The Water is Wide: Relearning to Swim

Pug in Pool

“The water is wide, I cannot cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly . . .”

Thus goes the old song that’s playing in my head as I swim at the Newport Aquatic Center Pool for the first time Friday night.

The blue water stretches out forever, and I know the lifeguard pacing around the edge of the pool can tell I’m a lousy swimmer. Two other swimmers, a teacher instructing a kid who already swims better than I can, have gone to the showers, so he has no one else to watch.

“Go away!” I think. But of course he is doing his job.

Swimming was always a rare treat in my family, mostly limited to our annual vacations to Lake Tahoe or Donner Lake. We didn’t have lessons, except for the required swimming unit in high school, most of which I managed to miss by being sick or on my period. I can get across a pool, and I can stay alive in the water, but I admit my strokes are wonky and I never mastered the breathing part.

I feel fairly competent in a motel pool, but this 25-yard pool, the kind of pool where serious swimmers compete, is a lot bigger and I keep running into the rubber lane dividers. Any second, I expect the lifeguard to blow a whistle and tell me to get out of the pool

In my quest in the wake of my father’s death to try new things and fill the hours no longer filled with caregiving and nightly phone calls, I have not only pierced my ears, but I have finally joined the rec center. Now I have access to a full gym, a variety of classes, the lap pool, an activity pool, and a hot tub.

It took me a few days to get here. I didn’t feel well. I just did my hair, I didn’t want to drive all the way into town. I needed a buddy to say, “Let’s go!” Finally on Friday night, with nothing else to do, I decided: I can go swimming.

I’m a worrier. Will the pool be crowded? Will I get in people’s way with my slow swimming? Will my new lock not unlock so I’m stuck wet with no dry clothes and no car keys? I said a prayer and went.

The pool is nearly empty. Having left my glasses in my locker, everything looks blurry. First decision: How will I get in? I sit on the edge and drop into the pool. Oops, not as deep as I expected. Stub my big toe. Shake it off. Swim. What stroke? Okay, okay, pretend this is a motel pool. Breast stroke. I know my face should be going into the water, but I’m not sure how to do that. It’s going to take a million strokes to get across this pool. I need to stop for a minute. Where did the floor go? How deep is it? Swim! Still swimming. God, it’s a long ways. Made it. Cling to the side and breathe.

How do people swim like machines, lap after lap after lap?

Switch to . . . side stroke. Does anybody do sidestroke? Never mind. Maybe an eighth of the way, I’m tired, switch to the other side, switch again to my back, make like a frog, float—can I float in the lap pool? Where is the end? Okay, okay. Back stroke. I can do back stroke.

I keep looking for the end of the pool, and it keeps not being there. I pass under blue and white flags, white ceiling, more flags, on and on. Bang. Ouch. There’s the end.

Okay, I have to try freestyle. That’s the one I see people doing lap after lap, so smooth, so fast. Stroke, stroke. Head out, head in, blow bubbles, glug, come up choking. I never really learned this right. I try it with my head out of the water. My back and neck protest. Back to breast stroke.

Stop watching me!

The water is wide . . .

I can’t do any more. I haul myself out of the lap pool and stagger to the hot pool. My left knee hurts. Pretend it doesn’t hurt. He’s watching you go down the steps. Ahh, the warm water feels good. Just let me sit here for a day or two.

This is a beautiful facility, replacing the funky old pool where the schedule was so filled with lessons and swim team practices that you could only swim laps at like 6 a.m. But this one is different. Opened in 2017, financed by a bond, it’s big, bright and modern. There’s room for everyone. The activity pool includes a meandering river with a current you can ride or fight. I try that, can’t figure out how to swim, but it’s fun.

It’s late. The lifeguard is impatient. Time to quit. To the showers! Like an actual jock. As if. I should have brought shampoo, soap and a brush. Wrapped in my towel, I hold my breath and turn the dial on my combination lock. 38 . . . please . . . it opens.

I dry and dress quickly. My arms and legs feel like overcooked pasta. But my new blue earrings, which I have to wear for two and a half more months to make the piercings permanent, look gorgeous.

