Spotlight: Celia Santiago (Zencat)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on October 24, 2011

Celia has a lot to be happy about. She has an interesting career, a handsome, loving husband, a beautiful grandbaby, a spacious garden...and cats! I'm so pleased to introduce you today to Zencat.

She loves her cats.  That was the first thing I knew about Zencat, because I am a cat lover too.  And I LOVE her name!  I told her that if I ever change my name, I want it to be something that floats off my tongue the way her name does.  Celia Santiago.  Isn't that a great name??


How does one begin to tell the story of ones life? Do you begin with your birth? Do you begin with your parents? Grandparents? Do you skip all of that and go with who you are now? I won’t bore you with those details, I’ll go with a blurry watercolor of my youth and move on from there.


I was born in Santa Ana, California in November 1959. My 4 brothers and I were not as close as some say they are with their siblings. I was an only girl and I don’t think they knew how to treat me. Mostly, they wen2011-10-22/nap/1b2241t with treating me like another boy.


I was tomboy-ish, loud and rambunctious. I gave my mother fits trying to keep track of me. As obnoxious as a kid could be, my younger brother, Dean, was worse. I always wanted to be like my mother. She was a dispatcher for the Fountain Valley Police Department and I wanted to be a cop. I even went so far as to learn the police codes. One of our cats was named 4-80, code for Hit and Run-Felony. When my friends and I played Cops and Robbers, I was the cop.


I loved playing down by the ocean. I loved the smell of it that would waft in the windows at night. Climbing on the jettys, walking the boardwalks, eating from the stands, digging for sand crabs or shells or just enjoying the sun. I miss it.

Skip to Feb 9, 1971, 6am...I was sleeping and the bed began shaking. I thought my younger brother was playing a trick on me and started to get out of bed to yell at him. The brother just older than me in the line-up, Mark, said to stay in bed, which I did. It seemed to go on forever as earthquakes do.


We found out later that it was the San Fernando fault that shifted. The only damages we had at our house were a few broken knick-knacks. The Junior High I was going to, however, did not fare so well. It was damaged enough that we couldn’t go there anymore. We had to attend class in portable bungalows set up as classrooms. I thought that was going to be the Adventure of A Lifetime! But no... After 2 weeks in them, I was ready for my old classroom. They smelled funny and there wasn’t enough room for everything needed.


In August of that same year, my mother packed herself, me and my younger brother into her 1961 Chevy Impala and moved us to Utah. My parents had been divorced for 3 years. My oldest brother was married and had daughter of his own. My second oldest brother was in Germany in the military. When he was released from service there, he went back to CA and lived with my other brother. The 2 youngest boys, mom and I were on our own. I never saw my dad again until 1989.


Upon arrival in Utah, I felt like an outcast. No friends, no knowledge of the area, no idea how to make new friends in a city where snow was going to fall soon and, more importantly, NO OCEAN! Gasp! Whatever was I going to do around here???

I won’t go into details of how I finished growing up. Mom got a job at a local Police Department, I ran away a few times and got into some trouble. Mom did her best. I did my worst. To no avail. I still grew up and became an adult against my better attempts at not growing up. I have never moved from Utah. I don't like snow, I am not involved in Winter sports and I still miss the ocean. Time seems to get away from a person while they aren't looking.

Flash forward to 1978. I have a child at 18, am married and still have no clue. At 20 years, I still have my girl, Crystal, but am now divorced. B
2011-10-22/nap/f812cdoy, the things you learn from a short and horrible marriage.


What I learned was...nothing. Except I didn’t like being married and was never going to do that again. He was abusive, vulgar, a drunk, couldn't keep a job or a roof over our heads and insisted he was right in everything he said or did. I moved an abusive, drunken man, who at least could keep a job.

Again, we’ll skip that and go to 1992. I was sitting at a friend's house and a friend of her husband came over to visit. I was told he would be over some time that day and that he had just moved from San Diego. I know San Diego! We’ll have something to talk about! The doorbell rang, my friend hollered, ‘Come in!’ and in walked the most handsome man I had even In 15 seconds I was in love, silently, for the next 2 years.


Shortly after meeting him, I started in Medical Assisting School. I had been working odd jobs but never in law enforcement like I had wanted to all my life. I had a child and no car and going to the academy would have taken more time than I had. Just trying to feed us was hard. My classes were 4 hours in the morning and, afterward, I would head to work as a delivery driver. My boss told me he knew how hard it was for me to get to a2011-10-22/nap/07065and from both places on a bus and told me I could start taking the company truck home. Woohoo! He even paid for the gas! I made the best of it and took on a second job. Where?


