There was a lilac bush by the house I grew up in, by the little balcony on the one side of the house. The house was built into a hill, so if you ran up the stairs on the outside, you’d end on the second floor. The balcony was at the top of the stairs, by a door that opened into the living room.
The lilac bush of my childhood was huge. Once, my mother was up in the middle of the night (going to the bathroom? tending a sick child?) and hadn’t put her glasses on. She looked out the window of the door on the balcony and shrieked fit to wake the dead. When my father darted up the hall, she told him a man was standing outside the door. Just standing there, looking in. My father, having grabbed his own glasses, opened the door and found … the lilacs. We are, all of us, blind as bats. Thank goodness the boys don’t share my genes; they might have a chance.
I used to sit there in the early summer and take in the smell until my allergies drove me indoors. I’m not much for strong floral scents as a rule – I don’t wear perfume and use unscented soap – but lilacs have always been an exception.
We left that house when my father died. Nearly a decade later, when I married and moved to the farmhouse, there was a lilac bush. I wished aloud that I had a cutting from my mother’s lilacs at the old house. Well, my mother-in-law said, I got that cutting from your Aunt Roberta. I’m pretty sure your mom did, too. Probably it’s the same plant.
We built a house and moved up the lane. This time a cutting came with us. It started small and has grown to the height of the windows. We’ve been sleeping with the windows open in the heat, and the scent of lilacs is always in the air.
I don’t know if I remember all of this exactly the way it happened. I don’t know if my mother-in-law remembered it exactly, either. Memories grow hazy and eyewitnesses are unreliable. It’s a nice story. I can’t swear that it’s true.
But it’s true enough for me.
So this spring, as I drift off to sleep, the last thing I know is the scent of my mother’s lilacs. And it is the first thing I know when I wake.