Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lilac Trees and Lemon Pie

Yesterday we celebrated my Aunt Pat's 75th birthday. She is my mother's oldest sister and although we don't get together that often we still have years of memories to draw on and remember. Aunt Pat lives in a beautifully kept old home at the end of Burnt Head, Nova Scotia overlooking the water, where she has lived ever since my Uncle Bud brought her to it as a new bride. Visiting her home was a regularly scheduled event every time we went to the South Shore of NS when we were children.

She had five children of her own and my mother had four, so when we all got together there was no end of playmates to choose from. Aunt Pat believed that all children should play outdoors as much as possible and we liked swinging on the huge pole swing set that Uncle Bud had made and set up in the lower field. Or sometimes we would climb a small hill and set under the spruce trees on an old seat from a car long demolished. We'd pretend we were a family traveling somewhere special and sometimes we'd sing songs we knew. There was a tire swing strung up on one of the branches and we'd take turns spinning each other round and round.

Sometimes if we were arguing or being too noisy, Aunt Pat would come to the kitchen door and give us each a plastic cup and tell us to go and pick some berries for supper. I don't ever remember actually eating any berries inside the house, I think we did most of that while we picked, but it did separate us and keep us occupied. About supper time our mothers would call for us to come in so they could wash us up for supper. We'd all get a good scrubbing from the kitchen sink and our hair slicked back so we'd be presentable at the table.

No matter what the main meal was it always included baby new potatoes from Uncle Bud's garden and homemade mustard pickles which Aunt Pat had made. And sometimes we would have canned crabapples and to this day I have never had ones that could compare to Aunt Pat's.

Aunt Pat always had a wood stove to cook on in the kitchen so the kitchen was pretty hot, but she would have the kitchen windows open and I can still remember how wonderful it was to have the scent of lilacs coming in through that open window. There was a lilac tree right next to one of her windows which not only offered shade to a hot kitchen but a beautiful smell as well. With all the confusion of their family of seven, ours of six, plus my grandparents and other aunt, I can still remember the peaceful feeling that washed over me when the curtains gently blew in the wind and I could smell that lilac tree.

My Aunt Pat is a wonderful cook and her lemon pie or date squares were always my favourite. She never pinched on the dates in the squares and the crumb topping and base was the best I've ever had. But her lemon pie was extra special to me not only because of the taste but because of how she served it. She would go into her china cabinet and take out her clear, green glass plates to put the yellow lemon pie on. It just looked so beautiful that we knew it was something special. I really don't eat lemon pie anymore and I often say it's because it's not served on those pretty green plates.

I've heard it said that the sense of smell is the strongest of our senses. I don't know if that is true or not but I know for me it probably is. Whenever I smell lilacs I am quickly taken back to those hot summer days at my Aunt Pat's house. Days of sitting under the apple tree or having a ride in Uncle Bud's wheelbarrow and playing with cousins. Days of swinging on homemade swings and having your mama wash you up for supper. They were good days and even sweeter in my memory.

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