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.
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
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.
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....