When Frieda Eglinton and her son Mike were given less than one hour to evacuate their home on Garrapata Ridge on the first night of the Soberanes Fire this past July, they filled their two vehicles with possessions that one would fully expect: their pets, key family paperwork, a few blankets, and a suitcase or two of clothes.
But in their case, the mother and son also included something that would not make most people's have-to-have list: a raggedy but beloved Teddy bear.
"When you are confronted with that kind of choice and have very little time to pack up and leave, it's interesting to look back at what you chose to take," says Frieda Eglinton, 78. "That night, I grabbed the deed and a lot of the usual important stuff. My son grabbed a lot of important items too — but in the middle of his two storage boxes was that darn old bear."
In retrospect, she understood why. "That Teddy bear was given to Mike by one of his aunts when he was born," Eglinton says. That was 56 years ago, and all these years later, the bear has continued to occupy a special place in a prominent window seat in the family home.
The seat gave the bear a wonderful perspective on the family's many years together — and the many, many memories they have that have filled those years. "Some of the memories are very good ones," Eglinton says. "And some of them, like my dear husband dying last year, are not so sweet. But, either way, that bear has been a constant for us. There has been a real sentimental connection."
As it turns out, the bear's survival was not dependent on Mike stowing it away the night CalFire went door to door, informing residents that the Soberanes Fire was threatening the ridge they lived on between Carmel and Big Sur. That's because the family home was spared by the fire.
"Some of our neighbors up in nearby Palo Colorado Canyon were not as fortunate," Eglinton says sadly.
But, with the family's future in doubt on the night of July 22, the bear traveled Highway 1 with the mother and son to the shelter the Red Cross opened at Carmel Middle School that first night of the fire. "We were at the shelter for three nights, and, in all, we were gone from our home for about a week before we were cleared to return," Eglinton says.
"I made some good friends at the shelter," she adds. "Because of the Red Cross, we had showers, coffee, meals, and toiletries. When you said you needed something, it was found for you. I am very grateful for that."
Frieda Eglinton had one other thing going for her during her week away from the family home: the calming presence of her family's favorite Teddy bear.
Caption: Frieda Eglinton, left, and her favorite stuffed animal are joined at the Carmel shelter by Red Cross volunteers Wendy Cohen and Craig Jenni. (Photo by Red Cross volunteer Virginia Becker)