In a blog post the other day, Bright Star said that the reason she loves flowers so much is that she grew up in a desert. I am the opposite: the flowers I love are ones I've lived with my whole life. They are woven into childhood memories.
One of my earliest memories is playing with my brother and our trucks in the sandy bank on the side of the house, shaded by the thick green leaves of lilac bushes. Every May, the bushes would fill with flowers, a lush profusion of purple and green, and the heavy scent would surround us as we pushed yellow metal trucks though the dirt roads we'd dug.
When I was school-age, my mother would cut some lilacs for me to bring to my teacher. She'd fill my arms with flowers, then wrap the stems with wet toweling and tin foil, a big clump that I would carry proudly onto the school bus. Of course, I was too shy to ever talk to my teacher, even the Dancing Nun in second grade whom I absolutely adored. When I came into the classroom, I would go up to the teacher's desk, feeling thankful for the background noise of slamming desktops and chattering kids, and silently hand her the flowers. Then I'd retreat to my desk and pretend to be busy getting out my books, while I secretly watched from behind the slanted wooden desk top as she made a fuss over the bouquet and put it in a vase.
When I was older, I can remember my mother sending me out to gather lilacs. Often it would be raining, a light misty rain. You can't wait for good weather to gather lilacs; the blossoms open in a day, and one good rain storm will scatter the petals to the ground. I'd take the scissors she handed me, but I never really needed them. I'd just reach up and pull down tall branches, snap off twigs that held purple blossoms, and then let the branch spring back into place, showering me with rainwater and lilac scent. I'd dump the whole pile onto the kitchen table, scattering purple petals everywhere, and we'd end up filling several vases and jugs.
I planted lilac bushes in the first house my husband and I bought, and at the second house, which is where I live now. Lilacs were blooming the night that I was in labor with Boy in Black, my spring baby. I can remember walking through the dark neighborhood, my husband at my side, our two-year-old daughter clinging to me, me stopping to breathe through intense contractions. With each deep breath, I pulled in the purple scent, and I wondered whether that smell would forever mark the baby who was about to slide into the world.
Lilac flowers last only for a week or so each year, but the bushes are loyal. You can depend on them. Years after a house has been abandoned, the porch caved in, the windows busted by vandals, and the lawn grown into a field, bushes of lilacs will continue to bloom. More than just bloom. They will continue to grow and flourish, sending out new shoots, getting taller every year. The house will collapse under heavy snow, the wood will rot away, and yet still the bushes will burst into purple every May, as if hanging onto hope that someone will return.