Nov. 30, 2019 — Though it’s been some 35 years since I arrived in Oregon as a high school sophomore, when people ask where I moved from, I still whisper when I say, “California.”
I do so in jest (mostly), secure in the knowledge that revealing my California roots — however withered — won’t suddenly bring nearby conversations to an embarrassing halt, leaving cricket chirps in its place.
Part of the reason is because, more often than not, those around me are also originally from California.
Seriously, folks. I’ve heard you whispering.
But recently, I’ve come to realize there’s a different reason I whisper when it comes to explaining where I was in relation to where I am now.
It’s a whisper rooted in thankfulness.
It’s the whisper that escapes you the moment after realizing how close you came to being in a serious accident. Or when the gas attendant asks if you want to use your .50-cent gas reward when you thought you only had 20.
Oregon changed my life for the better.
First as a 15-year-old with my family, then again when I moved back as a 37-year-old with my own family.
In the first instance, it was culture shock just short of defibrillation as I went from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles to the blackberry hillsides of the North Fork.
Instead of riding my Schwinn to school and spending afternoons running around the streets in my Nikes, I was canoeing over a flooded dike to meet my school bus and returning home to stack wood or dig post holes.
Usually in mud boots.
I hated Oregon because it was the opposite of everything I’d known. It wasn’t until returning that summer to visit my father in L.A. that I realized something that changed my life: Everything I thought I knew wasn’t nearly as important as how I’d come to know myself thanks to the life I was experiencing in Oregon.
Returning home at the end of that summer, I still remember stepping out of the car and onto our dirt driveway in a new pair of Nikes, realizing how those shoes — and that life — just didn’t fit anymore.
This is home, I whispered.
Mostly because I didn’t want my parents to hear and know they had been right. I was still a teenager, after all.
The lessons learned and perspectives gained from life as an Oregonian were things I carried with me after graduating from Siuslaw High School and becoming a regional chef in Atlanta for the next 10 years.
But during all of that time, the thought of returning to Oregon stayed with me, particularly as the gains in my career began costing something far more important:
Time with my family.
So when, in 1998, the opportunity was presented to begin a new career as a journalist, my beloved Oregon — and Florence in particular — changed my life for the second time.
Thanksgiving day, those were the things I was thinking about and quietly giving thanks for as my family gathered around the dinner table which, if not for Oregon’s surreptitious intervention in my life, I may not have been blessed to be sitting at.
As we continue through the Thanksgiving weekend and official start of the holiday season — and the busy weeks ahead — I plan to make time for the many reasons to be thankful.
Not the least of which is being editor of the newspaper covering this amazing community.