Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Power of a Lilac

There is a week during Spring that I look forward to all year long. The week the Lilacs bloom -- which strangely enough, coincides with my birthday -- April 15th. Every year I thank my yard for giving me the ultimate birthday gift (which takes the pressure off my family.) For one brief week my yard is full of purple blooms. Within 7 days, they are gone. In Temecula, Lilacs don't last long, so when they arrive, I must appreciate every single moment that they are here. I go outside every morning to smell them. And I do the same thing just before I go to sleep. My love for them runs deep. I have grandmothers to thank for that.
In the 1940's when my great grandmother, Nanny Dawe moved into her house on Melbourne Street, she planted a beautiful garden and lined the back yard with Lilac bushes. Eventually, Grandmother Dawe's house became the house where I grew up. My parents bought it after Nanny Dawe died -- on April 15th. I never met her, but I felt I knew her. She left me her flowers which developed into a love for gardening -- her legacy to me.
Every morning in late Spring, I could smell the perfume of the Lilacs from my bedroom window. I played Barbies beneath their trunks, and pulled off the tiny flowers to make hats for my dolls. As long as I lived on Melbourne Street, the Lilacs bloomed around Memorial Day. I know this because every year I would go with my Grandmother, Nana Farish, to decorate graves. She never purchased flowers for this event, she cut Lilacs -- from my yard.
Although I loved the Lilacs when I was little, there came a time when I loathed them. It was sometime round 1973. I morphed into a teenager and Memorial Day rolled around. My grandmother came over with her big buckets and began to cut the Lilacs. For some reason, this irritated me. I thought Nana was cheap because she cut backyard flowers rather than doing what I considered "the appropriate thing" -- visiting a florist and buying bouquets of dyed carnations in plastic baskets. This is what adorned most of the grave sites at the cemetery.
As we set off on our day long journey to honor the dead, the trunk of Nana's bright orange Skylark was filled with dozens of Lilacs. The work began as we arrived at our first stop -- Wasatch Lawn . Nana pulled her yard tools out of the car, and unloaded the buckets of flowers. Then she filled the metal vases at each of our family graves with water from the cemetery hose. We dug the grass away from the graves and placed our flowers on the headstones. Nana tried to tell me stories about her family as we did this, but I was so embarrassed by the yard tools and the Lilacs, I tuned it all out. Plus I wasn't happy about the fact that my official bell bottomed sailor jeans were getting grass stains on the knees. Plus, plus, I was thirsty and I was not about to take a drink from the cemetery hose. I just wanted to get back in the car and get the whole thing over with.
My behavior then shames me now. But, at that point in my life, I did not appreciate this yearly ritual that included Lilacs, and a lesson that my grandmother was trying to teach. I learned it years later after she died. I lived in California then near the beach. One year, I flew home to Salt Lake to celebrate my birthday, and while I was there, I planned to visit my grandmother's grave. (Did I mention that we shared a birthday -- April 15th.) I knew I needed to bring her a gift of Lilacs. My family no longer lived in the house where I grew up, so I drove to a bush along the side of a road and cut a bouquet with my Swiss Army knife. I drove to the City Cemetery with my roadside offering wrapped in a wet paper towel. As I knelt beside my grandmother's headstone, I smelled the Lilacs before I set them on her grave. Their scent brought her back to me. I remembered the way she looked, and the way she laughed. And I remembered our annual Memorial Day treks and the stories she told as we decorated graves. I didn't even know that all those years ago, I had been listening.
This is what my grandmother knew and what she wanted me to learn: There is power in the scent of a Lilac -- it can reconnect us with our past.
Now, when I stand in my yard and drink in the smell of the Lilacs, my mind travels back in time. I'm under the Lilac bushes on Melbourne Street. I see my parents working in the yard, and my grandparents stopping by for a visit. How I miss them. But, just for a moment -- one short week, they are here -- with me.


Nanette said...

My husband cherishes the lilac for this very reason. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and that the lilacs this year smell especially sweet.

Maria said...

The lilacs are beautiful! Happy Birthday!!!!

Puttin' Down Roots said...

Crystal...that is such a great memory. I'm glad that you have lilacs in your yard, to remember your loved ones & their memories. I hope you have a wonderful day, a special day.

LibraryGirl62 said...

The only thing I miss about "Up North" is lilacs~how I wish they bloomed in Southwest Florida!

Jenni said...

You and my best friend while growing up share the same birthday! Hope you have a great day!

Lilac remind me of my mom. She loves them! When I lived in Nebraska they bloomed forever there! We would always go for walks and it seemed like you could smell them from miles away! I remember walking past a certain house, where the lady that lived there always let us pick them! We would go home and put them in a vase! I think they were so special to my mom because her mom loved them, she passed away when my mom was young (24) so it was her connection to her mom, my grandma!

Enjoy them this week!

Rosie said...

Such a lovely post. I love lilacs as well. It was a sign of summer. In Idaho they also bloomed right in time for memorial day. My Mom would take them to the cemetery as well! I also remember school getting out and we would sleep in. I would hear the door downstairs open and my Mom would be outside cutting lilacs. When I came downstairs the entire house just smelled like summer!