The Old-fashioned French Lilac

 The lilacs are in bud, nearly ready to burst forth with sweet aroma that scents my entire backyard. The white one near the pond came from my grandmother's house where it grew by the quaint old tool shed and back fence. Many times she told me the story of how she had gotten the slip of the old-fashioned lilac from Mrs Mirecourt in Tupelo Mississippi while on her wedding trip in 1901 and transported it to our cold climate many states away where it grew and thrived. She cherished that white French lilac, and in 1967 when I returned from high school one afternoon and was told that grandma had passed away at 87 years of age, I immediately knew what I must do.

I walked to the old shed in grandma's back yard next door and found her old digging spade. My father's shovel wouldn't do for this job. Grandma's lilac was huge, a small tree-- much larger than I could ever dig, but there were many new shoots suitable for transplanting. With tears in my eyes, I carefully lifted several shoots and replanted them beside my parent's garage with the solemn feeling that I was doing something almost sacred. Even as a teen I knew I was one that was destined to be a "Rememberer" as the author Roderick MacLeish called a character in his book Prince Ombre.

 There the new lilac plant remained for many many years while I finished school, went to college, got married, got divorced, and finally as a single mom, bought my house.

For twenty years until her passing, my mom enjoyed the lilac that I had moved to her backyard. Over the years grandma's house was bought and sold several times and somewhere along the line one of the owners decided they didn't like shrubs and I visited my parents one spring day to discover the lilac by grandma's fence--the one that had made the trip from Tupelo Mississippi--was gone. Although it was sad, my heart was at peace because the offshoot beside my parent's garage was now a mature plant and thriving.

It's been thirty years since I visited the lilac by my father's garage to select young shoots to transfer to my new home. This time my mother accompanied me on the digging ceremony and we talked about grandma and old times and how happy she would be to know that part of her beloved lilac was making another journey to another family landscape.

After my parents both passed away my childhood home was sold. I have never had the desire to check if the lilac I moved to the spot by the garage in the backyard is still there. It is better to just imagine that it is, with my mother's triple dayliles at its feet and a big clump of rhubarb next to it just as it was when I was young.

My children and my nieces and nephews all know the story of the lilac. They have all requested a piece to transplant when they own their own homes. The lilac feels like a family heirloom. We can trace it's heritage for over a century and its journey from a southern state to the north and three family residences. Its blooms have provided countless bouquets, garlands for young girls' hair, and corsages tucked in many a buttonhole to carry the fragrance with us all day. Blossoms have adorned wedding tables, family dinners, baby showers centerpieces, and cemetery urns.

The offspring of the lilac that made the long journey from the yard of Mrs Mamie Mirecourt of Tupelo Mississippi in 1901 greets me each year with massive white fragrant blossoms. I never gaze at the lilac blooms without thinking of my grandmother and my mother and my childhood and without thanking them for instilling in me a love of nature and gardening and long-cherished heirlooms.  

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datura datura
56-60, F
20 Responses Apr 22, 2010

May Day...a day for revisiting stories, it seems...The white lilac is in bloom and brings me sweet memories once again. I'll pick a blossom and stick it in my hair, and will smell the wonderful fragrance for hours. I'll think of Mom and Grandma with love and gratitude.

White lilacs are somewhat rare to my area; I have seen more of the purple, darker purple or even red purple varieties. A lilac by any other name...would still smell divine.

It's blooming today,Grantdsgirl. You're so right. It is divine!

*wiff* they are wonderful!!!!

Thank you CherryMay! I so look forward to that fragrance each spring and all the memories it brings.

Beautiful, touching story. I have lilac growing outside my classroom window and each May I enjoy its wonderful scent so much.

Thank you so much, MorningBreeze!

wonderful story! I love Lilacs too. I enjoy your writing, thank you for sharing.

Violets are red, roses are blue<br />
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Lilacs are special just like you

Hello again, Tasmin Dear. As you can clearly see, the story was posted on April 22. Long before you went faffing about in spooky haunted old gardens.<br />
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Have you been drinking elderberry wine again?

You have tricked me somehow. This story was not here before ..<br />
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Before I went off to the garden <br />
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I aint daft!

Well, hello Tasmin! You've obviously been spending too much time wandering about Secret Gardens and not enough time reading friend's stories!

Haha .. not really!<br />
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I have not seen this story before .. weird that! (not the story but the fact that I have never seen it)

Lilac sucks!

have not seen one but I am sure that we must have.

Thank you, little Bro.<br />
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Do you have lilacs in SA?<br />
love<br />

Nice, big Sis.<br />
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love <br />

Oh, Roderick-- you are very special!! The book written by the other Roderick is one of my favorites ever. Only very special and talented people are named Roderick!<br />
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Thanks Trailguide, it is cool to think about that. And you were the inspiration for me to think about lilacs with your story about your grandma.<br />
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Thank you, Destry. Been a while since I wrote a story and I thought I better try to make it a good one to make up for my laxness:-)<br />
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Hi Glow! I think it is great when families do this. I too have many perennials and plants from my mom and aunt and grandma. I cherish them all. Maybe your green thumb is just dormant and waiting to pop out any day now!<br />
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Thanks so much, Frito. I do the same thing with abandoned gardens and know just what you mean. There is an old saying that when the gardener dies, so does the garden. Bits and pieces might survive, and plants might be saved, but that gardener's vision is gone forever. Yet so often when I walk in my gardens I feel so thankful that I have been blessed to have this beauty in my life.

I love this story...I love the care and concern given the lilac plants. I love the family history. I love how it all connects over time and I love the feeling it evokes. Sometimes when I see an abandoned home and there are remnants of a former garden I stop and wonder about the folks who planted it and sometimes it does feel like a spiritual connection.

This is a beautiful story. I am a rememberer too. :-) My family hoards plants like other families hoard treasures. We have moved plants from my grandparents' house and great aunts who passed away. I'm more than a little sad that I don't have the green thumb that runs so rampant in my family. Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading this.

I truly enjoyed reading the story of your beautiful living familiy heirloom. It's so neat to think that its story will live on and continue to grow as next generations love, care for ,and admire the offspring of grandma's lilac in their own gardens... all because you knew what you must do, Rememberer :)

"author Roderick MacLeish" *gasps* Roderick is my first name! lol I feel little less unique now :P