Stories are like me trying to get to a new city without a GPS. I usually get where I want to go, but the paths are often unexpected and unplanned.
I hadn’t thought much about the story I wrote about Maw Maw being anything much more than a personal eulogy of sorts. If I had, I may have tried to gather a bunch of memorable stories about her, trying to weave small pieces of humor, sadness, and joy, hoping to honor her memory and bring a little closure to everyone there.
Those stories would have been hard to find anyways. She was from a different era, and me being the son of one of her younger kids, by the time I reached an age to want to ask those stories, the pages in her head had started to fade.
There had been times I asked her during an annual birthday call but despite never having friends over and not cooking for the last 20 years, Maw Dees always had food on the stove or heard someone knocking when the call lasted more than 30 seconds.
But those stories stayed hidden.
I never got to ask what it was like to be a young woman in the ’40s with a husband sent to war. Or what it was like to once know people who were born in the 1800s.
Did Jack take her dancing on her first date? Did she always plan on a big family or was the Caillet charisma simply too tough to resist?
Or what it was like to help teach young children, in the heart of desegregation in the south. What she thought of Elvis, Martin Luther King, JFK.
What does she feel inside when people say the world is getting worse?
What was it like to be a person, especially a young woman, in a time where the country united to defeat evil thousands of miles away? What was it like to deal with real issues of depression, war, hunger? What did she think of our petty issues today?
I would like to simply ask her how in the world she raised so many kids in a house that small? What was her biggest regret? Why did she have so many glass birds in the house?
and maybe most importantly, what was she thinking letting Gaylen and Brent, of all people, get a pet monkey! Did she really think that was a good idea, or was she just doing something to prove a point to Paw Paw for some silly argument over dinner?
Seeing those stories fade off into the night is what makes death so sad I think. After all, I only saw her once a year so it’s hard to say I’ll miss her physical presence. But I never really knew the woman that was Maw Maw, and my kids won’t even really know the grandmother version of her either.
Admittedly, I do not know all my cousin’s kids like I should, or expected to, but I suspect they may share similar feelings. In fact, I still think of my cousins from that picture that hangs on the wall, not the lawyers, parents, business owners, women that I will see at the funeral. Alisha and I talked about opening Christmas presents in that backroom as if that was yesterday when in truth it was years before we even knew what a website was.
But I do see more authors emerging, even if they don’t know it yet. I see people much more involved in their kids and grandkids’ lives than the previous generation. They help shuffle them from event to event. They go shopping and text each other. They give much more attention than they ever got themselves.
But in all this busyness, in all this attention, we have to learn to pause and listen to each other’s stories more. We are in a world where everyone has so much to say, but no one wants to really hear. We spend more time labeling left vs right, right vs wrong, and debating generation gaps that we miss the most important thing we can do as humans..to share and celebrate each other’s stories.
So I’ll start that today.
This week, my son is a bit bummed about a couple of things. Neither is about Maw Dees really, although he’s playing the part of the understanding teenager the best he can. He’s upset first because this may force him to miss a practice for a high school band he was asked to join and for an 8th grader, I imagine this the equivalent of drew brees calling me to play catch.
You see for the last year or two, I’ve watched my son turn into a young man whose voice is his guitar. I’ve seen him perform solos that made grown men smile, watched make songs his own, and had the pleasure to enjoy 60s jazz music alongside with him. Watching him grow into a musician has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.
But his story didn’t really start with the guitar, or his first note, or even his first breath. Like all great stories, his story began long before he was born.
His story actually starts over 50 years ago, which is old, so it has been probably been twisted a bit (it’s a Caillet story after all) but as best as we know, there existed a boy, probably just a tad younger than my daughter, who would play pretend guitar on a page from a catalog, perhaps the 60’s version of the air guitar. Like all kids, we can assume he probably asked his mom to buy him a guitar.
This one maybe could have ended there. After all, Dad was already the fifth boy she was trying to raise to be an adult, and there was still a Caillet woman that was next in line. Any parent (mom) reading this knows how easy it is to say “we’ll see” and hope the interest fades into the 100 others that a kid has. After all, this was the 60s and it’s not like disposable income was as it was today.
But for hidden reasons we’ll never know, that mom agreed to not only allow Hip to buy him that guitar but to also pay for, and take him, to 7 years of lessons. Those lessons led to a couple of decades of where music became a big part of his early life. She did much more than pay for the guitar, she supported a son.
But life happened (or in my dad’s case, I happened) and the guitar dream faded, only to be awakened later as he passed on his love to his youngest son, who in turn offered to teach the young man that is my son one day.
Which leads me to the last thing my son is really bummed about. You see, my son, the 2019 version of a middle school teenager, in all its glory, sitting on the far north side of the generation canyon we hear so much about, is hoping to be able to spend a few hours one-on-one with a man 50 years older than him, a man who is stubborn, old school, low tech, and luckily for me, my Dad. Not in the grandson/grandpa kind of way either, in a true friendship sort of way.
As a writer, most of my stories start one way and end up another, the words pulling me in whichever way they want. Maw could have never guessed where her story would go when she penned that first sentence, and who knows where the story will go.
That’s the neat thing about stories….if you let them, they will take you to some unexpected places.