View From Lodi CA: Leaving Lodi and Saying Adiós To California
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As I write this column, packing boxes are stacked throughout my house, some piled up well over my head.

My dogs—Fido, Sparkle and Hoppy—nervously follow me from room to room. Sensing a major change, Miss Patty and Rolo, the two cats, stay unusually close to home.

Even Wu, my talkative African Grey parrot, is hanging upside down and chattering away overtime. Wu wants to remain visible and cute—she doesn't want to be left behind.

I'm leaving Lodi.

By the time you read this, I'll be somewhere far along eastbound I-80 and well on my way to my new home in suburban Pittsburgh, PA.

My decision to move was both hard and easy.

I'm a California rarity—a third generation son who grew up hard on Santa Monica's beaches during that long ago time when the state was "golden."

I've lived in Lodi for more than 20 years, longer than any place I've ever called home. During that time, I've made hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances.

A few years back a friend jokingly called me one of Lodi's most visible citizens because my picture accompanies my weekly News-Sentinel column and because scores of students have passed through my adult school classrooms.

To this day, I still run into former pupils who remember me, "Mr. Joe," and have kind things to say about the time we spent together.

About my life in Lodi, I'll sum it up this way: It's been a trip!

When I arrived in 1988, I thought my time here would be short. I viewed my Adult School career as temporary. I had, after all, never been a teacher.

Teaching turned into a more satisfying challenge than I had envisioned. As my responsibilities at the adult school increased, one year quickly and happily blended into the next.

At the same time, I grew more attached to Lodi and its easy lifestyle. Before I knew it, what I originally viewed as a brief stop over on the way to something bigger and better turned into two wonderful decades.

During that period, and at various times, I taught English as a second language, conversational Spanish, GED preparation, driver's education, computer skills and business plan writing.

But passing time brought sadness with it. Three years ago my mother, one of my California anchors, died in Palm Springs.

And although I had never been seriously sick a single day, a little more than a year ago I became critically ill. During a fourteen-month period, I had five surgeries. Only recently, after more candid conversations with my surgeons, have I become aware how lucky I am to be alive.

During my lengthy hospitalization, I came to terms with how I want to live the rest of my life.

Awaiting me in Pittsburgh are my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, 11 and 9. I want to teach my grandchildren how to bake pizza, their favorite food.

And I'm much more bullish on Pittsburgh, recently referred to by the New York Times travel section as "hip," than I am on California, a state whose social and climate problems only multiply.

One regret I have is that, on the way out of town, I did a horrible job of saying good-bye. Wanting to delay the inevitable painful task, in the end I simply ran out of time to visit with all the people I wanted to.

But the good news is that I will be sharing with you my relocation experiences and my observations about life outside of California. The News-Sentinel has graciously asked me to keep writing my weekly column. You'll be able to stay abreast of my east coast adventures and my reflections as I look back.  Look for the first installment on August 2nd. [ note: Joe will continue to write for, and continue as our letters editor, of course.]

Our paths may cross again soon—I hope they do. I'll be back in Lodi at least twice a year for medical check-ups. In the meantime, my e-mail address remains in my bio box at the end of each column. Use it, please.

For now, I'll close with one important thought that I'd like you all to remember.

While cleaning out my house and deciding what personal items to take and which to leave behind, I found the encouraging get-well and prayer cards you sent me during my darkest hours.

They'll come with me to Pittsburgh where they will always have a special place in my heart.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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