Life itself is the most confusing thing there is.
Today my agenda is nearly perfect. The cup of coffee is fresh and fills the condo with an aroma that only a vacation coffee can do. It’s still dark out, the mountain backdrop covered in a light haze waiting for the sun to turn the defrost on so we can see clearly. I have a few more hours before my kids get up but I’m already excited about the days’ events. In fact, the to-do list of the day is about as ideal for me as life gets.
But deep in that joy, a sadness exists.
Back home my 90-something-year-old grandma, on my dad’s side, likely is beginning her journey to the other side. The family waits as she drifts in and out of consciousness, wrestling with the emotional tug-of-war not sure what outcome they are really pulling for. Maw Dees was content with death in a way that only people of that age can be. With her husband waiting for her, her kids and grandkids now full-grown, and a house full of caretakers, who can blame the once fiercely independent women as she grew weary of what her days had become.
The truth is, I hadn’t intended on writing about my grandma today. In fact, with about 20 topics in my queue, I doubted anything more could be added. But try as I might, I couldn’t get a picture out of my head. A picture that I know I once had on my phone, but can’t seem to find it. A family picture of the Caillet’s from what had to be nearly 30 years ago.
That picture always made me smile when I saw it, and today is no different. From the snazzy all khaki outfit I was wearing, to my brother’s glasses, to the big hair of the family women that only made sense in that time period, to my uncle so sick he could barely stand, that picture tells a story that only a few probably even know. We all look a lot different now, but I still think of myself at that point in time every now and then.
For me, being a Caillet is as much a part of my life as anything else. I don’t even really know why as I think about it. It’s not like we had the fame and fortune of the Rockefellers or Kennedys. No one in our family landed on the moon, played professional sports, or wrote some great American novel. In fact, we were by all accounts, a pretty normal family from the outside. Books will likely never be written about our family heritage or lineage, we won’t have stadiums named after us, and unless the next generation pulls up the slack, we’re not going to be a name synonymous with anything special really.
But being a Caillet has been something to me and even without ever reading the initiation manual, I knew the instructions all to the well of what that meant. I’ve never actually seen the complete manual, only parts, as it’s probably locked away with those damn baseball cards that would have made us all rich. But what remains is enough to piece together the story.
I’ve got plenty of pages with the footnote of “remember, you are almost always right unless it’s your parents, then you are always wrong” written in permanent marker. It doesn’t actually specify what we would be right about, but the other seems to believe it was a universal truth, not needing much explanation.
I have not found any message about empathy or really love in general. In fact, the only reference to “hug” I found is a section on how to properly use a huggie, what beers were really better, and a signed affidavit from everyone pledging to quit drinking soon. That page also had a funny illustration of women driving over a levee in what appears to be a rescue mission from a local bar. The details are scant but the boys in the picture seem to be a bit young to drink — and the woman seems pretty angry and protective over those kids.
I’ve found bits-n-pieces of recipes, but from what I can tell there are 18 different gumbo recipes claiming to be the best, each with its own title. There is some recipe for beans and dressing that I found and on the back, in small letters, the same recipe appears with slightly different ingredients, as if it was intentionally hidden from others.
The cover is gone and no author is mentioned. It’s probably for the best because the author would have had to change from generation to generation since each would have figured out the better ways to do everything by the time they were 15 or so. Even if not, there was a special chapter on Being Right When You Are Wrong that outlines specifically how to handle such situations.
Growing up I used to think that the author of our book was Jack Caillet, after all, it made the most sense given many of the stories we all heard. In fact, I’m sure if I found that manual, the cover would say as much.
But I know better now. I didn’t see it for years but it was there all along. It was probably there when a woman somehow dealt with 6 kids in what seems like a 200 square foot house. It was there in the 30-second happy birthday phone calls where I was rushed off the phone as if the house was on fire. It was there in the stubbornness of dealing with the sitters before, and especially after, Jack died. It was there until the very end.
Paw Jack may have gotten the credit, and maybe always will, but Maw Dees was the ghostwriter the whole time. Like many women throughout time who shaped history from behind the scenes, Maw Dees literally wrote the script on what being a Caillet meant.
And those stories will live on, in their own version, with updated chapters on how things have changed. My kids have already heard some of the pages and more are yet to be written. Like the author before me, I’ll borrow some of the pages here and there, make them my own, and keep the tradition alive.
A few days ago my son asked me if I had ever heard of the song “I did it my way” by Sinatra. I didn’t think much of that question at the time but that song plays softly in my head right now. Maw used to always tell me I should do what I needed to do, and not worry about her. She told me to worry about my family, my kids, my wife. Maybe that was the hidden conclusion to the book the whole time, the final unwritten chapter. This time though, I’ll make sure to credit the right author in my version of the story.