Pebble Beach Angels
They were a vision in cranberry dresses overlaid with cranberry
tulle and trimmed at the waist by bundles of plastic
cranberries. The littlest angel was probably two, barely walking
but grinning copiously and tugging at the color coordinated bow
that tied back her wispy brown hair.
The oldest, maybe five, knew she was adorable: flouncing her
skirts and twirling to show me the white slip beneath.
Mom and dad had brought a mammoth red poinsettia to place beside
the jagged rocks on what I’ve named Oystercatcher Beach. Mom had
enough camera gear that I presumed she was a pro. She said no,
they just wanted the perfect Christmas picture.
But it didn’t look like it was going to happen in this decade.
The little one kept making a mad dash to the sea as dad swept
her into his arms. And when the two lined up for a heart-melting
shot, the tiny smiles had turned to frowns.
“I know how to make kids and animals smile!” I said. “I’ll be
back after I walk the beach in case you need any backup.”
“We may very well need your help,” said the frustrated mother.
“That’s so kind of you.”
I doubt that they ever guessed my eyes were wet from crying.
Half an hour earlier my oldest sis, Nancy, had called and said,
“Susan, I hate to be the bearer of sad tidings.” And in a most
compassionate way, informed me that Eathel, our childhood
babysitter and dear friend, had had a serious stroke and might
not see her 90th birthday on December 5th.
This call was followed by a call from my younger sis, Glenda,
who said she knew how much Eathel meant to me.
Let me tell you about the woman I elected to call “Iggey” (long
“I”) from the day I could talk.
I was born in the little Central Valley farming town of Hughson,
CA where my father was a general practitioner. Iggey, who lived
directly across the street and cleaned my father’s offices,
became much more than a babysitter.
Dad was a hard man to live with and Iggey was always there to
confront him whenever she felt he had been unjust to my two
sisters and me. She has always told me that when the manure hit
the fan, I’d show up on her doorstep, in a homemade pinafore and
scuffed up Buster Browns bawling for her to let me in. I knew
who would save my cookies.
Speaking of cookies, my mother sewed and cooked divinely,
encouraged us to be the best we could be and instilled loving
values in us. But she never, never confronted dad when he was
mad. She was afraid of him too. Which isn’t to say dad was
always mad. He was one of the most beloved doctors in the
Valley; he cared deeply for his poverty-stricken patients and
busted buns to see that his family never went without. And,
truly, we all knew he loved us.
Iggey admitted to me recently that she’d always had a crush on
him. “He was so handsome,” she cooed. “And so intelligent.”
It was Iggey who insisted the family needed an animal and
deposited Tuffy the cat on our doorstep one day. And much to
dad’s chagrin, she also had the cat shipped to us in Minnesota
after we left for dad to get his specialty at the Mayo Clinic.
Iggey’s coffee cake was legendary. And when she conferred it
upon us, we froze it and dad doled out tiny slivers over the
months to make it last.
With Scandinavian blood in her veins, Iggy still has skin as
smooth as a baby’s bottom. Or she did last time I saw her,
during my 30th high school reunion, after which we have been in
constant touch through the mail and via the phone. She loved to
brag about how younger men were still after her well into her
80s! It was easy to see why . . .
These thoughts were roiling through my head and cascading down
my cheeks as I watched pelicans bobbing in the ocean like
bathtub duckies. Iggey would like that. She is quite a collector
– her ‘50s vintage house a repository of kitsch and many
pictures of my sisters and me.
My very favorite one is from our last visit and features the two
of us, sitting on the porch of what was once “the Cantrell house
across the street.” She is bedecked in black and white polka
dots from head band to toe. We are hugging and grinning like two
I am missing her already . . .
I return to the scene of the photo session and now the parents
are totally exasperated. They have yet to get their Christmas
“Allow me,” I say, jumping behind the mother who is wielding the
camera. “Look at me, I’m a clown, a silly, silly, silly clown,”
I yodel to the girls who are mesmerized by my arm flapping and
“Click,” “Click,” “Click,” goes the camera: fabulous shots.
The parents thank me profusely for my help. “How did you ever do
that?” the mother says.
“I used to be a school teacher,” I say, “The kids loved me. But
I had to quit because I can’t discipline them.” . . .
As I walk the trail back to my car, I inhale the musk of spent
yarrow and rotting kelp. I feel the ocean spit on my face. A
large white sparrow hawk treads the sky above, its wings arched
like an angel’s backlit by the sun.
I feel the heartache and joy of life and vow to become more
accepting of death - that I may truly be free to live.
Merry Christmas. I wish you angels . . .