Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Lilac Story

I always loved the outdoors as a child, and constantly brought in flowers for my mother  (we lived in the deep country and I was always a decor hunter/gatherer..!)  

But it is the lilac that was my first and favorite childhood flower.  Lilacs figured prominently in my life...both sets of grandparents had vast quantities of them on their country properties and my parents' home had a huge lilac bush in the front yard that is still going strong (despite an overzealous pruning in my early 20's) 

Nearing the end of this season's lilacs at our house yesterday...

But my first really poignant lilac memory belongs to my great-grandmother Susie, who died at age 97 (when I was 13).  I do remember her well, including her love of lilacs (she lived in a grand old house and there were lilac trees galore on the property). 

When she was very old, we visited her at the nursing home and Mom suggested that we bring her some lilac soap, as she was fond of it.  When we gave it to her, she said "oh, that is very nice dear" and she smelled it and smiled at me.  Then she asked if I could please put it in the drawer for her.  So I went to the drawer and when I opened it, it was full of lilac soap.  There must have been 5 or 6 other boxes!!!  

At that moment, at that tender age (maybe 12), I think I had my first real private lesson in life and death.  I felt suddenly so sad, so sorry, so broken, struck that the things we love suddenly don't have any use any more, that our life comes to a close.  I think it was the first time that "the end" of life really occurred to me, despite having witnessed death before this.  It was the first time it really hit me, I think. 

It is a memory that has stuck with me.  And scents can be such a strong memory trigger.  So each spring when I smell my first lilacs, I am flooded with emotion.  I think of Susie and her drawer full of lilac soap.  I think of my mom, my childhood, our house, my grandmother.  I am always so thrilled to smell them, like seeing an old childhood friend that you nearly forgot, but I am also somehow sad to see them as they mark the passage of time and remind me of life's impermanence.  They are so charming, so pretty, and yet so very poignant...

(thanks for indulging this funny little memory that's been in my mind all week...I always miss home so much in the spring because it is so glorious there in the springtime!)


  1. We are the same Terri. I am enamored with lilacs and anything lilac smelling, lilac in color as well. Lovely post! Beautiful!

  2. A poignant post, full of memories and a little bit of innocence lost. A coming-of-age scent.

  3. That's a most poignant and lovely story.
    In fact scent is the most evocative of all our senses so it's not all surprising your beautiful memories come flooding back the instant you smell lilac.
    On a personal note, I adore lilacs but we can't grow them with any degree of success in Southern CA.

  4. Isn't it wonderful that we have these scents as a yearly reminder of our loved ones. Perhaps without the garden we would forget.

  5. That is a poignant memory. Lilacs are my husband's favorite flower. I love them too - nothing smells quite a unique as they do.

  6. at aveda i have learned through many, many classes that our olfactory sense is the strongest of all our senses. that is why all aveda facials begin and end with a sensory journey. it puts us in a place of relaxation. one of my most favorite scents is the smell of rubber. strange as it sounds, it conjurs up happy days at school when i was a little girl getting the balls out of the ball room. so funny but so true.

    also, whenever i'm walking through an estate sale and see the remants of what is left of a persons whole life, it makes me so sad and i see the futility of spending a life collecting and acquiring.

    great post terri.

  7. Dear Terri,
    Thank you for sharing this with us. Your story brings back, for me, many memories of my own grandmother. She loved flowers very much. Though she lost her eyesight later in life, we would still bring bouquets to was sad that she could no longer see them.
    Cheers from Sweden!

  8. What a touching, honest story, Terri.

    There are many scents that bring back memories for me, both happy and sad. It's interesting how strong that connection can be.

    As Slim mentioned, we can't grow lilacs here in California. I purchased a few "California" lilac bushes a few years ago, but I could never get them to bloom.


  9. A lovely tribute to your Grandmother and to those lovely lilacs. I just bought some new bath salts and the scent is,,,,lilac!

  10. Yours is my only stop of the day as the computer seems to be having spasms.

    You capture the essence of a moment so clearly. Poignantly is a word I might use, though you used it first so I can't now. Don't you suppose that a long, rich life with more than enough lilac soap gifts at the end spelled riches beyond compare to your Great-Grandmother Susie? I think that when she smiled at you, she was truly thankful and truly pleased.

    The scent of lilacs brings back memories for many of us. Aroma is pretty amazing that way.

    You probably did the lilac more good than harm by pruning it. So many old stands of lilac are dead wood at the heart of them.

  11. littlebadwolf7:38 pm

    so lovely! i barely remember my great grandmother lula who died when i was 3. you are lucky to have a link through flowers and scent with her.

  12. A really profound post, Terri. Thank you for sharing it with us all. Have a nice weekend, Phyllis

  13. What sweet story. I had a great-grandmother that I was very close to also and there are certain aromas that take me back to her house as a child.
    Lilacs are my favorite flower and I am longing for my own lilac bush here.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Such a sweet story,such a bitter sweet memory.

  16. Such a sweet post. Susie sounds so amazing. What an incredible lady. Hope you're doing well.
    xo E + J

  17. beautiful flowers. i like your blog

  18. What a sweet melancholic nostalgic story. I can only imagine how you felt when you opened the drawer and saw all the other soaps. So sad, but so sweet that it makes you remember her ever year so she live on.

  19. Popping in to check on your world, and was so struck with this post. I am a very 'smell' oriented person - they say everyone has a leading sense, and smell is less common as a leading sense, but my father used to say that I had the nose of a bloodhound. And the scent of lilacs are one of those scents that also bring a rush of memory and emotion to me; my mother used to love lilacs, and they remind me so much of her (she has been gone 12 years now).

    Unfortunately, we can't seem to grow lilacs here in Atlanta, although I did some research and there is one variety of lilac that supposedly does quite well in the south. I feel incredibly jealous and frustrated when I see a picture of a gorgeous lilac - I am desperate to smell it!

    Hope all is well with you-