Some of my friends take the water exercise class at noon. I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to swim. But now I have learned several things: I’m not as young as I used to be, not in as good a shape as I thought I was, and I need to learn to swim properly. I should probably sign up for lessons. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll try that water aerobics class. Or yoga.

I walk out of the locker room with my wet hair going in all directions. The guy at the desk nods. I nod back, so cool, hoping my spaghetti legs will get me to the car.

Did it!

It’s a start. As with my pierced ears, it’s late, but not too late.

For info on the Aquatic Center, visit https://newportoregon.gov/dept/par/ac/newschedule.asp

photo copyright Teerachat Aebwanawong – Thailand, courtesy 123rf.com stock photos
Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

Weird Poetry-Writing Kid Gets Published

Sue 6719HLet’s talk about poetry. Wait! Don’t click away. And for God’s sake, don’t start reciting “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .” That’s the response I get from my brother. When I gave my father a homemade collection of my poems for Christmas a few years ago, he smiled at the dog picture on the cover and set it aside. I suspect the other copies met the same fate. (I have a few more, if you want one).

I do not come from poetry-reading people. Except one. My Grandma Rachel Fagalde, technically my step-grandmother, set me on the poetry path. She wrote poetry herself and fed me books of poetry, inscribed to “my dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. I read Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Shakespeare, and obscure poets whose chapbooks she found at rummage sales. Someday my chapbooks may meet the same fate. I hope somebody else’s grandmother will buy a copy.

I was thrilled to receive those poetry books. I sat around reading them out loud, and I started writing my own poetry. The other kids thought I was weird.

I wrote my first poem, a ditty about Thanksgiving, at 7, got published in various school publications, and got paid for a poem that appeared in something called Valley Views when I was in high school. Poetry was my thing, but you can’t make a living writing poetry, so I majored in journalism at San Jose State and went into the newspaper biz, keeping my poetry on the side. When I finally made it through grad school at age 51, I earned a degree in creative nonfiction, not poetry. Now I write both.

Although my early efforts resembled the nursery rhymes I grew up with, all sing-songy and rhyming, today’s poems are much more conversational. I avoid twisted sentences and words like “ere,” “thou” and “o’er.” I rarely rhyme. So what makes it a poem instead of a short essay cut into lines? First, poems are compact. You can tell a whole story in a three-line haiku.

First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.

– Murakami Kijo

Second, they use imagery. Read “My Mother’s Colander” by Dorianne Laux. See what I mean? I have a colander just like that, by the way. But it’s not just about the colander, is it?

I was a poetry-writing kid who became a poetry-writing grownup who is now a poetry-writing senior citizen. In recent years, I have published quite a few poems in literary magazines [see www.suelick.com for samples]. I love to read my poems to live audiences.

I am excited to report that my first poetry book will be coming out later this year from Finishing Line Press. Called Gravel Road Ahead, it is a chapbook, meaning a little book about 30 pages long, that follows the journey my late husband and I took through Alzheimer’s disease. I have published quite a few books of prose, but this is different. I am very excited. And nervous.

(Pre-orders are being taken through Aug. 16. Click here or email me at sufalick@gmail.com to tell me how many copies you want. )

Right now I’m focusing on Gravel Road Ahead because the pre-publication sales begin next Monday. I hope to show you the cover then and provide info on how to pre-order a copy.

In addition to the book, my poem, “Mustering out,” channeling my father’s voice, was published at www.rattle.com last month. They even paid me. Another poem, “They’ll Have to Order the Parts,” appeared in the Atticus Review on May 29.

Grandma Rachel used to send me copies of her own poems with her illegible letters. I collected some of them after she died. I suspect the people cleaning out the house threw some poems away, not realizing the precious gifts they were. She didn’t publish much. Instead she trained me to start my career with my first copies of Writer’s Digest and all those poetry books. Well, it took a few years, but I’ve done it.

Will I make money at this? No. Real poets have day jobs.

