At the memorial service for George Cavalletto, his sister Pattie Cavalletto talked about their childhood and her lifetime with her brother.
George was my big brother. To me, he was “Butch”, his childhood nickname given by our mother because he was her tough little man. She loved him in full devotion during his first few years, and I believe this helped give him the basis from which he met the world, openly and without guile, with sincere acceptance and curiosity. He never failed me in any way, supporting me when I was most in need, looking out for me, holding my hand in hard times. We were country kids, the only two in our primary family, and we counted on each other in every way. Being born two years before me, he was a part of the world I was born into, solidly present from the beginning, a crucial part of my foundation. He felt responsible for me, as we explored the world around us.
We grew up in the midst of lemon trees, row upon row. Our father anticipated a son who would carry on the proud Italian immigrant tradition of ranching begun by our peasant grandfather. My brother Butch spent his young years in training, hoeing weeds, learning about trees, and working smudge pots on cold nights. He raised chickens for 4H.
As we know, none of this was true to his nature, and that he unerringly, found his own way into living his true life. The first time he came to New York City at 20, inspired by his love of jazz, he knew that he would soon call it home. Filled with humanity, it was a place where everything was possible. After he settled in NY, he was able to achieve all of his dreams. Together with Sheila, he helped create a beautiful family, unique in its closeness, a family that formed new traditions of annual rafting trips together, camping, and long conversations around the dinner table. Sheila and George gave the world a gift through their family. They also gave service in their fighting for the rights of those whose existences were in unfortunate and inhumane situations. He pursued his dreams of intellectual excellence, reaching his highest goals, and giving to others through teaching. And finally, he was able to pursue the passion he’d had since earliest childhood for photography where he celebrated his family, making art of his love.
Over the years of our adulthood, we tried to visit each other every year. I went to NY to be with his family and enjoy the marvels of Sheila’s meals, and explore the city. During the summer, he came to rural New Mexico to the retreat center that is my home. His kids all visited as they were growing up. Our lives were very different, though our bond was a constant in our lives.
During his last months and days, we talked together almost daily, with me on an iPad screen before him, we revisited our childhood, the time in our lives known only to us, mining it for moments that had helped shape who we became, and celebrating the unique qualities of having grown up in the country in an agricultural setting, always living in the midst of lemon trees. As children, we were, out of necessity, inventive in our play, and excited about exploring beyond the edges of our ordered world. We spoke of the day we came upon a magical long-forgotten garden known only to us and how it impacted our young psyches. We talked about the meaningful experience of our first TV, how it broadened his horizons and filled his imagination with possibility. We talked about the radio shows we loved before the advent of TV. We talked about his piano playing, and of the teacher he’d studied jazz with in LA. We spoke of the pride we felt in our Italian heritage, of our private times with our grandfather Grando. We spoke of how the first commercial avocados were pioneered by our extended family, and how we were part of the selection of the variety we all know today. It was a precious activity we indulged in, this revisiting our shared memories. Together, we came to the realization that ours had been a good childhood, a happy childhood, and that we were deeply glad for it’s unique and special qualities. We had never come to these simple words before, and we both felt it as the special moment it was in our dialogue.
I’m profoundly grateful we had this time together to reflect and share and to learn more about each other, it was helpful to each of us. I’m particularly grateful to his kids who supported us in weaving this precious thread of our relationship through his last days, and for helping me to be present with him, even in his last moments. It was the very best use of technology I have known.
I am forever grateful to Matthew for your devotion in making my brother’s last days the best and fullest they could be, and for handling his medical care during the last years. And to Caitlin for your loving care, for filling his days with good food and company and the richness of having grandchildren around him. And to Joe for the pleasure you gave him by virtually sharing your own sheep farm life with him. And Nathaniel for knowing to bring jazz into his last days, and for the blissful reveries it gave him. And Dan, for so thoughtfully and skillfully taking on all his paper work, for letting him rest knowing it was handled.
My brother was a kind and good being, he was curious and open to discovery, he was incapable of being anything but himself, unassuming, open, creative and thoughtful. He is a treasure in my life, and though our story may be over, I will continue to celebrate its gifts for the rest of my days. My gratitude is unending that he was my brother. My love for him is without end.