Christmas Past

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My sister, Kathy, went to Laguna Beach High School. Once in a while she would skip school in the afternoon, grab a taco, and sun bathe on Main Beach. On one of those days she met a gorgeous man named Poe. Poe was a vacationing model from New York City. His picture was plastered on billboards across the country introducing the newest cars from Dodge. Poe whisked Kathy to New York, where she saw Khrushchev’s parade winding through the streets, won everything on the “Price is Right,” and danced pantiless on a piano at wild parties on Fire Island.

Barbara Downs

Next came Marty. He wined and dined not only Kathy, but our Mom, Grandmother, and my husband and me at the Hotel Laguna, the Five Crowns, and other places. He whisked Kathy off to Dallas, where they saw President Kennedy in the parade moments before he was shot. They moved back to Southern California and lived in Huntington Harbor raising three children. Marty and our Mom didn’t always get along. When she was invited over to Kathy’s for Christmas, Marty ran out of the garage and kissed Mom three times. When they walked into the kitchen, Mom said to Kathy, “Marty shouldn’t kiss his mother-in-law like that.” Kathy laughed and said, “He thinks he’s getting the flu.”

Then came Bill, a childhood friend, who hired Kathy to work for him in Baja. The Mexican government had hired him to make rain. Bill went up in an airplane and seeded the clouds with dry ice. The rain filled reservoirs that hadn’t been filled since 1940, but also brought a hurricane. The subsequent mudslides meant that towns were without water for several days.

Kathy was living with the kids on a ranch in Baja when she met Jorge, a cowboy, who also played guitar and sang. This meeting would result in her fourth child, a beautiful towheaded, brown-eyed boy named Christopher. He was born in Los Angeles, delivered with soft lights, music, and the best doctors. The family moved to Seattle where I was living. After a few months, Jorge became unhappy and started drinking. One day, Jorge took Christopher, drove to Mexico City and deposited him with his grandmother, claiming that Kathy was a terrible mother. Kathy was sick with worry and for three years she wrote letters that were never answered.

One day she got a letter from Jorges’ aunt. She was in Mexico City and had read all of Kathy’s letters to Christopher’s grandmother, who, it turned out, could not read English. The family decided Kathy should have her baby back. Kathy flew from Seattle to Laguna to get Mom, and then they went to Mexico City. They were there less than a day and were advised to go through U.S. customs at a small border town in Texas. Christopher spoke only Spanish, Kathy and Mom spoke only English, and they had no passport for him. Mother was nervous standing in line at the customs station, when Christopher wiggled out of Kathy’s hand and ran past the customs desk and out the door. Mom and Kathy were frantic not being able to go after him, when an older man, who had sat behind them on the plane, came up to her and whispered in her ear that they had Christopher out front and were hanging on to him for her. This was how my Mom and Kathy smuggled Christopher back into the United States.

Kathy stayed in Seattle for several more years until Mom became ill with cancer and she returned to Laguna Beach to take care of her. When Mom passed away, she left her house to Kathy, her nephew, and myself, which we still share today with our own kids and grandchildren.

We gathered here last Christmas to honor Kathy and celebrate her life. Kathy’s daughter and granddaughter cooked BBQ ribs using Kathy’s famous recipe, her son cooked Trader Joe’s, and I cooked Costco’s. As we shared food, we were also sharing memories, laughing and drinking wine. All of us visited and sprinkled some of Kathy’s ashes at her favorite places: Laguna Beach High School, La Sirena Grill, The Beachhouse, Main Beach, “bird poop” rock, Hotel Laguna, Fisherman’s Cove, Diver’s Cove, Ruby’s, Heisler Park and our family home.

There was one final place. As we were driving down the big hill, Dawn reached out with the last of the ashes and sprinkled them out the window. We heard coughing from the back seat and when we realized what was happening we started laughing. Al’s new wife, Yon, was sitting next to the wide open window behind Dawn. She started laughing, too, when we told her she was really part of the family now!

Goodby Kathy, we love you.

Barbara Downs was born in Los Angeles, has four children and splits her time between Seattle and the family home here in Laguna Beach.



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