It’s sad when only poets read poetry. Believe me, it’s not all like the stuff your teachers might have made you read in high school. Give it a try.

When your real name is not your REAL name

When people call you by the name on your birth certificate, you know you’re in trouble. By that standard, I have been in mucho trouble lately.

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people for whom your legal name, the one on your birth certificate and driver’s license, and the name your friends and family call you are the same. You’re George or Mary everywhere in every situation. But most of us go by an altered version of our original name. And everyone who knows you knows that’s what you prefer to be called.

James is Jim or Jamie, William is Bill, Billy, Will, or Willie, Catherine is Cathy, Samuel or Samantha become Sam, etc. Or maybe you’ve chosen something completely different like . . . Spike.

My name, Susan, becomes Sue or Susie or Suz. Despite whatever your parents named you, the name you use every day is the person you have made yourself, and you want to be recognized as that person.

Good luck.

That original name keeps coming back.

When your parents started calling you by your full legal name, you were about to be spanked or grounded.

When phone salespeople call asking for your formal name, you know they got your number off a list somewhere and don’t know you. And they keep using that name because in some training class they learned that it’s good to repeat the customer’s name.

When the cops come to your door calling your legal name, you are IN TROUBLE.

And when a nurse comes to the doctor’s office waiting room and calls that name you never use–even though you wrote your preferred name on every form–you know this is not going to be fun. Susan? Who? Oh. Me. And they keep calling you that as you lie on the examining table in your skimpy gown staring at the holes in the acoustic tile ceiling and pretending they are not touching you where you’d rather not be touched.

I have been called Susan a lot lately by the people calling from my father’s nursing home. At all hours, I see a 408 area code on the caller ID, then hear, “Is this Susan?” I want to say no, but I sigh and say yes. I want to add “What now?” in an annoyed tone, but I’m too busy holding my breath as they describe the latest disaster.

The most recent disaster is an amazing story, but I can’t tell you about it yet because there may be legal action. Dad is fine now. We’re all fine. I will tell you that everyone in the hospital-nursing home system calls my father Clarence even though he has spent his 97 years going by his middle name, Ed. “Clarence” was his father.

A couple weeks ago, a nursing home kerfuffle arose because the staff got confused between me, “Susan,” and my aunt, “Suzanne.” They telephoned her instead of me, barraging her with questions she couldn’t answer while I was waiting all day for a call that never came. If they had just called us Mrs. Lick and Mrs. Avina, there would have been no confusion. If you’re going to go formal, go all the way, right?

Gosh, I suppose they’ll call me “Susan” at my funeral and put it on my gravestone. I wonder what name God calls me. Maybe it has nothing to do with my earthly name. After all, there are a million Susans in this world and only one me. I guess He’ll tell me when I get to Heaven.

If you ever decide to do a Google search for information about me, use my middle name, Fagalde. Don’t bother with “Susan.” “Sue” will get you millions of hits, with many of them referring to lawsuits, and “Lick” will get you porn. Or you could just go to my website at suelick.com.

Whatever people call you, thanks for reading this. Keep sticking up for the name you want to be called. I’d love to hear your stories of misguided name-calling. I look forward to your comments.

 

 

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.

Stories lost in the floppy disk graveyard

I took the old laptop out of its nifty leather case and stared. Was it always that clunky looking? So square? Like an old Volvo. Instead of a mouse, it has a marble-sized trackball. The screen is about the size of my Kindle screen. And what’s with the giant box with a little plug sticking out of it?

This thing doesn’t have a USB port, but it does have a place to plug in a telephone line for the modem. Suddenly the old backup computer has become an historic artifact. But it’s my only hope to find out what happened to Roberta and Frank.

I’ve been reading through short stories I wrote back in the late ‘90s. Some are so awful I’m relieved no one wanted to publish them. But some are still good, especially this one about Roberta and Frank, who run into trouble while traveling in their motorhome. I was thinking I should polish it and send it out. It’s not too out of date. Look, Roberta, even has a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to use it, but I can fix that. I got to the end of page 5. The ambulance is coming and–where’s page 6? Where’s the rest of the story? I have a vague memory that Roberta stops being such a wuss and saves the day, but I don’t know the details anymore.

