My house is filled with the pungent spring scent of lilacs today. This is the first year that the lilac shrub we planted when we first moved here has flourished. In fact, there were so many blooms this year that the branches bent low to the ground under the weight of the flowers. So, after I finished my weekend chores around the house, my reward was to cut myself two large vases full of blooming branches. Even the lilac limbs seemed to thank me for lightening their load, and now my house is reaping the benefit of their fragrance.
The first few years after we bought and planted the lilac in our garden, the tiny bush would put out one or two branches of sweet-smelling blooms. My daughter was very young then and as much as she wanted to, there were never quite enough to warrant picking them. Then, there were the years of the worm invasion, where the warm winters and early spring brought the inch-worms in droves just a week or two before the birds had migrated back. Those worms ate every sprouting blossom on both the lilacs and the wisteria during those years, and it took several years for the plants to recover.
We intentionally planted both wisteria and lilac in our garden for reasons of family nostalgia. The wisteria was my mother-in-law’s favorite flower, and the front door to her river-town house on the Mississippi had an arbor of wisteria that bloomed in exquisite clusters. In the most recent years before her passing, wisteria blooms were the pride of her springtime, and their emergence was one of the few times she would willingly leave the safety and comfort of her house.
Likewise, lilacs are a hard-wired memory of growing up for me. My Gramma had several lilac bushes that grew wild and free near her farm house. Her lilacs were a mix of colors…some white, some purple, some pink. I loved them all. I remember walking up the steps to her farmhouse and having the fragrance of lilac pungently cutting through the otherwise barn-scented air. A few blooms were always cut and sent home with us, woody stems wrapped in wet paper towels and tinfoil. We also had a huge lilac bush at our own house “in town,” which grew tall just outside the dining room window. Some years, it was prolific in blooms but in other years there was far more foliage than fragrance. In upstate New York, lilacs were in bloom closer to June, and I fondly remember bouquets of lilacs gracing tables for high school graduation and family birthdays, including my own.
Now, it is early May in Virginia, and my lilacs fill my thoughts, and carry a lingering sense of nostalgia. I read Amy Lowell’s poem, Lilacs, earlier today and her own sense of nostalgia made me smile. Her imagery is as familiar to me as it was a century ago when she was living and writing:
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon.
Sometimes, we think we are the first generation to have nostalgia, as if time itself began with our earliest memories. But, the lilacs have been scenting the springtime for generations of time, each beckoning an older wisdom than we ourselves can know. Maybe that is what draws us in, and beckons us to linger. A core of our humanness, stored in spirit or locked in genetic memory, that keeps us connected with time gone by.
Springtime may be filled with newness, but the longing sweetness in the scent of memory is still what beckons us.
These tiny, star-shaped flowers are small points of light reaching across generations and time.
Tonight, I am grateful for that perfume.