Caral Hilliard was born Carol Janet Wood on May 25, 1961, to Topper and Connie Wood in Libby.
She graduated from Libby High School, class of 1979. As a child growing up in Libby, Caral was raised in the midst of a large extended family. Everyday life included her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a wonderful way to grow up with her older sister, Karen, and two younger brothers, Gary and Joe.
While there wasn’t a lot of money, there was always a lot of love and support. The Wood household was an open door to folks who needed a helping hand — you never knew who was going to be sleeping on the couch or brought home to dinner. Her parents’ lifestyle would greatly influence Caral in her own home.
As a young girl, Caral was always loveable and friendly, and cute as a button with her big brown eyes. She was pretty mischievous and kept her parents on their toes. She was a talker. Her dad used to tell her to “whistle and cool her lips.”
She carried this gift of gab into adulthood. Caral never met a stranger. She had the kindest heart and never walked away from a person, especially a child, in need.
Caral was raised as a trucker’s daughter. Her dad, Topper, was her hero. She tried to live her life following in his example as he was a lot of fun, with a loving and generous spirit.
Caral, like her dad, never wanted to miss out on a good time. If she couldn’t find fun, she would create her own and invited everyone along. She never wanted anyone to feel left out and enjoyed being the “fun mom” to her kids and their friends.
At the age of 17, a handsome young man by the name of Jim Hilliard looked her way. They both say it was pretty much love at first sight. Jim tells how he had his eye on her and was trying to find a way to meet her. One day, he jumped into her car as she was stopped on the street. She told him he had to get out of the car, because her dad’s ice cream was melting — she had to get home. However, it wasn’t long before he found his way into her heart.
A favorite family story is that Caral already had a date for the senior prom when Jim asked her out. She didn’t want to hurt her date/friend by backing out. So she went to the prom, but Jim hung around her house with her until her date picked her up, and then waited for her to be dropped off before taking her out again. He even got his picture with her in her evening gown.
After less than a year of dating, Jim and Caral married in September 1979. It wasn’t long before their family began to grow. Sean was their oldest son, followed by little brother Bryce in 1980 and Chance in 1984. Caral always wanted a daughter and her wish came true when Jenny May joined the family as a young teenager.
In case you haven’t noticed, Carol’s name changed to Caral after she married Jim. It is a great story involving a tattoo artist who couldn’t spell, and the rest is history.
Caral and Jim’s early years were very happy. In 1983, however, her father died unexpectedly. A little over a year later, in the fall of 1984, when Chance was just a baby, Jim was in a skidder accident that nearly took his life. He was severely injured, but with sheer determination, some help from the doctors and Caral taking care of him for months at home, he not only walked again but runs circles around most of us still today.
The loss of her father and nearly losing Jim made her conscious that you never know if it will be the last time you see someone, so she made sure never to say goodbye without saying, “I love you.”
She reminded all of us to do the same.
In 1985, Jim and Caral started Hilliard Hauling together. She loved being a logger’s wife. One of her favorite things to do was to ride with Jim in the truck. She loved spending time with her “honey.”
Caral always liked to look nice and loved sparkly and gold jewelry. She was known for her long, beautiful fingernails and always wore perfume. Looking at her, you would never guess she was a bit of a tomboy, but she could drive an 18-wheeler, demo derby car, mud-bogger and anything else someone challenged her to do. Her favorite car was the “red hot” Camaro Jim bought her a few years ago.
Caral worked several places in her lifetime and was well known for her friendly, caring smile. Her first job as a teenager was working at Jack’s Zip Inn. She then waitressed at the old Antler’s Restaurant. After that, she spent several years at Center Drug and briefly worked at Rosauers. Her main occupation, though, other than raising her family and helping Jim with his logging business, was as an insurance agent. Caral and Jim purchased the Farmer’s Union Insurance Agency from his parents and Caral became an insurance agent. She really enjoyed working with people and over the years won several trips, including a vacation to Mexico and a cruise to the tropics.
Caral also volunteered for several years with the Women’s Help Line and with Wings Regional Cancer for more than 20 years.