Retail security at ZCMI. The next best thing to being a cop. Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was America's first department store. My mother worked security there after leaving the PD. Two of my brothers worked there as delivery drivers. Sort of a family thing, I guess. Retail security is not the same as being a security guard. We had cameras and other equipment to catch shoplifters and dishonest employees. We didn’t walk a beat, we stayed mostly hidden until it was time for an arrest. I did that for the next 14 years.


That first year, I was able to buy a small car of my own and quit the delivery job. I finished medical assisting school and graduated but have never used the degree. I have used the knowledge gained there in my security work. There were many times when it came in handy.


I would love to know more about your Security job. What was it like, working in Retail Security?

Working long hours in a small room, in the dark with other get to know them. You sometimes know them better than their families do. One day, you find someone doing something they shouldn't be doing and, the next thing you know, you're out the door and chasing them. Do that a few times and you get to know who you can trust and who you can't. The ones you can't trust with your back and your life2011-10-22/nap/fee713 don't last very long.


Going out on a stop, walking into a situation where you have to approach someone who has broken the law, someone whose senses are attuned to fight or flight...that's when you learn what you're capable of.


I can't tell you how it feels to KNOW, really KNOW that the person going with you is going to stand by you or fight for you, if necessary. That kind of knowledge only comes from being tested. Really knowing that the person you're with can trust YOU...that's something special. I've had police officers that we worked with tell me it's just like that for them, as well. I still keep in touch with a few of the people I worked with. There is no way you can be that close to someone and not be interested in what happens in their lives. One of them moved out of state and she is still my best friend.


I have done nothing with my degree. I sometimes wish I had but the full-time job I took as a security operative was so fulfilling, I have never regretted it.  I used my medical training often on the job. Kids fall down, it's a fact of life. People get cut, bruised, pass out, have heart attacks and strok2011-10-22/nap/a070cbes. They have epilepsy, diabetes, forget to eat or take their medications.

We had an elderly woman with a walker get blown down by the wind in the parking lot. A  93 year old man fell backwards on the escalator because he got dizzy. A 14 y/o girl fell backwards onto a cash register because she was riding the escalator rails and got pushed off by the barrier that's in place there. Two young boys running around the racks crashed into each other knocking one out. One lady went into labor in a fitting room.

One day in Aug. 1999, I was outside smoking with some friends on a break (I have since quit). The wind got quite bad and we all decided that inside was better than outside. About 5 minutes after we went back to work, the lights went out and the generator kicked on. The cause? A tornado right outside where we had been. We spent the next couple of hours shooing people out of the store and getting things locked up and locked down. I was due to get off work but I didn't want to leave. My mother was working her after-retirement job across the street at the LDS Church Office Building as a tour guide on the roof. The phones weren't working in or out. I stayed another hour and in she walked! Whew! We were both relieved to see each other.


We left and I knew I wouldn't be able to get to my car out which was in the loading dock area under my building, so we walked 2 1/2 blocks to her car. Which took 3 hours. The devastation we saw was just like in the movies. Holes where trees used to be, trees where there were no holes. Homes without roofs or walls. Bricks had been t2011-10-22/nap/e29f0corn out of walls. Insulation was in trees still standing with branches broken. Cars with broken windows and dents in roofs and doors. Debris and personal items strewn everywhere. We passed by where the city mayor had a vehicle set up for directing emergency rescue and medical personnel.


When we made it to her car, we found she had been one of the lucky ones. A few paint chips were gone but the car next to hers had been crushed by a tree branch.


Well, that was very interesting, indeed! It seems you had a wonderfully exciting and fulfilling career! And were obviously good at it too.  I have a couple more things I want to ask you about. The first is the love of your life, your husband. Will you tell us about him?2011-10-22/nap/bf28ed


In May of 1992, I was in love. I don't know what it was but he had me the second he looked at me. Our first date came 2 years later in May of 1994. My friend actually did the asking for him. He was shy and didn't know if I was interested. She knew I was but she still made the phone call. Heck, yeah, I'll go out with him!!! I mean...Why, yes. I'd be honored to accompany him to a movie and dinner. After that minute, when he picked me up, we have been together. When he wasn't at my house, I was at his. We did that for a year and then decided enough was enough and we moved into our own place together. In 2000, we were married. The ring he chose for me has a dark ruby as the central stone. "Red for Love," were his words. In 2004, we bought our home and we love it.


I have another love. My husband knows about it. It's no secret. Photography. When my father passed away2011-10-22/nap/0cd381 in 2008, we came into a little bit of money. I already had a little Sony but I wanted something better. I got myself a Nikon D60 and a few extra lenses. I try not to go anywhere without it.


My next question for you concerns your pets. I know that, like me, you are a cat lover! So let's hear about your cats.


