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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Valley in Lilac Time…


Dare not assume Spring—

March and April are just numbered squares

On a calendar,

And I have seen forsythia

Hiss and smolder beneath sodden snow.

Yet the lavender delays.


Assume not too much--

The crocus does not baffle frost,

And beneath its fur the willow shivers.

Yet the fragrance defers.


Do not assume the date--

The swallow cluster clenching bitter wire

Is only bluster.

And sunflowers and buttercups

Just sycophants of the sunny south.

Yet the purple pendants pause.


Then one warm day

Again the patent is unpent upon the air

And calls the gardener to his furrow.

The purple buds unfold--

And unassuming, the lilac blooms.


Lilacs bloom in the Valley. The gnarled tree by Van Hulle’s driveway flowers again. Lilacs at Jim Werkhoven’s. More at the rustic little house by the upper bridge over Riley Slough. Valley lilacs A bush blooms at 19220 Tualco Road. Another in the Meeus’s yard. White lilacs at the Grange. And in our yard lilacs blossom as well.

Years ago when I instructed Junior High students in the Language Arts, I told my colleague Laurie Sharpe that lilacs were my favorite flower and fragrance. One day not long after, I entered my classroom and found a bouquet of lilacs adorning my desk.

[Tip: To give a bouquet of lilacs staying power, slightly crush the stems before you put them in the vase.] Lilac bouquet

For the next two or three years sometime in May the lilacs would appear. Later in the month I would retaliate with a bundle of bearded iris. Laurie, I never told you the “why” about the lilacs, did I? I never told you about the lilac pie.

Of our five wits, the olfactory sense is the most powerful trigger of memory. And when I’m in the vicinity of a blooming lilac—especially on a warm May day—my memory succumbs to the heady fragrance and carries me back to my teenage years.

She was a redheaded girl and classmate…long auburn hair that glinted copper in the sunlight. And of fair complexion, as is often the case with those of the the red haired persuasion; her skin and the sun had an adversarial relationship. The years have clouded the particulars of the initial stages of our teenage crush, but I know in the spring of our sophomore year we were more than friends. For some unknown reason in our Junior year the redheaded girl’s parents sent her to a Catholic school in Spokane. Thus began a nearly all-consuming correspondence, especially the next spring when it seemed every day our letters crossed paths. I told the redheaded girl of my love for lilacs. Afterwards, to fuel our passion, she would sprinkle lilac water on her cursive protestations of love before she posted them.

In those days our communal mailbox was a wooden apple box nailed to the cookhouse wall. That spring I was in a rush to check the mail and collect her letter of the day. I would immediately bring the envelope to my nose and breathe in redheaded love until I reached our own dooryard where a lilac bloomed as well.

One day in lilac time I received a package in the mail, a white box hatbox size, yet not as deep, a gift from the redheaded girl in the Lilac City. I rushed home to open it. When I lifted the lid, I was nearly overcome by fragrance. Inside was a wreath of lilacs. Among the lavender blossoms and heart-shaped leaves was a note that said: “I hope you like your lilac pie. Love, The Redheaded Girl.”I will never receive another such pie, a gift freighted with pure fragrance—and so much more. But one lilac pie is enough for a lifetime, I think.

As with most teenage romances the redheaded girl and I went our separate ways. All that remains of those times are youthful memories—and my devotion to lilacs.

(That redheaded girl? I still have her letters, each written in a feminine script on crinkly onion skin sheets. A while back I took them out—it was lilac time,of course—held one to my nose, dared hope some wisp of fragrance still lingered from those lilac days.)

And “…yet the lilac with its mastering odor holds me.”

Walt Whitman: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

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1 comment:

  1. I love this post! I knew of the redheaded girl, but nothing of her scented letters. What neat memories can be sparked by such a lovely fragrance. :)