The fragrance is sweeter than lavender, cleaner than gardenia, bursting with the not quite filled promise of summer. Summer mornings saturated with the scent of lilacs growing on the edge of a wild expanse of lawn provided respite from a childhood where days were nightmares and nights were dreams. The dew on the grass, the sun birthing into the sky over jagged distant hills, and the wild glory of that smell promised life and hope and the possibility of something other. These magical flowers made Mommy smile. They gave us something to love together when it was impossible to love each other.
The summer I was pregnant with Kathleen, alone and frightened in Spokane - the Lilac City - I walked the neighborhoods to escape the hellfire heat of my attic studio apartment. I walked to escape my life. I walked to escape the approaching day when I would no longer be pregnant and someone else would be my daughter's mother.
For two months I walked. Most of that time I was kept company by the ancient lilacs lining the picket fences lining the sidewalks surrounding beautiful old homes. The bushes would offer me their blossoms over the fences and I would bury my face in the sweet purple heads. I breathed in all of that promised summer joy, and offered it to my unborn daughter. Often I would find myself walking away with a flower still in my hand, not quite aware of having broken it off. I would spend the rest of my walk inhaling the early summer air through its perfume.
I've planted a variety of lilacs in the sprawling yard of this home I've lived in for sixteen years. There is an historical lilac garden not far from us - one of my favorite spring outings. Every time I visit, a baby comes home with me. Often these plants are twigs with only a few leaves - truly infants - but they come from heirloom stock. The variety is breathtaking. Every shade of purple possible. Pinks. Whites. Two-toned. Fragrances ranging from heavy perfume to light spritz. I always seek out the ones whose aromatic songs take me directly to the lilacs of my childhood summers.
I planted one of the bushes in a flower bed on the front of the house, thinking it was just until it was big enough to put somewhere more suitable. I wanted to keep an eye on it, and not lose it in the wilds of my on-a-whim planting areas. That was five years ago. The bush loved that spot, and last year gave me a handful of lush, deeply fragrant light lavender flowers. This year it exploded in purple glory. And gave me this gift:
The first very hot night of the year. Unseasonably hot. I've gone to bed with the windows wide open, the sky still light. I lie propped against my pillows, lightly covered by a store-bought quilt that I don't mind sharing with three of my four cats. A breeze tiptoes into the room as I bask in the perfection of the moment, carrying with it a perfumed message from the lilac bush just outside.
Summer will always come. Even in the midst of pain, uncertainty, a dangerously shifting landscape, summer will come. I promise.