Sunday, March 23, 2008

Holidays and stuff

I've been preparing the Easter meal today (yeah, I know, I'm a heathen... what am I doing?). It struck me today that I haven't ever smelled an apple that didn't make me think of Nova Scotia.

The smell of apples draws me instantly into many, many memories of Nova Scotia and why that apple smell is so delicious: it has nothing to do with the fruit really and everything to do with peace.

As I cut up and cored the apples, I realised - maybe it finally crystallised - that what I mean by Nova Scotia is not the province but my aunt and uncle's house in Garland and their farmstead in general. More than that, Nova Scotia is certain people.

I suppose one always knows at some level that a place one visits is the sum of the people who populate it and that, without those people, that place loses its essential element.

We were recently in Nova Scotia and stayed with my aunt and uncle up there. My grandmother lives with my aunt and uncle and it think it was her very advanced age that suddenly and sharply dragged me into the present - the one where my lovely aunt and uncle are not 30 years old anymore, despite that, in person, they are no different than my childhood memories of them and where I harbour a very real but childish wish that nothing will ever change in Nova Scotia.

In the last 10 years, as I've left behind many traditions that have no relevance for me and my family, I've struggled with how to replace those with traditions that are specific to us and to create some context for those. The four days we spent with our family in the east finally cracked open a door towards building those traditions.

My aunt is a deft and wonderful cook. She makes the most magnificent food and she does it with what looks like no effort. Deliciousness pours out of her capable fingertips. Her buns and doughnuts are such delights as cannot be explained. Suffice to say even the fullest belly cannot resist just one more cloud-like dinner roll slathered with butter.

Suppers with my aunt and uncle are delightful and relaxing and are characterized by much giggling and the occasional sharing of a family secret or recipe - how that delicious pie crust comes together, for instance, or how Uncle Clippy got that name anyway. After supper, in a real-life scene from a Norman Rockwell that only we know about, the men slip into the living room while the 'girls' sip after supper tea. Somehow, with no break in the flow of the evening, the dishes are done and put away.

I'm not sure if my aunt and uncle realise the how profoundly important they've been to me and my sisters; we live on the almost absolute other side of the country - some 7000 kilometres away - so we don't see each other often but their influence when we were children, and much more so now that we are adults with eyes open and whatever innocence lost, is profound.

That influence, and the constant nature of their lives and that place, is solid, dependable ground. For those of us whose lives have been lived occasionally struggling on ground that looks solid but is actually brutal quicksand, such ground allows us to breathe and focus.

So, auntie and uncle, for our family dinner tonight, I'm serving apple pie that reminds me of you, that my sweetie will have for breakfast tomorrow (because, really, why not?) and home made dinner buns that are never going to be as good as yours but we'll drown them in strawberry jam and eat too many anyway; and we will laugh and giggle and have tea and share some family secrets and pass on a recipe or two - but not the pie crust, cause that one's a keeper; and, while I try to get the dishes done by the same magic as you do, out of the corner of my eye, I'll see that tuft of sweet-smelling hay that uncle Bill gave me (he thought that was so funny and he'll probably think me nuts because I smell that hay every day), which is now firmly attached to the wall in my kitchen; and we'll send the men off to the living room while the girls have their tea and we will celebrate important, real things in place of anonymous holidays that we're supposed to observe (who says, actually?); and maybe I can give my family a taste of Nova Scotia - what it really is.

Love you all much.

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