Angels take many forms, but my first actually flew into church.
One of the first people to introduce me to the magic of books, besides Mom, was Katie Montaño. An assistant librarian in Florence, Arizona when I was eight, Katie helped me pick books she thought I would enjoy. Through our shared love of books, she encouraged me to write and became a cherished influence in my life.
Katie loved botany, history and animals. She also loved my brother Bill, and eventually became my sister-in-law. Always curious to learn about those with whom she shared her home, Katie studied animal, insect and plant life native to the Sonoran Desert. Their historic house was surrounded by luscious plants they referred to by their Latin designations.
Rather than having children of their own, they chose instead to adopt cats, birds and a myriad of nieces and nephews. My daughter Anna delighted in visiting “Unca Katie and Aunt Bill” because they kept an old school desk into which Katie would nestle “treasures” for her to find. Old jewelry or eyeglasses, books, clothing and other items kept Anna fascinated whenever she visited. One of my favorite photos features a pre-school Anna and her beloved Katie playing “dress up” at the desk.
Her love of local history helped Katie become Park Manager at McFarland State Historic Park in Florence. Katie helped turn this historic site into a fascinating museum documenting the early life of Pinal County. Katie and Bill were also instrumental in helping to preserve Florence’s many historic buildings, including their own home and the Silver King Hotel.
Katie had a fun sense of humor. As Bill neared his 50th birthday, he became irritated because he kept getting mail from AARP. “I’m not that old yet!” he’d roar, while Katie chuckled. She later revealed she submitted his name for membership without telling him, just for the fun of it. She roared with laughter when my brother John admitted to having friends send Bill bogus Father’s Day cards from fictitious illegitimate offspring. These cards contained notes about how the mothers forgave him, “little Billy needs shoes”, and how they hoped to meet him someday.
Any time I rolled through Florence, it always involved a visit with Katie and Bill. Whether I found her at the park or home, she would delight me with stories of my brother or any number of other characters in my home town. Katie’s laughter was contagious; her “Ah ha ha!” was low key but genuine. Any conversation with her could encompass a wide spectrum of topics, but her lifelong love of the desert was a common theme.
One day as we sat in her back yard, she pointed out a hummingbird. “If I could come back, it would be fun to be that little guy,” she said.
Always the picture of health, Katie was full of energy. Throughout her 55 years, she had never been a hospital patient. Then one day in 2004, she told her doctor about a lump on her breast. It turned out to be advanced stage cancer. She valiantly fought for her life, and even beat the beast temporarily. She seemed to be recovering when Mom passed in February of 2006, and I left feeling optimistic. Yet Katie knew her time was up; she just wouldn’t tell us because she didn’t want to add to our grief.
By April, our cherished friend and sister was gone. The whole town, and people all over the state, mourned her loss. My brother was inconsolable but held up well. Florence suffered a tear in its close-knit fabric when she died.
Katie’s funeral was held on a warm day in early May. The desert was lush that year, and I saw many native flowers around the historic Church of the Assumption that Katie loved. Inside, her funeral mass was in full swing when, from an open side door, our dear lady flew in. Katie had inde
ed taken the form of a strikingly beautiful hummingbird. She zipped around inside, briefly landing on our brother Al’s head.
I couldn’t help but comment. “It’s Katie, telling us she’s okay now.” Many fellow mourners agreed, and I even heard a few muffled chuckles. She graced us a few more minutes before leaving again. This was Katie comforting us, her message that life is for the living, to remember her as a graceful member of her beloved desert.
Time passed, and then Bill met Luly. We enthusiastically welcomed this lovely lady to our family, happy that Bill had been graced with another chance at love. We gathered at Luly’s family home in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in Mexico to celebrate their nuptials. As we enjoyed lunch in their courtyard, a hummingbird flew in. As we watched her flit around us from flower to flower, I knew it had to be Katie again. She was letting Bill know she approved, and had come to offer comfort and acceptance.
Throughout Katie’s life, she was blessed with a graceful way of helping people feel at ease. She was kind, affectionate, and cared deeply about us all. I’m sure her soul grieved to see how her passing had deeply affected those who loved her. Yet this angel found a way to soothe us in a form she had always adored.
To this day, whenever I see a hummingbird, I say “Hi Katie”. She always seems to visit when I’m feeling down, staring out the window in search of elusive answers. Katie flits about the feeder. I hear her laughter in the wind and the chimes, and I know her soul is at peace.