Monday, October 10, 2005

Uncle Max's Summer Savory

I spent the day preparing a Thanksgiving feast, and found myself enveloped in memories of previous repasts shared by family and friends. Since moving to the Maritimes, we have spent most Thanksgiving weekends in Spencer's Island in the house that my mother-in-law grew up in, that we have grown to love and call our haven. It's always the last hurrah of the summer, when local friends, family and Fredericton friends gather to share a harvest meal and toast to our health and good times.
This year, we stayed in Fredericton. It was a different feeling staying home and not venturing to our haven, but life is about change and this is a time of transition. We shared our table tonight with friends whom we have celebrated many occasions, Christmas' and Thanksgivings with. I consider them as close as family.
Up until two years ago, Uncle Max always sat at the head of the table in the dining room in Spencer's Island, eating heartily, regaling us in stories, and sharing his garden bounty. It was also the house he grew up in and I think he always enjoyed sharing a meal in the dining room that I'm sure brought many childhood memories back to him personally. Max was the best dinner guest because he always exuded compliments with exuberance and gratefulness. Everything on his plate was delicious to him (and devoured) and he always made me feel that I was comparable to Julia Child. After any offering, he would lean back, stretch, pat his full stomach and with a large smile on his face, wax poetic. I loved him for it.
Uncle Max was the constant whenever we visited the old house. He lived in the community and loved it more than anyone. It was Max who would help us open the house up in the spring. It was Max who joined us every morning for coffee and a chat in the kitchen by the woodstove. It was Max who cooked the lobster and prepared it for a summer feast (he always ate the most of it too). It was Max whom you could count on to fix, chop, feed, converse, fish, laugh, tell stories, share a beer and provide the heartiest hug whenever we arrived for a weekend retreat. He spent his days doing exactly what he wanted........making maple syrup in the spring, planting and gardening in the summer, cutting wood in his forest, raking his fields of blueberries, lovingly feeding his fish in the trout pond, setting fish nets to trap mackerel, or helping out a family member. It was Max who constantly encouraged me to write more.
Twice a year, he would pack up his truck and head to the Miramichi or Labrador to fly fish. He said that fly fishing was better than sex, but he always had a twinkle in his eye like maybe the two activities were tied in importance or something. One will never know.
Uncle Max died during the nasty storm in 2004. It was sudden and jolting despite our knowledge that he was struggling with heart and health issues. Spencer's Island has never been the same without him, and I still struggle to come to terms with his death. Despite the fact that for the most part, he conversed with his nephew more than he ever did with me, his constant presence was an integral part of my love of the place, and I always had a feeling that he felt the same of me. I miss the old fart like crazy.
Today, I used up the last of Max's Summer Savory that he grew in his garden and gave me two years ago. It was hanging in a paper bag wrapped tightly with twine, in my basement and I knew that I only had enough left for one more turkey dinner. I lovingly crumpled the savory leaves into the stuffing, and thought of how much I miss cooking for him, and more importantly how much I miss seeing him bound out of his truck, up the walkway and into the kitchen humming and ready to give me a bear hug.
I didn't tell anyone tonight about the savory. I just kept it to myself as I imagined him proudly sitting with us as we toasted to summer glories, good health and and fondly remembered times.

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