I have to leave for church in five minutes. I tear through my files. I sent it to literary journals back in the days before we submitted everything online. I have to have more paper copies of “Runaway Dream.”

I find maybe 50 short stories. Lord, I was prolific. But not that one.

Okay, look through the pile of CDs. Nope, too new. Where are those old 3.5-inch floppies? The only computer with a floppy drive that I still have would be that laptop I bought in 1993. There it is back behind the unsold books.

Epson ActionNote 700 CX. I plug it in. The poor thing is beat up, the F7 key coming off, the screen part separating from the keyboard part (unlike a lot of today’s laptops, it’s not supposed to). It turns on. Gray screen, words and numbers. DOS. Oh crap. Does anybody remember the DOS operating systems that preceded Windows?

Press F1. Okay. Setup failed. Press F12 for setup utility. I get a screen full of choices and no idea what button to push. The date shows Jan. 1, 1990. Memories of Y2K. Remember how we thought the world would fall apart because all our computers couldn’t make the leap to a new millennium? Most of them did but maybe not this one.

I decide to take pictures so I can show you all this historic computer. I close the top to shoot the outside. When I reopen it, all the words and numbers are gone. The computer doen’t even hum. When I push the power button, nothing happens. Old ActionNote seems to have passed away while I was trying to take its picture. But how does Roberta get off that deserted road? Does her husband get to the hospital in time?

Wait. Do I have another laptop, an interim between the Volvo and my current HP, a Honda maybe? Can’t find it, but I find some 5.25-inch floppy disks. Short Stories 1 and 2. Great! Oh. I have nothing that can read them. I have always backed up my files, carried copies in my car, and put them in the safe deposit box at the bank. It’s all useless nonrecyclable plastic now.

But wait, the Volvo didn’t die. The plug got super hot and the computer turned itself off. After it cools, I plug it in again. Green light. Must act quickly. Setup. Change the date. OMG. Windows 3.1. Insert disk. Horrible wailing noise. It can’t read the disk, can’t read any of my old disks, but hey, here on the hard drive is the old version of my novel Azorean Dreams. Hello, old friend.

“When the alarm shrilled at 7 a.m., Chelsea groaned and covered her eyes against the light pouring in the bedroom windows.” The whole book is there. Wow.

What else is on this thing? There’s the unfinished novel about a quadriplegic named Daniel. And something called deaderma.wps. Oh, I love that story. Reporter goes to do an interview and finds the subject dead in the rose bushes. Being a reporter, she gets nosy . . .

No Roberta and Frank. I created these people. I need to find out what happened to them, even if I have to retype every blinking word into the new (ish) computer.

I’m still looking. And no, I do not want to write a new ending. The moral of this tale. Print everything out. I still have poems, stories and essays I wrote on manual typewriters 50 years ago, but I can’t read what I entrusted to my computers in 1997. Even 2007 is iffy. Paper lasts longer than modern technology. We’re putting all of our information into machines that will be obsolete before I pay off my Visa bill. Is anybody thinking about that?

Do you have antique computers and antique media hanging around? Ever try to use them? What is going to happen to everything we have entrusted to our computers in five, 10, 20 or 30 years? Are writers the only ones who care?

I could tell you a whole other story about the days I spent last week sticking slides into the old slide projector. I thought I would get them digitized, but then I thought, why? Even my own slides bore me now. It’s been a dusty time in the Lick household lately as I try to sort things down to manageable levels. Within reason. Marie Kondo, queen of throwing away everything that doesn’t give you joy, can’t take my stories away. She’s not even getting the old laptop. Not yet.

Here are some interesting links to read about the history of laptops and the history of data storage.

Laptop history in photos

Another history that is better if you mute the music

Check out this video on how to prevent “data rot” No music, cute guy, but skip the ad after he gets to the stone tablets

You might also want to mute the music on this history of data storage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwJfERnF30g
Fascinating, but the music is a bit much