* A week or so ago, Landscape Guy gave me a morning bouquet of lilacs and I took them in to work so that I could enjoy them all day while I wrote. On my way into the office, I stopped at the coffee shop and, while I was waiting for my small, skim latte, a young woman (they’re almost all “young women” to me, nowadays) said, “Lovely flowers and, gee, they smell wonderful. What are they?”
I was kind of flabbergasted. Was she pulling my leg? Making fun of the old bat?
But then I remembered that DC has lots of transplants — people from the desert Southwest, or from Mars, or from whatever benighted place it is where they don’t have lilacs. And so I gave her one of the branches, and told her its name, and assured her that even someone with (as she said she had) a “brown thumb” could grow a lilac in DC.
When I was a girl (and it was many and many a Moon ago) we lived in an ancient Maryland farmhouse, way out in what was then the country. There were several lilac bushes on the property that, now that I look back, must have dated from the Civil War. We’d go out in April and break off whole branches (they must have been years’ and years’ worth of growth) of blooms and bring them into the house. My mother believed that bashing the bottom of the stems with a hammer made the blooms last longer and so that is what we did. I slept with a giant vase of them by my bedside every April of my life until I left my parents’ home.
Years ago, I was going into work on a Sunday morning and stopped, on my way, at a DC farmers’ market where there was a man selling huge armfuls of lilacs. I was living in an apartment then, with no real garden of my own, and I spent extravagantly on as many lilacs as I could carry. As I walked the several blocks back to my office, a group of six or so older tourists came towards me and one of the old men (they were almost all “old men” to me, then) said, “Oh my God, are those lilacs? Please, please, please can I smell them? My grandmother used to grow them when I was a boy, but I haven’t smelled them in decades. Please, I’m sorry, but, please, can I smell them?” He smelled them and so, one by one, did his friends and then, feeling rich beyond all measure, I pulled out a stem and gave it to him. Proust, upon receiving a Madeline, would not have been so completely transported. It’s one of my happiest memories of giving someone, just once, exactly what they wanted.
What flowers or plants do that for you? Are there sights or scents that take you directly back to a happier time? Marigolds, with their odd, spicy scent remind me of my grandma who always grew them (“These are Queen Sophia marigolds,” she would tell me, proudly, out in the Rocky Mountains, more than half a century ago.) I never see a hollyhock or a four o’clock flower without remembering how she taught me to make dolls out of her pincushioned pins, and the flowers, and the buds (“Fine ladies, going to their first ball,” she’d say, as she smocked a pretty dress for me, or crocheted a cap for a new baby, or trimmed her African Violets. Years later when I sewed a gold velvet dress from a Vogue pattern to go to my first formal dance, I got my grandma to help me do the buttonholes and she grinned at me and said, “Or, you could go pick a hollyhock and wear that. But it might turn back into a flower at midnight.”)
My grandma could make the best lemon meringue pie that anyone ever tasted, and mincemeat pie with no almost meat, and divinity, and she cut out paperdolls for me — of 1950s movie stars — and never once complained. And she and my grandpa bought me a tiny tea set with little flowers on the teapot. OK, I’ll stop, but you see what scent memories can do.
* Princess Trees are in bloom all along the Potomac River in DC. What’s the gossip in your landbase?
* Here’s a chance to listen to Goddess expert Judith Laura online. May 27th at 8:00 pm. Mark your calendar.