Sunday, May 25, 2008

Show and Tell Sunday: Once and again

Last year on Mother's Day we decided to go to Arboretum for the Lilacs festival. We didn't want to be cooped up in the house, the day being as nice as it was, but we also didn't want to be anywhere among the usual suspects-- restaurants, playgrounds, anywhere, really, where we would be assumed to be out celebrating the day. Arboretum sounded like a semi-safe bet, and indeed, we encountered very few babies and even fewer pregnant women.

We brought a bike with the rear attachment that turned it into a tandem, and JD and Monkey rode that around for a while. Until a malfunction rendered it unridable and unfixable in the field, that is. So then the bike rode JD to the car, and Monkey and I headed for the lilacs.

I love lilacs. In the Old Country they signaled the end of a school year. In fact, there was a tradition to head to the botanic gardens in your city on the last day of classes, to hang with your classmates and see lilacs. Somehow they seem to bloom a few weeks earlier here. But the smell... the smell is unmistakable, and intoxicating, and reminiscent of only good things for me.

What I discovered last year, though, is that many a thing are called lilacs. Things that look much like the lilacs of my childhood, but don't smell like them at all. Things that smell exactly right, but look ever so slightly off, or even very much off. I took many pictures last year, and not one of them looked like what I remember from those last days of school so many years ago.

A funny thing happened last year at the Arboretum. As we went from one tree to another, Monkey getting cranky from all the walking, and me getting a bit frustrated with the futility of my search for that one perfect tree I suddenly got a feeling that brought so much comfort it literally stopped me in my tracks for a moment. See, last year we were just getting by, just learning to put one foot in front of the other, to not ask too many questions, to just muddle through. Today I still live very much without looking too far into the future or making many solid plans. But the difference is that today I am more aware of it, I own it more, I know why this is, and why this is the way I need it to be, at least for now. Last year it was a response, pure instinct, the path of least resistance. It wasn't bad, or even unpleasant. Just not what I have been used to, not how I have lived before.

So the feeling. It's funny, really-- walking around that hill in the Arboretum, looking for something that as it turned out wasn't physically there, I suddenly had this feeling of knowing exactly what the future held, on this one silly point. In a week we would be in the Old City, and there would be lilacs in bloom. Lilacs that looked and smelled right. It was like catching lightning in a bottle instead of being hit by it, like being normal, if only in this one tiny way.

In my new life I couldn't count on much. And even as much as I earned for the Old City, I didn't know exactly what to expect of it. Would it be kind to me, to us? Would it welcome Monkey, would she take to it? How would it go seeing friends who either didn't yet know or knew but only via email? But suddenly there was one thing I knew, one thing that was a sure bet-- there would be lilacs.

As I write this, the Old City is bathed in the sunlight of a new day. I know that Monkey was up late last night, so she is probably still asleep, as, most likely, is JD. The City is now my daughter's beacon too, and they have their own relationship, one that is so far mostly about wide eyed stuff of vacations-- ice cream, mindblowingly good children's theater, incredible public parks and playgrounds, but also friends, and fireworks the likes of which she has never seen at home. In practical terms, for us, her going is a language and culture booster shot, good parental hygiene. In less practical terms, I love that she loves that City, it warms me, it promises me things, things still invisible over the horizon.

I thought of going to the Arboretum today, to see the lilacs. Until I looked at my pictures from last year and realized it would only make me sad to once again not find the proper tree. I thought of still going, for the smell, because the smell of all those trees in bloom, if I close my eyes, it's the right smell. But some things you can't unlearn, and knowing that should I open my eyes, the illusion would be shattered is itself somewhat illusion-shattering, no?

Funny thing, though. I finally crossed our tiny dead end street today to look at the lilac tree our neighbors across the street have going. It felt rude, for some reason, to just walk up to the tree before, even though it grows right by the road. It just felt like an intrusion somehow. But today I said screw it and just went. Nobody else was outside, so I didn't feel too conspicuous. You know where this going, right? That tree is light years closer to the lilacs of my childhood than the fancy onces at the Arboretum. Go figure.

