May 2017: Lilacs Have Special Meaning


My son Jake’s Mother’s Day card this year began with the statement; “Every time I see a lilac bush I am reminded of you and Grandmother.” Several days after my mother’s death, I wrote a poem for her memorial services that also began with a reference to lilacs:

Goodbye, Dear Mother

To Phyllis from SuzAnne

When the lilacs bloom
Sending sweet perfume
Wafting in the air

When snowflakes fall
When children call
We know that you are there

When the robins sing
To announce it’s Spring
When fish flash through the water

When your knitted blankets are warm
And keep me from harm
Your love continues to cover your daughter

When your dimples show
On their faces that glow
As your grandchildren’s voices sing

When we find the strength
To walk full length
Through the trials that life can bring

You’ll be with us always
Through the rest of our days
In both this world and that of the other

To which you have crossed
Our love is not lost
It goes with you now, Dear Mother


Lilacs were Mother’s favorite flower. Butte’s high altitude and harsh climate did not present a gardener’s dream, rather a gardener’s nightmare. Snow has been known to fall during every month of the year in Butte. Suffice it say that Butte’s growing season is short.

Mother turned to lilacs and annuals to brighten her yard and create a colorful garden. She especially loved the lilac bushes. She admired their tenacity, their ability to thrive in spite of the extreme growing conditions; and she thrilled with their vivid, fragrant blooms. As soon as the first blossoms began to appear, she and I would hop into the car to drive out into the foothills in search of blooming babies’ breath so she could combine them with the lilacs. Happy are the memories of our working together in the kitchen to arrange the babies’ breath and the different colors of lilacs into the many vases that would grace our home: on the kitchen table, on the piano in the living room, and in each bedroom. The perfume and color permeated the house and was the most concrete sign that winter was past and summer had begun.

I took my mother’s love of lilacs with me to Alaska, where the growing season was not much better than in Butte. The main difference was that Alaska’s incredibly long days made the short growing seasons intense and gave plants nearly 24 hours of sunlight to make the most of their few frost-free months. This added boost did make for some enormous cold-weather vegetables, such as cabbage and pumpkins, that were proudly shown at the Alaska State Fair. Lilac bushes were a staple for landscaping in Alaska. I felt right at home.

In purchasing the property that we would come to name Dunrovin, I was excited to see that the previous owner had already planted a number of lilac bushes near the house. One bush in particular outshines the others. It is huge. It is prolific in its blooms, which are nearly overpowering in their fragrance. For some reason, it blooms later than most of the other lilacs, so, in our case, the best really is saved for last.

I feel my mother’s presence each spring as I anticipate and enjoy the lilac blooms. As evidenced from my son’s Mother’s Day card, he will carry on the special place that lilacs hold for our family.

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