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01 May 2006

Uncle Rolls

My great-uncle, Rolls, died. His name is Roland, but for all the years that he had been known (92 of them), he had been known as Rolls. He was Nannie's brother. Nannie was dad's mom and she died when I wasn't quite four. In fact, she died January 1st, 1980 and she was 64.

What I remember about Nannie was her funeral, or more so, her wake. We come from a place where families are large, people are important, and no matter how many times you've screwed it up you can always come home. It didn't always get done the best way, or maybe even the right way, but it always managed to get done. I guess that's the lesson I always took away from things.

We grew up along the the Miramichi, a world renown fly-fishing river. My dad's side of the family, Uncle Rolls and Nannie, came from one of the most prominent families in the area... more because there were 15 kids, not because of any accumulated wealth. In fact, I don't think anyone accumulated wealth in those days, and if they did, they weren't particularly trusted. But my beginnings came from my dad's beginnings, and his beginnings started with his mother who had her small piece of a big family pie. She was a nurse and a midwife and there have been 105 babies born at the top of the stairs in my mom and dad's house. I often wonder when I sleep there if she watches me. I wonder if she laughs at me, or maybe that she understands a good deal of things. I wonder if she's happy or sad.

When she died the custom of the day was that the wake, the days of visitation before the actual funeral, took place at the homestead. And everyone had a homestead. Ours is 160 years old and it's neat to see that some things really don't ever change. Sometimes I don't think change is all it's cracked up to be, but that's another topic for another day. Anyways, what I remember about Nannie's death was that they had to bring her in through the window of the living room. The casket was too big to fit through the old doors, so in she came through the window. Clear as a bell I remember them all struggling under the shiney weight of a strange bed. And the flowers. There were flowers everywhere because everyone knew her. They heard her laugh. They tasted her cooking. They fell victim to her practical jokes. Apparently one night at a church supper she was in the kitchen and served Wallace Doak a hotdog with a rubber weiner in it. Her sister Mary said "You could hear Vida (Nannie) whoop from the other end of the church and Wallace knew exactly who was behind the rubber weiner!" I love that my grandmother, who I didn't really know, valued the senseless humour of a rubber weiner. It reminds me that there is more to me than just me. And I like that.

Mom and dad and I stayed for nearly 2 hours tonight, visiting and talking. Everyone asked where I was living these day, what I was doing with myself. They couldn't believe how tall I was, or how much I looked like so-and-so. They said they enjoyed my laugh and that it was nice to hear someone from one end of the building to another. They said that I was very much my grandmother who I never really knew. They asked if my sister was well and still in Halifax. They inquired about my brother and his wife and two boys. If either one had been there and I had not, they would have inquired about me too. They keep tabs on their own, even when they're a little more than out of reach. And I like that too.

Rolls looked exactly like Rolls. He didn't look dead, or artificial, or terribly make-uped up. His glasses sat on his nose and he had a bit of a smile. He and his wife, Yvonne, who passed away the other year took the place of Nannie and Art after they each died. They were present at weddings and graduations and showers and barbeques. They were great visitors. Yvonne made wool socks that were coveted. Every Saturday night was bean night. The lived a life of simple pleasures. The teapot was never far away and molasses cookies were a staple. And there was always times for pictures and stories. A couple of years ago my sister took pictures of Rolls' homestead - his barns and old farm equipment. She took a picture of his woodpile and when she was done taking pictures, she put everything in an album and gave them to him. She understaood the importance of pictures and stories and even tonight I was asked on more than one occassion: "Are you the one who took those pictures? He sure loved those pictures". No, I wasn't the one who took those pictures. But I was so proud that it was my sister who did. She got it. She got what mattered to an old man who worked hard his entire life.

I come from a place where people have a farm, but aren't really farmers. They plant gardens and cut wood. They fish. They make pickles and quilts. They had big families and somehow managed to keep them all fed and moving in the right direction. Atleast most of the time. The laughed and worked hard, but they never worked on Sunday. They went visiting on Saturday night. Work was their lives, but their lives weren't consumed by work. Does that make sense?

On my drive home I was listening to the radio and thinking. I was overwhelmed by the simple fact that I come from a land of simple pleasures. Simple pleasures, simple wants, simple needs and then simple discontents that may arise but always disappear because, well, they were simple.

In my struggle with God and life and love and all the silliness that I allow to overwhelm me, I am reminded of Phillipians 2:13. The NIV version says "For God works in you to will and to act accourding to His good purpose". I think about that verse a fair amount. Tonight I realized that I've spent a lot of time chasing my tail over what I thought was important. Sometimes I just need to breathe in and out and understand that it's not always for nought, nor is it always for something.

I watched the sun set over the southwest corner of the world I've known for a long time. The sky turned florescent pink, clouds threatened but there had been no rain just yet. Rolls has died but not before he found the meaning of life: to live it, day in, day out, taking time for pictures and stories.

There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval.

George Santayana (1863-1952)


Smarts said...

So lovely.

Broken Angel said...

You brought this simple orphan girl to tears. How beautiful to have so much family, so much love, such a rich tapestry of memories. What a gift to be able to find so much happiness even in sorrow. Thank-you for introducing us to Uncle Rolls.