A Love Letter to the Town I Left

IMG_0852Two weeks after leaving, a love letter to the town I left behind.

For seven years, I lived in a town called Newberg. Most people don’t know where it is, so I just say I’m from Portland. But about 35 minutes south of Portland, a ways to the west of I-5, there’s a little town nestled in the middle of Chehalem Valley wine country. I didn’t mean to live there, but I did…for seven years.

I remember driving into Newberg for the first time as a pre-undergrad. I remember thinking, “This place will mean something to me someday. But right now, all I see are car dealerships and fast food chains.” I was right; that part of town is mostly car dealerships and fast food. But also, that town did mean come to something to me, but not because of its amenities, but rather because of its people and what the place provided me.

I became an adult in Newberg.

As far as places to become an adult, it’s a good shallow end to the great pool. It’s not too big, but has enough opportunities to try your hand. There’s a few grocery stores, some Mexican restaurants, and a whole lot of churches and coffeeshops. Oh, and a university.

I loved my time on the George Fox University campus. I worked in six different jobs on campus, lived in five different on-campus rooms, had three different roommates (and five additional housemates). I attended for seven semesters and graduated with honors. I took classes from brilliant people and felt a little brilliant at times. I learned the life of the mind. Besides that, I made the type of friends that will live in my heart for the rest of my life. I learned more about myself and my God than I thought there was to know. And I made room for doubt and questions, holding to the faith that I sense but cannot grasp.

Then I got a job at the George Fox campus about 25 minutes away, in Tigard. There I learned that work can be fun if you’re surrounded by the right people. It can also be hard when decisions are made that you cannot control. I saw good people leave, but I saw good people come. I discovered that I was capable of being a professional, of being good at what I did, of being respected.

I also had the chance to write about neat people, evaluate if students were ready to write in college, and teach undergraduates about writing with someone I respect and love (and who laughed at my jokes during lecture). I made strong professional connections that will help me in future careers, but more than that, I got to know some loving people who supported my dreams even though they knew doing so would likely take me away.

My roommate/best friend and I found a place to live in Newberg, a little ways from campus. Then she got engaged. She got married. Then another friend moved in. She got engaged. Then married. And then I lived alone, in a decent-sized apartment above a garage with few windows, a miniature electric oven, and a loft for guests. It was my much-loved home: my running route, riding my bike to the library, and my air conditioning.

I loved living in Newberg as an adult, eating at restaurants, frequenting coffeeshops to write, walking downtown on a Saturday morning. I found a community through the best book group (without a name), and our monthly discussions about books and life. Tears and laughter often happened simultaneously during our Monday meetings. My writing group (my Saucys) and the Valley Repertory Theatre family both gave me much-needed creative outlets, and I was privileged to be part of the art that my friends, my brave and smart friends, produced for a community that needed it. These things were Newberg.

I attended three different churches in Newberg, all of them Spirit-filled but only one that truly filled me with the Spirit. This church of Friends spoke to me in so many ways, with words and with silence, and it let me speak to its people from the pulpit and from my heart, even though I am a woman and in many ways a child. And this give and take of words and deeds made me love the wooden pews and stained glass that composed the old sanctuary, not because it was beautiful, which it was, but because it was filled with life and God and questions and love. I sobbed uncontrollably when I left that church for the final time.

Portland was just down the road a ways, and I went there often, feeling like I belonged in different parts of the City of Roses, even though I was just visiting. The jazz club that I went to monthly for a time to eat gyros and listen to old men improvise as if they were young again. Powell’s, my heart, where books spilled out into aisles in the hands of voracious readers sitting on the floor. Saturday Market, where all of humanity in its strangeness and beauty came out into the sunshine (or rain) to proclaim, “This is me.” The plays I saw, the musicals I danced with, the concerts that lifted me up at the Crystal and the Aladdin. The brunches I ate and the nachos and the movies and the streets and the spoken-word poetry and the spirit that is Portland in the summertime and in the rain of winter.

I saw friends fall in love and get married and have babies. I celebrated engagements and bridal showers and baby showers. I watched other friends get older, get sick, get better. I saw friends leave and come back. For a while, I even had my own family just north in Seattle, and on holidays my sister and I made our own memories.

In Newberg, it was sunny for a few months and then it rained for the rest, but the summers were like heaven on earth and the autumns blazed. Regardless, it was always green, always shades of green: the grass, the trees, the bushes, the plants. Grey and green, bright and green, forever green. The green has seeped into my soul, the green and the pebbly cold blustery beach and the tall snowy stately mountains and the forest that’s silent and still. All in my soul.

I’m a sentimental fool, but I’m not blind or deaf. I know of the issues in both communities. But I also know the love and the spirit and the joy that I experienced in those places. These were the places that I became an adult in safety and in love, where I learned I had a voice and something to say. Where I became me, more fully and more realized. Because of that, I was able to leave, to pack up my car and say “I’ll see you later.” I was strong enough. I was made strong enough. I had discovered who I was, to a point, because of the people and the places in Portland and especially Newberg.

I’m forever grateful to my crazy, hipster, rainy, beautiful hometown. I’ll see you later.


13 thoughts on “A Love Letter to the Town I Left

  1. Hi Sara! I know we haven’t been in touch since Mt. View days, but I just wanted to drop you a note and say hi. This blog post came up in my Facebook news feed today and it caught my attention because it reflects some of my feelings about leaving a town that I love. I just moved from DC to Denver and can relate to your reflections in a lot of ways! I hope that you’re doing well.

    1. Kate! How wonderful to hear from you! I hope you’re doing well, even as you transition. It’s always tricky, but it’s nice to know others go through the same experiences…and live through them. I hope you can find places to rest and be yourself in Denver!

    1. Thank you so much, Howard! I appreciate your response! I hope to come back at some point in the not-too-distant future, God willing (and the creek don’t rise).

  2. Thanks for being a part of this community and allowing yourself to settle into this place. We appreciate you and your life among us and look forward to what God is going to do in and through you as you settle into the new place and space. This is an encouragement to read!

  3. Thank you Sara for this wonderful description of Newberg, my hometown for the past two plus years. Please share with me the name of the church that blessed you so well. I would like to visit. Hope your new location works for you.

    1. Mary, I’m so glad this resonated with you! The church I attended was Newberg Friends. I know they’d love to have you visit; maybe you can find a home there with them. If you feel brave, find Steve or Gregg and tell them that I sent you (they already commented on this blog, and are pastors at the church). If NFC isn’t for you, I hope you find a church home that gives you life and that you can give life to!

  4. Beautiful piece, Sara! Newberg was my home from 1972-1976 while a student at George Fox and from 1979-1998, and Newberg Friends was our church home, too. My parents live at Friendsview, so I return often, now from New York. I still feel more at home and at peace there than anywhere. As we Quakers are fond of saying, “Friend speaks my mind.” Blessings to you!

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