this time. The manager joined him at the table, saying the staff could run the place without him. They talked like old friends. Indeed they have been seeing each other at the restaurant for many years. At dessert time, seven workers sang to him and brought him a candlelit slice of cake that was so big he brought most of it home to enjoy later. And when he asked about his check, he was told the meal was “on the house.”

It wasn’t over. At church yesterday morning, even though it was First Communion Day and the place was packed with little girls in white dresses and little boys in suits, the congregation honored my father. He didn’t expect it. He’s not active in church activities. He sits in the second to last row with a young family with three kids who have claimed him as an extra grandfather. They’re the only ones who know his name. He had just come back from the restroom when a woman up front told him not to sit down. She announced that it was his birthday, and over 500 people applauded him. He was thrilled. The priest asked how old he was—94—and how long he had been coming to St. Martin’s—65 years. San Jose is a big city. It’s easy to be anonymous in the crowd. But not this time. People recognized and honored him. That was the best gift anyone could have given him.

Last night on the phone, Dad said someone asked him how he kept going so long. Eating and sleeping, he said. When you stop doing that, you’re done.

Dad still lives on his own in the house where I grew up. Since he broke his hip in 2014, he can’t move like he used to, but he’s an independent cuss and he has good genes. His father lived to 98. His cousin made it to 96. We all know that things could change at any minute—or not. Meanwhile, I am blessed to have him, and I am so grateful that people paid attention this year. It matters.

Look up and notice the people sitting alone. Say hello. They might be great people like my my father.

Happy birthday, Dad.

If We’re Going to Sit This Close Together, We Ought to at Least Say Hello

The man next to me in Row 28 of the Alaska Airlines 737 was handsome and tall, nicely dressed in a white shirt and brown slacks. The lady squashed into the window seat was thin, her red hair sparse. None of us spoke to each other the entire two hours we were in those seats. Window woman knitted. Handsome man worked on charts on his laptop. I read on my Kindle. His leg was touching mine for most of the trip, but we did not say a word, not until we landed and I asked him if he was leaving or going home. He was visiting friends in San Jose. I said I used to live in San Jose. I didn’t mention I was here for my cousin’s funeral. Then we got off the plane and rolled our rolly bags away.

Across the aisle, a man with huge headphones watched a movie on his iPad. The guys next to him dozed. In front of him, an Anglo man with equally huge headphones seemed to be reading Chinese on his laptop. Directly in front of me, all I could see was the beige back of the Row 27 seats with menus and the airline magazine in the pocket. I could barely see the window past people’s heads and the wing blocked our view anyway. Might as well read my book.

It’s crazy how people don’t talk to each other anymore. When I got to the gate in Portland, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone already seated at Gate C2 was staring at a phone or laptop. So I got my phone out, too.

On the return trip, where I had the middle seat in Row 29 of 32, the woman on my left had her sunglasses on and read off her tablet from beginning to end. She switched to games on her phone as we landed. My efforts to talk got nowhere. The woman on my right was a little younger and clearly a regular on these flights. She knew the menu and knew the flight attendants. She plugged in her headphones and had her eyes closed or focused on a magazine the whole trip. The whole vibe was “don’t talk to me.”

Everyone seems to want to be alone. We’re all staring at our phones, tablets, computers, and books. We seem to want to become invisible. People used to talk on planes. I remember a trip long ago where I almost had sex with the handsome guy sitting next to me. We talked the whole trip. That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Aside from a few couples whispering to each other or a baby screeching at takeoff and landing, I hear only the roar of the plane and an occasional garbled announcement from the captain. With WiFi in the plane now, why talk? Right?

I couldn’t help thinking how much more fun it would be with a friend or a mate. We could talk. Also, we could go to the bathroom at the airport without having to take all our stuff. We could share a table at the restaurant with a person instead of a suitcase. We could make wisecracks about all the people staring at their screens.

I think we’re all nervous about flying, about going through security, about the possibility of the plane crashing, about being late. We’re uncomfortable being so close to strangers. I know I’m a bundle of anxiety when I fly. So much so on the return trip Friday that I handed the TSA agent my debit card instead of my ID. That got me a trip to the possible terrorist line. But they let me through.

These days, with no husband or kids, I always travel alone. Flying solo, you have to ask all the questions, do all the planning, and do all the heavy lifting of luggage. And you have no one with whom to share the memories, the laughs and the experiences. I miss that part the most. That and having someone to greet me when I stagger off the airplane at the end of the journey. But you’d think when you’re sharing an armrest, you’d be able to strike up a conversation. And hey guys, we’re 30,000 feet in the air traveling at a ridiculously fast speed. At least look out the window.

In spite of all that, it was a good trip. Lots of hugs, lots of sunshine, lots of quality time with family, one of whom gave me their cold. Rest in peace, cousin Jerry. I’m going to miss you. Thanks for bringing us together.

 

County Fair: Where Else Can You Eat Elephant Ears?

IMG_20150815_144942706_HDR

IMG_20150815_150137232_HDR
Not every fair has a tomato tasting table.

I grew up going to the Santa Clara County Fair in San Jose. Even got one of my first jobs there. That fair was HUGE. You could walk all day and not get to the end of it. Top-name acts played in the bandstand, giant halls were filled with needlework, baked goods, and people selling things like kitchen knives and Magic Fingers massage chairs. The food, the rides, the horses, the tractors, it went on and on. There were fireworks every night of the fair. It was also hot, smelly, expensive and crowded but that’s the county fair. You eat junk food, drink beer, dance to the music, play the games and pet the goats.

The fair here in Lincoln County is a little different. Billed this year as the all-new fair, it wasn’t much different from before, except that admission was free. Still no place to park, same booths selling corn dogs and elephant ears–big floppy sheets of sugared pastry, same old tacky rides, same goats and chickens, same guy playing guitar on the main stage to a sea of empty chairs. The big featured act was a couple who impersonate Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. But as they used to say in San Jose, Fair Time is Fun Time. I’ll let my pictures say the rest.

IMG_20150815_145820200_HDR
You’ve got to have a guy selling kitchen tools.
IMG_20150815_144656490
A new feature this year allowed kids to put on firefighter clothes and operate the big hoses.
IMG_20150815_143420686
Writer Candace Brown, a longtime long-distance friend, came down from Washington to represent the truck and tractor magazines she writes for.