This past Thursday, I got the news that my Uncle Roland passed away after a long illness. What usually happens is a flood of memories pass through my mind. This time was beautifully different and filled me with gratitude.
Among the memories I have of my Uncle Roland is an incredibly precious one and one I am deeply grateful to have for my way seeing him. This is the one I want to share with my beautiful Aunt Betty, and my awesome cousins, Darlene & Danny.
When I was 11 years old, I was invited to spend a long weekend with Aunt Betty & Uncle Roland at their cottage in Mirabel. To my young mind it seemed like the drive took forever to get there, and possibly it felt longer because I was nervous to spend a weekend with family I hardly knew and usually only saw at Christmas. What was I going to do for three days with these almost strangers? My Aunt Betty was easy for me, as she was always hugging and cooking me delicious treats! With her, it was like being with my Mom. It was Uncle Roland I didn’t know very well. In my mind then, and from my limited times spent with him, he was always teasing me and my cousins. I didn’t yet know that was just one of the many special ways he showed his affection.
When I got to the cottage, Aunt Betty gave me a hug and Uncle Roland reached out his hand and shook mine while calling me “Champion”. Something in the way he said that changed everything. I was struck with the love this usually quiet man could give with a single word. I followed him around all weekend learning stuff that could only be amazing to an eleven year old boy. He spent the whole weekend teaching me stuff like the different kinds of trees on his property, how big an acre is when you walk in a straight line (because he had cut a path through the trees in the length of an acre), the difference between the kinds of sounds the critters make, and telling me stories which I am certain were purposefully made taller than reality to amuse me, and they did! We cut firewood and stacked it in his shelter, which he explained how to maintain for a long winter. He explained why a vegetable garden wouldn’t grow until he cut down many more trees and invited me to come back and help him do that. We discussed rocks, moss growing on… almost everything, and other cool stuff. I was having a great time and the best was yet to come!
One day we went for a long walk to what he made seem like a very secret place. A vast and hidden lake which had a mysterious and dark monastery on the other side of it. He really was a gifted storyteller. I hung on every word and was inspired to question everything he told me with a single excited word: “Really???”. I don’t recall bringing fishing rods and equipment, but I do remember having a basket to bring home the fish in. I carried it back and remember it being heavy! I remember a bunch of other details, such as his insistence that a small piece of buttered bread was much better than worms for catching perch. I recall his stories of the ancient and giant carp he claimed lived in these dark, glacier waters and can only assume his description was so good, I feel I saw one near my feet and jumped back from the shore. He told me of the monstrous pike fish with endless rows of sharp teeth. He told me of the spiked sunfish that looks pretty, but tastes dreadful. He explained the difference between a “maskinongee” and “muskee”, which simply nodded understanding at, because I didn’t want the storytelling to stop. I remember his teasing my innocent questions and the massive smiles he gave me at what must have been the faces I made at all these stories. In my memory we did catch some perch that day and my Aunt Betty fried it up in butter for an amazing feast. I loved my Uncle Roland the most that day; that loving feeling is how I have remembered him ever since and always will. Thank you, Uncle Roland for giving me such a precious memory to cherish.
Rest In Peace, Uncle Roland.
My condolences to Aunt Betty, Darlene, Danny, and all the families my Uncle Roland gave memories to.