In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are 14 Cal & Ada Claire facts. Cal and Ada Claire are high-school sweethearts, strong parental figures for Ritchie and Selma, and inspired by my grandparents. I always think, even though my grandparents divorced, that they had a deep and complex love. They, like Cal and Ada Claire, were sometimes difficult to live with, but at the end of the day, I think they knew each other better than anyone else.
1. These are the “real” Cal & Ada Claire. This is my grandparents’ wedding photo from 1943 and sits atop my bookshelf.
2. Cal and Ada Claire’s love song: This song makes me think of them.
3. Cal convinced Ada Claire that he were a set of twins. This is their story on the page, but also, according to my cousin, how my grandfather met my grandmother. He’d pop in one door and pretend to be one brother, then come back in through another door and pretend to be the other.
4. I’m reading my grandparents war-time letters. Though I haven’t used them in my writing, it has been so wonderful to travel through time with them, and to see how important letters were to families and soldiers during WWII. I’m currently typing them up and putting them into protective sleeves so that they can be shared with current and future family.
5. Ada Claire and Cal were the first characters I wrote about for my thesis. I turned in a short piece about them on September 22, 2014. Back then they were still heavily based on my grandparents, and still named Mack and Myra Ware. Here’s a snippet: When Junior was born, Mack jumped out of a moving plane. It’s everyone’s favorite story to tell. Mack and Ms. Myra Ware had four children then, every last one of them girls.
6. The real plane story: Allegedly, my grandfather really did jump from a plane. My grandparents had four girls, ages 8-17, when my grandmother went into labor with their last child, my uncle Richard. As the story goes, my grandfather and a student had just landed after a flying lesson. They were still taxiing down the runway when the airport radioed in that my grandmother had the baby…and that it was a boy! As I heard it, my grandfather jumped down and out of the plane while it was still moving and let the student bring it to a full stop. I’ve tried to squeeze this onto the page, but I think it’s getting scrapped. Just keep it in mind when you’re reading Cal, and know he’s the type of man to do this.
7. How Cal (and my grandfather) joined the Navy: When my grandfather was younger, he fell out of the hay loft and was unconscious for several days. He admitted this when he applied for the Air Force, and, of course, they rejected him. So, when he went to the Navy office and they asked him the same question, he made sure to tell the Navy recruiter, Nossir. He’d never been unconscious. I wanted this to be Cal’s story as well, but it hasn’t made it onto the page…yet! We’ll see if there’s room.
8. Cal’s middle name is Henry, which is my great-grandfather’s name. He’s named after his father, and his son is named after him. In total, there are three Thaddeus Henrys in my family.
9. Junior is named in honor of my Uncle Thad. The youngest Henry (Henry III) was my great uncle. Though he later went by Thad, as a young man he was called Henry Junior or Junior. I really wanted a character named Junior, so that’s where Cal and Ada Claire’s son (Calvin Henry Womack Jr.) got his name from.
10. Cal’s birthday is August 28, 1915. My grandfather’s birthday is also in August, but this is actually my brother’s birthday. All my character’s have birthdays of actually family and friends so I won’t forget when they’re born!
11. Ada Claire’s birthday is December 16, 1915. December 16th is my maternal grandmother’s actual birthday, though she was born six years later in real life. I share a December birthday with her.
12. Another real-life fact that didn’t made it onto the page is that Cal has been known to sing solos in church on Sundays. This is only ever at the request of his mother, and he’ll sing for no one else. Although I had to cut it from the book, I originally wrote it in after my cousin Gerry toldme that my great-grandmother could often manage to persuade her son, my grandfather Mac, to sing for her in church. Gerry recalled hearing growing up hearing her uncle sing the following song in particular:
13. Ada Claire’s handmade quilt: Towards the end of the novel, Ada Claire makes a quilt. It was inspired by the quilt my grandmother made for me in 1983. She was suffering from multiple myeloma, but carefully pieced together this quilt top by hand. My mother says her nurses always complimented her fine stitchwork. The quilt isn’t finished in the story, and isn’t finished in real-life either, but I hope to quilt it together myself someday soon.
14. Cal & Ada Claire would have had wonderful southern accents. I often lament that loss of my accent—I lost it in Savannah of all places. Even so, I never had as wonderful of an accent as my grandparents. Here’s a brief snippet of my grandmother sharing real Womack family history. Isn’t her accent lovely? This is what you’d call an Old South accent.