What is it about the smell of lilacs that can make me wish I was nothing but one huge nose? Is it simply the perfume they emit or is it memories of my childhood? Whatever it is, I wish I could experience it for more than a span of a few days once a year.
I grew up next to Mrs Wewell. She was a kind old woman who had, among other things, a backyard full of lilac bushes. I’m sure there were at least 10, possibly 15 lilac bushes lining her property. For most of the year the bushes were either a dark green barrier or a dense thicket of brown branches separating her yard from the mean old lady who lived behind her. One spectacular week a year, however they were heaven for humans and bees. For one week Mrs Wewell’s backyard was full of white, pink or purple blossoms that smelled wonderful. I’d walk over to her yard and stick my nose into a cluster of flowers and inhale. Then I’d do it again with another cluster. And another. She always let us cut as many bouquets as we wanted, and we usually took enough to fill a vase or two for our living room, bringing the aroma of springtime into our house.
Mrs Wewell eventually moved into her son’s home and sold the house next to us. For years the families that lived there enjoyed the week of lilacs when their yard supplied a lovely scent to the entire neighborhood.
Then John moved in and decided one spring to cut down all the lilac bushes. Not only did he cut them down, he cut them down the week they were in full bloom. I was horrified. I no longer lived with my parents, but visited often (and truth be told was dating John at the time) and couldn’t believe someone would be so cruel as to cut down bushes that brought so much joy to people. As he took a chain saw to the bushes, I ran behind clipping branch after branch laden with lilac blossoms and stuffed them into my car to put in water when I got back to my apartment. It took me several trips to bring the flowers to my apartment and a long time to find enough vases, pans, bottles, and drinking glasses to hold the flowers and put them in all the rooms of my apartment. It smelled lovely for days, and the apartment looked a little like Mrs Wewell’s back yard.
After that spring, I don’t recall the next time I smelled lilacs. Our next door neighbor in Alexandria had a lilac bush, but her soon-to-be ex-husband cut it down, mumbling something about eyesores and powdery mildew. Before he did, though, I’d go to her yard and smell the lilac flowers as often as I could. When I worked at a public school in Alexandria, one of the teacher assistants would bring lilacs in from her yard and put them in a vase in the main office. I’d walk by the office a lot the week they were there, taking huge lungs full of lilac scented air.
When we moved to the house where we now live I was delighted to see that there was a lilac bush on our property. It is probably technically our neighbors’ — it is right on the property line — but we take care of it. Our lilac bush is ready to bloom, and I’m ready for it. I look forward to the sweet, yet refreshing smell of lilacs. If there is a Heaven I’m sure it smells like lilacs.