Our 2nd year together was a hard one for my mom. She had gotten a kitten for Mother's Day from the local ASPCA and tripped over the poor little thing, throwing her back out. She called me from the hospital and asked if I would go to her house and check on him, as she thought she'd hurt him. After checking on her, I went over and under her bed is where I found him. All 2 pounds of him. Little Jazz was his name then. Mostly white and very fluffy, he had very fine red points. He hissed at me and would not come out. I had to drag him. I checked hi2011-10-22/nap/e9e0a3m over and he seemed fine, so I took him home with me. When mom got out of the hospital, she couldn't take care of him for several weeks and by then, he'd bonded with me. She said I should keep him. We renamed him Monty. He's 13 now and is a very large Maine Coon. His points have darkened and his big blue eyes are beautiful. He's a shy boy but, in his later years, has become more social around others.


A friend of a friend owned a house that she rented out. The people who rented it had children. They had a kitten that they let the children abuse. Kicked her, pulled her ears, "forgot" to feed her...When Isis was 2 (and how she made it that far, I don't know), the people fled the house without telling anyone. Isis was left in the house alone with no food. The toilet lid was up so she did get water. A few days later, the neighbors informed the owner that there was no one in the house. Isis was found and taken into my friends home and fed, taken to the vet and spayed. Unfortunately, there were five other cats and a dog in this house. Isis was never able to 2011-10-22/nap/90c56bacclimate. She had been slightly mean before but now focused her attacks of frustration on the smallest kitty in the house. My friend called me one day in 2003 and asked if I would take Isis (whose name at the time was Yazi). I said yes. We took her in and she has slowly progressed to a comfortable and loving kitty from the spitfire she was when we brought her home. Her full name is Isis Drusilla Veruca Santiago. Isis, from an Old Star Trek episode that had a black cat named Isis, Drusilla, after a character from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Veruca, after the little girl who "wanted it NOW" in Willy Wonka.


A funny short story about Isis and the vacuum...she loves being fussed over with that vacuum. She will sit for an hour if you let her and have the patience. I gave her a bath one day and Darrell volunteered to dry her while I cleaned up the bathroom. He had her in a towel on his lap and said, "She's quiet enough. Hand me the hairdryer." I did. He plugged it in while she sniffed at it. He let her sniff another minute or so to get her used to it then turned it on. A spontaneous ability to teleport on her part developed and,2011-10-22/nap/d3a42d when we found her an hour later, she wouldn't come near either of us. She won't come in the bathroom when we use the hairdryer anymore, either. That was just too much for her. LOL! Yes, and Darrell had to bandage his arm, too. Oh and learn. She's forgiven us.


And our newest addition, Cleo. She was rescued from abuse as well. She's lovable, adorable, cuddly and just adores being loved on. LOL She was a street cat and was taken in by Darrell's brother. A roommate of his didn't like that he locked his door and broke in to torment Cleo. She had cuts and bruises on her, but despite all the abuse, she still loves people. She has taken over being the mommy cat and will discipline the other two if they get out of hand at feeding time.


Finally, what are some of your favorite things to do?


I started gardening on a balcony in our first apartment. I had never had the chance to do it before and am mostly self-taught. I started with petunias and succulents in hanging baskets. From there, I've gone to a full-fledged plantaholic. When hubby loses me in Home Depot, he knows I will eventually find my way to the plant department. For Christmas, I get a $100 bill for those 'special' plants I wouldn't normally buy. Our house had no2011-10-22/nap/9bb783 gardens when I started. We had bad grass in front and weeds in the back. there was a lonely diseased peach tree back there. It was removed. It's gone from a blank canvas to a lush and tranquil yard. I'm quite proud of what I've accomplished, but a garden is never finished.


Our favorite place to vacation is the Oregon coast where my brother and his wife own a beach house.


And I LOVE to take pictures of my favorite subject when he isn't looking.


Celia, I've loved this interview with you! You're an interesting lady and I know our readers will agree. I look forward to seeing more photos of your very pretty cats. And thank you for taking such good care your little four legged waifs! Now, I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to include a link to the thread about the birth of your grandbaby. It was so cute, and funny, and touching, and there are some adorable photos in it. I'm glad you shared it with me and I hope everyone will take a quick side trip over to Dave's to read it. (Don't forget to come back!)  Thanks for spending this time with me!  (p.s. Your mom is beautiful, and you look a lot like her!)


That ends another week in the Spotlight. Please visit the chat threads below, and remember to click on the photos if you want to see them larger and mouse over them to read the captions. Do return next week when Zany will have another guest for us.

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About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Friend billyporter Nov 8, 2011 4:51 AM 4
hi Celia~ kaglic Oct 27, 2011 9:08 AM 1
Hi Celia! Zanymuse Oct 26, 2011 11:05 AM 16
Loved reading about you and your family ... Boopaints Oct 24, 2011 10:38 PM 9
Great article Sugarweed Oct 23, 2011 11:28 PM 1

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