CBC Literary Prizes

"Uncle Ray's Thumb" by Lisa McLean

Lisa McLean has made the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for "Uncle Ray's Thumb".

2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist

Lisa McLean's short stories have been published in the Antigonish Review, Room, This and Riddle Fence. (Courtesy Lisa McLean)

Lisa McLean has made the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for "Uncle Ray's Thumb".

About Lisa

Lisa McLean's short stories have been published in the Antigonish Review, Room, This and Riddle Fence. Much of her creative work is based on, or inspired by, her family's roots in a small community off of Newfoundland's south coast, where she lived as a child. Originally from London, Ont., Lisa lives in Guelph with her husband and three children. She is currently at work on a collection of literary short fiction. She works as a freelance writer with a focus on agriculture.

Entry in five-ish words

Loss and love after stroke.

The story's source of inspiration

"My great-uncle, who has always been a family figurehead, suffered a stroke in 2015. He was such a gregarious presence — someone who told fantastic stories and found humour in the darkest circumstances. When we realized he would never speak or write again, the loss was devastating. It was also haunting to know that the last time he was able to speak on the subject, it was not his wish to live with such severe disabilities. ('If I ever get to that point, pull the plug,' he would say.)

"There are still good days. He loves visitors, and he laughs at jokes and hums snippets of hymns or sea shanties. But the situation is still a difficult one, and physically he continues to decline. I think I wrote this piece in part as a tribute to what he means to me, and also to help me work through complex feelings about what his new reality means for everyone involved."

First lines

"Uncle Ray has been missing a thumb for most of his life. He lost it in a hatch on a ship. He has told me how it happened, but I only remember the basics: His thumb got hooked. He was at sea. There was no way to save it. Last week I asked his daughter, my cousin, 'How did he lose his thumb again?'

"'He was at sea,' she said uncertainly. 'Wasn't there a storm?'

"We were packing her parents' kitchen into boxes, asking each other how much Tupperware two people could possibly need. We loaded the car and surveyed our progress. We allowed ourselves to feel pleased with our accomplishments."

About the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize

The winner of the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, will have an opportunity to attend a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and have their story published on CBC Books and in Air Canada enRoute magazine. Four finalists will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their story published on CBC Books

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