Saturday, May 25, 2013

That I Never Forget

The lilacs are blooming; to most people an unspectacular event. Unless they're prolific the flowers aren't showy enough to wow anyone, usually the plants are scraggly and unkempt. They were used as land dividers and hedges by city governments from coast to coast, as Elms and Maples or Buckeyes were used almost exclusively on the same public's boulevards, so there's no shortage of lilacs, the weedy things.

But for as bland as they might be, when I was young they were magic plants with a dazzling color that lit up the sky and a smell that overpowered every other aroma within range. I'm betting the first time I thought the word "pretty" was while observing and smelling lilac blooms. It's when I learned I could "see" fragrance; not really mind you but that I could imagine it as a color, an aura if you like, wafting on the spring breeze as if airbrushed pastel, moving like sand through a spinning sieve. And that's when I decided that in spite of the risk of being seen as other than a man to be, flowers, and all things of beauty, would never need fear that I'd ignore them so long as I could yet draw one more shallow breath.

When I spot a lilac now I see my mother's mother, Gramma B, her soft, stocky form covered in a flower print white dress, her mildly buck teeth headlining an everpresent smile. I remember so vividly her home, a house I cared for when I was a teen; a stucco bungalow set into a slight hill, its tiny driveway nearly too narrow for myself and mower to pass (a fact that never ceased to amaze me), and its back yard bordered in purple lilacs.

I can still hear her say the number three while rolling her "r", a funny little affectation to an American boy, and a last tidbit of her Germanic upbringing still present after 60 years of English speaking. If I close my eyes I can smell her, unperfumed, simply sweet like a baby after a bath; and I can feel her arms around me, patting the back of my head and telling me everything will be just fine, no matter how tragic the cause for her concern.

She lied of course, but I've forgiven her optimism. I could never be angry with one so nearly perfect.

I think about her here and there as I do all those who touched me before saying their goodbyes; but I think of her all the more concretely when the lilacs bloom, and I make more than one trip to their location for those few days, to drink in the perfume of my grandmother's yard and obviously, her unconditional love.

I have a few lilacs in my back yard, and no matter where I live the landscape will always harbor one or two, planted by my own hand if need be. It's a symbol certainly, but it's as powerful a metaphor as I know. A rose by any other name....

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