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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