Sometimes it takes just one angel.
Barbara Santi saw a little angel statue in a mail-order catalog about 20 years ago. “She was kneeling with her hands folded,” said Santi, 81. “And I thought I wanted that. So, I ordered it. Twelve dollars and 95 cents.”
That was her first angel. Friends, relatives, and people she's babysat for began giving her more angels. By her estimate, Santi now has some 9,000 angels in her collection.
“One day, I was just really going to be a smarty, you know. I said, ‘Today, I’m going to get some sticky notes and start counting my angels.’ I started counting those angels and I got to 1,000 before I got around the corner. Then I thought, ‘You know, I’ve got more to do with my time than count those angels.’ So, I quit.”
Santi’s angels are in the den, living room, and kitchen at her Collierville home. “I’ll start on this shelf. They’re sitting there holding their hand out like they’re blowing you a kiss. Two shelves of those. This other shelf is all animals. You know, there are angel animals. Let’s see, I’ve got dogs and cats. I have some of them pretending to pour tea. I do enjoy stopping sometimes and just look.”
Her first angel holds a place of honor. “I’ve got her sitting on a little pedestal next to my bookcase. That’s where she stays all the time.”
Except for a large concrete statue outside, the largest angel in her collection stands 23 inches tall and is her “prized possession,” Santi says. It was given to her by her aunt, who also was her godmother, “She made it out of plaster of Paris. She made that for me for Christmas and gave it to me. And she died in January.”
Santi, who is a Catholic, didn’t know much about angels growing up. “I knew I had an angel, but it was never referred to.”
She learned more about them after she got a catechism in religion class when she transferred from Whitehaven to St. Paul’s in the sixth grade.
Santi met her husband at Whitehaven grade school. “He lived on a farm that adjoined ours in Whitehaven.”
She knew she was going to Whitehaven High School after she graduated, but his parents wanted Robert, who was two years ahead of her, to go to Christian Brothers High School. Santi says he told his parents he wasn’t going to go to CBHS: “He said, ‘I’m going to Whitehaven, back with Barbara.’”
“When it came time for him to go, she (his mother) got him in that car and took him to Christian Brothers High School. He beat her home. I don’t think his family was too happy with him. He hitchhiked. He came on to Whitehaven.”
She and Robert were best friends in high school, she says. “We never did actually date in high school. But we were together all the time.”
And, she says, “When I’d go on a date or something, he’d always bring me back.”
They kept in contact after he joined the service. “While he was in the Marines, he was writing me the whole time. One day, out of the clear blue sky, he said, ‘Marry me. Go talk to Daddy. Marry me.’ I said, ‘Hmmm.’ So, I went to see Mr. Santi. I said, ‘Mr. Santi, your son has come up with a brainy idea. He wants to marry me.’ And he said, ‘Forget that idea.’”
Robert sent her back again to ask him and his father gave her the same answer. When she told Robert, he said, “You will either marry me or else. ‘Cause I love you.’”
“And I said, ‘Okay.’ So, we got married.”
As for her father-in-law, Santi says, “He was elated that I was his daughter-in-law. And I did a lot for him and he knew it. He was very appreciative.”
Robert worked as a fireman for the railroad until they did away with firemen on trains, Santi says. “He drove a truck for the rest of his life.”
She and Robert were married for 44 years. They have three sons — Clement, Bobby, and Johnny.
Robert died in 2003. Santi says, “He thought I had too many angels. But he loved to show them to people.”
About four weeks ago, Santi was diagnosed positive with COVID on December 4th. Her symptoms included sore throat, cough, fever, and loss of sense of smell and taste. She stayed at home. “You don’t get scared when you’ve got something," she says, "It just happens and you got to accept it. I got the virus. That’s a big mystery. I’ll never know how I got it. But I got pretty sick.”
Then, she got well. “I was taking all this stuff. I got over it. And, you know what? I knew when I got over it, too. I just knew it. I felt it. And I didn’t say a word until I (knew) it for one day. And then I told the doctor, ‘You don’t have to worry about me anymore.’”
She took another test on December 15th and it came back negative the following day.
Her son Clement brought her the good news in the medical certificate. “He said, ‘Here you go, Mama.’ And I said, ‘What you got for me?’ And he says, ‘You ain’t got it no more.’”
Santi believes her guardian angel had something to do with her getting well. “Because you have feelings. When you can’t eat anything and you’re just there and when you get that feeling you got to have something to eat, you know where it’s coming from. From the angels. You have to really realize that there are angels. People don’t believe and I don’t try to make them believe. I believe everybody’s got an angel. You need to listen to them. A lot of people these days don’t listen to them.
“We didn’t have a Christmas tree this year. In life, you don’t get everything you want.”
But it doesn’t hurt to get a little help sometimes. Sometimes it takes just one angel.