Posted by: alexhickey | August 2, 2020

Aunt Mattie’s Roses © Alex Hickey 8/2/2020

Pink Rose as referenced in the Blog post

Aunt Mattie’s Rose, 2020

When a summer afternoon turns languorous and the wispy ocean winds settle on the waves, stillness creeps across the harbour, daintily touching its soft squirrel hair brush to the intense fuchsia petals of Aunt Mattie’s rose bush now growing in my yard.  Delicate hints of its perennial perfume drift through the unruffled air fleetingly tantalizing ones sense of smell; an invitation to stop, savour the scent, marvel at its elegance and  applaud its resilience. A profusion of aromatic petals radiate spicy sweet tinctures which ride invisible currents immersing every soul curious enough to pause and breathe deeply.

Such a moment is timeless and luxuriant, teeming with story, a chronicle traversing time.  An entire century with two decades on top have wafted through its branches and tousled its leaves. July unfailingly finds it catching debut rays as the morning sun eases into the day above the eastern hills of St. Jacques.  Buds, pregnant with promise, rupture at their tips to reveal alluring hints of beauty. Before long the solitary green branches are festooned with blooms adored by poets, exchanged by lovers and treasured between the drying pages of old books who sit and wait on dusty shelves for another generation to crack their covers.

Lewis Thomas, physician, poet and educator, wrote, “The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking. Immediately at the moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, sending the odor around from place to place, setting off complex repertories through the brain, polling one center after another for signs of recognition, for old memories and old connections.”

Aunt Mattie, as she was affectionately known, or Martha Pike Reeves Young as she was more formally known, hailed from St. Lawrence. St. Jacques became her home when she married businessman Samuel Young around 1900. Born in 1874, she had outlived her husband by twenty-one years when at the age of eighty-one she bade a final good-bye to her beloved backyard flower garden cultivated against a backdrop of high bush white, pink and red roses.  For decades following her death, despite her home providing comfort and shelter to several diverse families as the property changed ownership, her roses saw fit to diffuse their bountiful fragrances onto the balmy summer breezes that wafted up the gentle slope from her beloved harbour.  Captivating scents surrounded passersby, slowing their pace, daring them to pause, inhale the memories, and remember. Silent words, swaddled in years of attention and love hung in the air, reminders of a woman generously tending her garden, humming to herself as she moved fertile black soil around plants which returned her investment a thousand times over.

A few years ago an excavator laid waste the roots and soil which nourished the hearts minds and souls of anyone who walked through her garden.  Somewhere along the timeline since her death the garden gradually fell victim to an invasive Japanese knotweed which inexorably marched inch by inch through the cultivated beds, overpowering pansies and marigolds as it exercised dominion over the untended backyard. Yet, each year, the roses would raise their branches higher, bloom, and mock the meddlesome newcomer with an abundant bouquet of colour.

Weeks after the excavator had silenced Aunt Mattie’s oasis I visited the naked exposed bedrock and walked among the remnants and found one small sprig valiantly seeking the blue skies of summer.  Was it white, pink or red? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter.  What mattered was that there was still life, still promise and hope that a new plant might arise and once again cast its beauty to the warm southerly winds that have blown in through St. Jacques harbour since its beginning.  As I concentrated on removing two small slips with roots attached, evading thorns fiercely bent on piercing my fingertips, I imagined them taking up residence in my yard five hundred feet away, delivering yearly to me a hint of the pleasure and satisfaction they must have bestowed on Aunt Mattie.

Last week, as the calendar crept into July, one pink bloom, then another, and another emerged to cover the two healthy bushes which have arisen from those transplanted cuttings. Their scent permeated my garden, effortlessly floated throughout the neighbourhood, delivering to all whose noses noticed, a connection to a lady who dug the soil of St. Jacques well over a hundred years earlier and released a perfume into the future.  Martha was ascribed the title, “Aunt” by the community, a gesture of respect and love afforded residents who worked themselves into the hearts and minds of those who fortuitously shared the experience of living in St. Jacques with her.  I have no memories of her for she died when I was quite young, but I do have some of her roses who spread their petals around my feet each year at this time. Every time I breathe in their presence I smile at the snippets of rhyme, refrain, and allure Aunt Mattie has contributed to the joy of my life in St. Jacques.


  1. Loved reading this article as I remember Aunt Mattie and her daughter Hazel so well, even though my family left St. Jacques to settle in St. Lawrence in 1942 and I was 10 years old at the time. I can still visualize their house and where they lived, the beautiful flower gardens and remember helping Hazel with her purple and yellow eyed pansies as they returned every year in profusion. They were so kind to us children and great friends of my mother
    and family. My son, his wife and I drove to St. Jacques two years ago and It was so wonderful to relive my memories but miss so many of the friends and witness so many of the changes I had stored deep inside. I did visit a childhood friend, Emma Lawrence ( Burnsie) and relived pieces of our childhood, which was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for this article.

  2. So nice to see a comment by Emma Paul an old friend of long ago.
    I too, remember Aunt Mattie. She used to play the organ in our Church think. I especially remember Hazel. We all respected her very much and thought of her as s nurse, I guess because she worked with Dr. FitzGerald. I believe that is who your Hazel is called after. Also remember Sadie Young very well. She taught Sunday school, daughter of John Young. I love the rose. You are so lucky to have saved this one.

  3. Hello Alex,
    I loved reading the article on Aunt Mattie. I have always loved the world of gardening; in a pot, on a rock, or wherever our challenging NL environment allows us. Five years ago when I retired and moved to a new house, I had an established garden at my former house and couldn’t bare to leave it. So, I dug it up and took it with me. Yes. I took about 85% of the plants, bushes and trees with me. It was a leap of faith, a labour of love and three months of digging and digging and digging. However, the joy of seeing the new garden bloom especially the more delicate plants is renewed every spring and summer since. The scent of a rose on a warm summer day is hard to compare. Hope your rose bush rewards you again this year.

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