Saturday, April 22, 2006

Custard Pies

The story of the loss and regaining of identity is, I think, the framework of all literature.
Northrop Frye, quoted in today’s The New Brunswick Reader.

The first house I lived in only for a few months as a baby, with my grandfather and aunt Tempie on Wilson’s Lane. We then moved up the lane to the corner of Main Street, Swede’s Corner, so-called because a Swedish family lived in one of the houses. Of those three years, I have one extraordinary event stuck in my memory, but that experience might never have happened. We lived in a duplex and on the other side lived a distant relative, going senile, as my father told me years later when I recounted my recollection to him. The image in my memory is of going into her house, through a connecting door, and seeing many custard pies laid out on the floor, so that I had to tiptoe around them. My father could not remember the episode and wondered if I had dreamed it, or even if it were a hallucination. He remembered a high fever I had that made me delirious. He woke up hearing me crying. I had gone downstairs and was trying to get out the back door, thinking I had been left alone. I used the custard pie image in Flora, Write This Down.

My aunt kept another memory alive by telling me often when I got older that I would toddle down every morning to have coffee with her. She would imitate my baby lisping, “I’ll be down in the morning to have coffee wis ya.” I have duplicated this coffee with my grandchildren: a little coffee, milk, and a lot of sugar. My aunt Tempie played a big part in my and my brother’s childhood. She was one of those larger than life people that you remember vividly. There were many legends about her. Once when she was living in an apartment, a man burst in and threatened to kill her. They lay on the floor all night while she talked him out of it. The night before my cousin was born, in the Good Shepherd hospital, my aunt danced the Charleston to entertain the other girls there, sad because they were having babies out of wedlock. She had an indomitable spirit and a fierce temper, hence the nickname Tempie. Her real name was Thelma, and her mother called her Temmie, but after her mother died, and she showed her amazing temper, her father started to call her Tempie. She loved nature of all sorts. My brother became her favorite, “my bum” she called him, and he loved her dearly. His love of nature comes from walking in the woods with her, and his love of gardening comes from working in her garden.

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