The lilacs are in bloom. After a winter that felt like it would never end, in the past few weeks, it is as if we have been living in a time-lapse photostream. A month ago, it was snowing. Then it stopped and there were tiny buds on the trees. Then daffodils, tulips, green grass, magnolia blossoms, and finally lilacs.
I have been writing about lilacs for more than a decade. I first had an essay published about how the smell of lilacs changed after my dad’s stay in a nursing home. The wipes used to clean up after him in the bathroom were made to smell like lilacs. After he passed away, when I tried to smell the lovely lilacs of spring, their scent had changed. Instead of a natural odor that had once reminded me of a younger version of my dad working in my grandma’s yard, they reminded me of the chemical sickness of the nursing home and a man who had changed after a stroke left his brain garbled.
In time, the true scent of these delicate little buds returned to me, as did the memories of who my dad had been before his brain was injured. The story was the seed that eventually grew into the memoir I am now working to have published. It tells not only of my dad’s stroke but what that taught me about my own brain tumor a few years before.
The story of the lilacs has stayed with me. I was thinking about my dad again yesterday when I visited our local arboretum. They have dozens of lilac trees and when we opened the car door, the sweet and welcoming fragrance enveloped us. I try to visit every spring since I don’t have lilacs of my own. With these short-lived blooms, I know I must take them in while I can.
Most of the year, lilacs appear no more special than any other bush. In fact, I once heard someone say they didn’t like lilacs because they only flowered for a short time.
It is true, but that doesn’t mean they don’t live in my memory when they are not showing their flowers. I think that’s what amplifies their importance. If I were able to smell lilacs every day, they may not smell so sweet.