Do you remember about twelve years ago I visited Mimi and Papa at The Ranch in Colorado? It was a big deal for me to go because we didn't have much money and Dad had to stay home taking care of you and your brothers. But, weren't sure how much longer they would be living there, and I wanted to make sure I came back to see them to share a few more long visits on the porch swing all the while laughing at the antics of squirrels and the many birds that came to visit. One of my missions was to get cuttings from the lilac bushes and bring them back with me to Virginia for posterity. I managed to get two out of ten little starts to take root and grow. Every year they would come back with new leaves, stronger and taller; but no blossoms. Every year I kept them protected from deer, mulched and watered them. Every year they grew, but still no blossoms.
Last spring I sat on the porch talking to you, Thor as I often do in the morning, over a cup of coffee as I watch the day awaken. One day I asked if you could do something about those lilacs, you know, as a sign, for me. I've asked for several signs, and you've delivered on all of them, sweetheart, and I all but forgot about this one until one day recently. I was walking to my car one morning when I caught a flash of purple from the corner of my eye. My heart leaped, and I jumped up and down with total glee and ebullient joy when I saw what it was! For the very first time, Mimi's New Lilacs bloomed, and I knew without a doubt that you - and maybe Papa along with you - had a hand in this. Both of the bushes have dark, purple cones of flowers. Seeing them warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I buried my nose in one of those sun-warmed lilac blossoms and inhaled deeply.
That smell popped the cork on a whole bottleful of memories of my childhood at The Ranch. The details came back to me rich and whole, captured in some cache in my mind, just waiting for me to open them.
The blooming of Mimi's lilacs was an annual event that we kids looked forward to with great anticipation. It might seem odd that a passel of kids would have this eager enthusiasm for a blooming shrub, but Mimi's lilacs were so much more than mere flowers to us. They signaled hope and a promise, not unlike a rainbow. In Colorado, the winters are long and sometimes hard, and the lilacs were one of the truest harbingers of spring. They brought with their signature scent a sure sign that summer break was around the corner and that our cousins would soon be there to visit. The lilac's unassuming blossoms bobbed in the breeze as we planned supper-time weeny-roasts and watched the gangly-legged foals frolic in the glade.
The Ranch was waking up from the long winter as the snow melt sank into underground aquifers and the mud season of late winter and early spring gave way to solid ground. Sure-footed colts snorted and kicked up their heels in the fresh spring turf under the patient eye of the mares who bit off huge mouthfuls of fresh grass. The distinctive sound of Mimi's screen door as it opened and sprung shut carried across the lilac-scented air more often as everyone began picking up the tasks that needed doing. New corral arrangements, and fence repair, and moving water troughs and putting halters on foals for the first time. It was time to curry-comb huge piles of winter hair off the mares so they gleamed in the sun. And the heady scent of lilacs drifted through it all, a colorful backdrop to the daily business of running a ranch.
There wasn’t much time for frivolous landscaping at the ranch. Mimi had her priorities for the land and her time. Besides we didn't want to plant anything that the horses might eat and get sick, so we stuck with grass and let the horses mow it. Mimi brought the mares and babies in the front yard where we could see them all the time. I'd sit on the porch swing with her drinking coffee or iced tea and just watch them graze and see how the babies grew light purple and curious. They would nuzzle the lilac blossoms with their soft noses and swish their little tails.
We were allowed to pick a few lilac blooms and bring them into the house in Mason jars. The shrubs were old and enormous, having spread their base over decades, they easily topped seven feet tall and were fifteen feet or more across. There was light purple, dark purple and white varieties. Each one smelled a little differently, but they were all full of bees! We never did figure out if there were hives full of honey somewhere nearby, but the bees figured out where they could load up on pollen and nectar.
The little outdoor fire place that sat in front of the summer house, which we called the weeny roast place, was lined on one whole side by the light purple lilac. On a warm spring day, I could sit there for hours in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the new cottonwood leaves above and breathe in that sweet air. I'd have to swat away the hungry mosquitos, but that was just part of life in Colorado in the spring. There was a family of magpies that had a nest in the elm tree on the other side of the and they didn't like too many visitors near their babies, so they'd squawk swoop down and dive bomb us as we walked by. I could close my eyes and drift away listening to the sounds of life at The Ranch as it hummed along right in time with a celestial clock, perfect and unstoppable.
It's funny how something so simple as a smell can link us to a time and place so totally.
Memories come in all kinds of packages trip-wired with sensory triggers to burst open on contact. The winsome notes of a favorite song can peel away decades to immerse me in a single slice of a single day from my youth. The smell and swirl of color of that moment surround me once again, rising up to replay every little detail all the way down to feeling the warmth of the breath of the nervous boy who thought he might try to kiss me, while that song blared awkwardly in the high school gymnasium. How was I to know it would become part of the soundtrack of my life? I am often surprised when I stumble upon a memory trigger, but I've learned to enjoy them, to let them have their say.
Feeling a memory, holding it my heart and breathing it in deeply to let it blossom and unfold on the canvas of my mind is one way I keep you alive. But it's more than that. The experiences we have here lend meaning to our lives, they are the captain's log of our journey. Recalling any one of them can take us back to that moment where we can interact with and BE. It's another NOW that we can experience whenever we want to. Time and experience are not linear concepts, they are more meaningfully tied to our emotional selves...what we invest in, in our hearts.
And there are so many memories to treasure of our time here together. The curve of your little head resting on my chest and the new baby smell that I could never get enough of; every time I see a baby boy who is smiling and healthy and bright and beautiful as you, that memory of you plays across my heart. When I see a white Chevy truck and VDOT road crews and when I hear certain songs and when your brothers make certain facial expressions and when I look up at the sky at night and stare into the spaces between the stars, I remember you. When I see a deer or a turkey in a field and a sky full of clouds and light and sun-streaking to kiss a tree-top with gold, I see you. I can dance with you in the kitchen and hear you play songs with your dad on the porch because you do these things in my heart, where love lives. I recall with pride the way you walked and laugh when I think about that swaggering gait and the way you sometimes wore your jeans too tight.
Thank you for the lilacs, Thor. I know you brought them to me on purpose as a gift for your mama. You are still here, creating memories for me and kindling those places in my heart that stir and surface the love I felt in each one of them. The love never dies, we can follow the love to revisit any moment, anytime, any place through love and it's the same as being there.
The smell of lilacs…is a portal, a door key, a pathway to the greater possibilities that we are all as eternal as the love we share.
Hafiz says it perfectly.
Popped the cork on itself—
Splattered my brains
I imagine now for ages
Something of Hafiz
To fall like
I love you!