The future is still very hazy to me. But sitting here on my couch, alone in a very quiet house, I know that next year we will all go. Next year is big-- class reunion for JD. The timing will be shifted a bit, so there may not be lilacs anymore, but there will be friends, and there will be the City. I am slowly learning to trust that some things are constant, unshakable.

This is written as part of Mel's Show and Tell Sunday. Go here to see what the other kids in the class are sharing.


STE said...

This is just gorgeous. Some of my strongest memories of childhood/adolescence involve the scent of lilacs as I walked through my neighborhood, through my house. There were lilacs everywhere, including three trees next to the house I grew up in. As I type, I can smell the lilacs. Just seeing that picture is so evocative.

I carried lilacs on my wedding day, and they were everywhere in the decoration. I hadn't chosen them specifically, but the florist, somehow, just knew.

Sorry to go on and on. I was just so touched by this post. The Arboretum is beautiful, but huge. I'm glad you could find the constancy of lilacs in (practically) your own backyard.

luna said...

there is nothing quite like that smell of fresh lilacs. intoxicating, indeed.

Alyson & Ford said...

Lilacs do remind me of home. Too bad they don't grow where I live now.
Happy S&T!

Alyson LID 01/27/06 (IA China)

Queenie. . . said...

That is really beautiful.

Lilacs hold a lot of memories for me, too. I've been running around sniffing all of them, but can't bring myself to pick any to bring inside. They never last as long as I would like them to.

Tash said...

Someone gave us lilacs for Bella and Maddy last year, but I only just discovered that they don't bloom until they're a few years old. Rats. So for right now, we're cultivating beautiful green bushes, and I'm hoping next spring, or quite possibly the next, we'll get some blooms just like that.

c. said...

I LOVE lilacs. We never had them, but there was a park near my most favourite Aunt's house that had them. I loved going to her house to pick lilacs at the park. The scent of them always reminds me of this.

Stunning photo, Julia. Beautiful post.

Antigone said...

Gorgeous photo. I think it would do me good to get some trees planted here.

Amelie said...

I'm glad you found those lilacs.

Anonymous said...

Lilacs are one of my favourite smells. Just this weekend, I went looking for lilacs that I could pick so I could bring them inside to make my house smell like them. Today, they are wilted on the table, but still fragrant.

Lisa b said...

Some things are constant.
Julia I just loved reading this.
My neighbour has a similar bush and this week I've stopped with my daughter to smell it.
Life changes so drastically, but this is still the same.
I also love that the leaves are heart shaped.

LAS said...

I loved this post - very beautiful!

Nine said...

Lilacs have always been my favorite. Nothing makes me think of summer like they do.

niobe said...

I am slowly learning to trust that some things are constant, unshakable.

This makes me want to cry. In my life, there is absolutely nothing that is constant or unshakeable and I can't imagine that there ever will be.

The Town Criers said...

I love that last thought and it made my throat clench. It was the perfect thought.

Beruriah said...

Somehow I missed those last two paragraphs the first time I read this. The optimism is beautiful.

My parents have a fabulous lilac bush in their yard. It is so big I used to be able to hide under it, with Sarah, and imagine it was a fortress, or a time machine. The smell was otherworldly. We have a lilac bush outside here, right outside a window, and it doesn't look like my parents, the flowers are too light, like yours. Mine are dark, deep purple.

slouching mom said...

beautiful post.

and funny -- a couple of days ago i posted a picture of my own lilacs, a picture that's practically a twin to yours.

seriously? said...

I love lilacs. I stenciled them around the top of my bedroom when I was 18. I was so sad to have left them.

When I first moved into my house I burned a lilac candle to remind me of them. My DH could never remember their names and called them "not grapes" (they were purple and hung so they reminded him of grapes).

hopeful #1 said...


Happy Friday!


Coggy said...

I love lilacs so much. I always get sad that once in flower the blooms go so quickly.
I think some things are certain now too. Not many, but some, and it brings me a sense of calm to think that.