She eventually let her mom, Connie, take over the insurance office. For the next several years, she spent most of her time keeping track of Jim and the boys as well as Jenny and all their friends. This was definitely a full time job. Jim and the boys were on the Legend Car racing circuit for a while. Many a weekend was spent watching them race.
What really made Caral stand out was her kindness and caring heart. She was the least judgmental person you could ever know and saw the goodness in people that others might not see. She and Jim provided a safe haven for kids young and old throughout the years. Whether for a day, a week or a year, they knew they were welcome or could find a helping hand. She believed that everyone was worth saving. Most of the time her trust and faith were rewarded.
As a testimony to how many kids have been through their home, there is a wall in a hallway of their home that she had kids sign or draw on. Whether they came to play or stay, everyone got a chance to write their name, or leave a message, handprints, etc. There are hundreds of messages that now fill both sides of the hallway. Some kids have grown up and brought their own kids back to sign the wall or measure their height on the growth chart.
She loved children and children adored her. She especially enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren. She was known as the fun “Mom,” “Bama,” “Mama C,” “Auntie” and it didn’t matter if they were related or not, they became family. She was at her best when kids were around. She didn’t care about messes or bedtime, just having fun and making them feel loved. A gift from a child was a treasure forever.
Besides family, animals were her soft spot. Many a stray found a temporary home at their house, most for the rest of their lives. Any dog, cat, chicken, rabbit, duck, fawn that joined the Hilliard household was well loved and very spoiled.
Caral was a very special person; she was generous to a fault. But like everyone, she had a few habits that made life interesting for her family. She was rarely on time for anything, couldn’t pass by a garage sale or thrift store without stopping for bargains. She could be stubborn, and you definitely didn’t want to tell her she couldn’t do something, because she would prove you wrong. However, it was her imperfections and life experiences that made her so forgiving and understanding of others.
She loved fairies, angels, glitter and gold. If it sparkled she had to have it. She believed in the power of sparkle and it was everywhere in her house. You would never know a logger lived in their house with the crystal chandelier in the dining room and red satin curtains in the living room.
When the logging industry in Libby declined, Jim took a job in North Dakota as a union operator on the pipeline. For almost a decade, they lived in a fifth wheel for several months out of the year, traveling the country together wherever the next job took them. Caral made friends easily and really enjoyed traveling and meeting new people. She called this time their great adventure and was so excited to travel to so many states. The best part was that their sons often worked the same jobs or in the same states, so their family was often together on the road.
They returned home to Libby in August 2018 upon the tragic death of their son, Chance, to be with family as they worked through their grief. They stayed in Libby and rebuilt their logging business together. Caral was proud that she and Jim were married over 42 years and still in love. They held hands, left each other love notes and enjoyed doing things together.
Caral is survived by her husband, Jim; son, Sean (Amber), and grandsons, Tyson, Steven and Dallas; bonus grandkids, Carolyn and Mason; son, Bryce (Sara), and grandsons, Wyatt and Jackson; daughter, Jenny May Wood (Willy), granddaughter, Lauren, and bonus grandkids, Phoenix, Piper and Cody.
Her son, Chance, preceded her in death in 2018, but she is survived by his son, Topper Robert Hilliard.
She is also survived by her sister, Karen (Bob) Stickney; brothers, Gary (Kathy) Wood and Joe (Colleen) Wood and their families; mother-in-law, LaDonna (Virnie) Mack; sister-in-law, Diane (Mike) Morris, and brother-in-law, Bryan (Sue) Egland, and their families.
She would want us to list her entire extended family and bonus families but the number is just too great. Suffice to say, she leaves behind many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, bonus kids, bonus grandkids and friends who became family, and who she loved dearly. Her smile and sparkle is greatly missed already.
If you were to ask Caral what her life motto was, she would probably say, “try to live your life in such a way that if others spoke badly about you, nobody would believe them.” She would also ask that when you think of her, pass along a kindness to someone in her name.
Caral’s celebration of life was held Jan. 15 at the Libby Christian Church. If so inclined, Donations in her memory can be made to Wings at P.O. Box 1160 in Libby or Kootenai Pets for Life at 125 County Shop Road in Libby.