A promise of lilacs

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.

11 thoughts on “A promise of lilacs

  1. This post brought back memories of my childhood. We only had a couple of small lilac bushes but they were an important part of the landscape of my childhood yard and could be made into a grand entrance (or whatever) for a 5-year-old. And thanks for the link to Rupert's story. Good to know that I'm not the only person who hauls a stuffed animal around, although I'm sure Rupert is not anywhere near as obnoxious as my frog puppet.


  2. The smell of lilacs is intoxicating. My white-trash yard, thank goodness, holds lilacs—purple and white. Just the other day I noticed that one of the massive bushes, now more treelike, had lost a major limb (cracked, fallen over) that I'll have to go saw off soon. Like maybe May, when Tim's back in town, when they are in bloom.It is one of the most wonderful smells on earth.


  3. The image of you, Dona, as a huge mobile nose, wandering around the flowers with nostrils flaring, is a little disconcerting. But I love lilacs too, followed closely by peonies and those roses that have raspberry scents. It's almost time for all of those to bloom. Why is it that most fragrant flowers bloom in the Spring, and few if any in the summer and fall? We need them then, too.


  4. I hope your neighbours don't decide to cut their lilac down. You should chain yourself to it if they try. When I got new neighbours on one side a few years ago they razed their yard of everything, and I mean everything, including all the lovely lilacs that used to overhang my deck and provide me with lovely scented privacy.


  5. I hope so too, Helen. That would be really sad. However I do think I need to plant one of my own in an area that gets more sun and is not so close to the sidewalk. Our lilac only gets a few clusters of flowers each year — and ends up with powdery mildew later in the summer. If we have one of our very own, the neighbors won't be able to cut it down.


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