01 May Aunt Caily: A Tribute to Mothers, Even those Who Aren’t
My Great Aunt Caily was my grandmother’s younger sister. My Grandma and Grandpa eventually moved to Oregon to raise their family but Aunt Caily and her husband, Uncle Gil, lived and died in Orange City, Iowa.
Born in the early 1900’s, Caily came to adulthood in an era when her childless status labeled her as a lady who couldn’t have kids, rather than being regarded as a woman who simply didn’t have kids. I sometimes wonder about the details of her life, things that I will never know. Of course they were never my business anyway.
When I was young, I sometimes confided in Aunt Caily, but like most children, I was mainly concerned for myself. I had little room to be curious about her. I never knew the reason why she and Uncle Gil didn’t have a family of their own, but I did know that she was special and they were both very loved. It occurs to me that perhaps she, like many folks, didn’t have a clue as to the difference she made. Our paths didn’t cross often. It was a long train-ride from Iowa to Oregon (she refused to travel by air) and our family only visited her on occasion. However, there are bright moments that drift through my memory when I think of her.
Diminutive in stature, feisty in nature, Aunt Caily had a high voice and she was quick to laugh. When I was in those difficult teen years, she came to Grandma’s house and I recall sitting with her on the couch as she asked me about my day. I’m not sure how it happened, but I confided in her that a lot of kids at school were doing drugs, “speed” to be exact, the 70s version of meth. I found it disturbing and I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I don’t recall that she gave me advice or that we came up with a plan or solution, but it was a relief to unburden my load to an adult who would simply listen and who wouldn’t “freak out” and call the school or take unwanted, embarrassing actions.
I frequently think of my Great Aunt Caily when I’m cleaning up after cooking a meal. She once gave my mother advice that has been passed down as a bit of family wisdom. According to Mom, one time when she was visiting Caily, they had pot roast for dinner. Afterwards, my mom did the dishes and as she was scrubbing the pot that had been used to make the roast, Caily came into the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Caily asked abruptly, startling my mother.
“The dishes,” Mom replied.
“But why are you scrubbing that pot? Don’t be silly. Use baking soda.”
“Yes, of course. Sprinkle some on the pot and let it soak a bit. It will lift the baked-on grease and leavings.”
This was a lesson my mother taught me – a little family legacy from my Great Aunt Caily. Baking soda really does lift the baked-on grease and pan leavings. I rarely have to scrub hard after I use my pots and pans. When Caily gave my mom that nugget of kitchen magic, I’m sure she had no clue that decades after her death, her wisdom would live on in me…and now you.
Most of us underestimate what we have to offer, worrying about what we want to accomplish in our lifetime. We focus on the “big” things, thinking that’s what matters, when sometimes it is the little, unexpected things that matter the most.