Tuesday, April 19, 2016
the scent of lilac
When I was five we lived way out in a rural area. The nearest town was maybe thirty minutes away. And it was not much of a town. Just one little grocery store. A café. A gas station. A motel.
Where we lived had a small creek. A grain elevator. A storage barn.
The road from town was black tar and on hot days the tar would bubble and I'd sit in the middle of the road and pop the bubbles with my fingers. No cars ever came. The other roads that met here in this place were made of gravel with three distinct tire lanes, the middle lane being shared by traffic from both directions. Cars rarely met.
Our house was made of two parts. The front part was a little store with thick wood floors that creaked. It smelled all at once stale and exciting and was the most fun place to play in the evenings. The store also contained a small post office with wood box shelving that my mom would sort mail into. The store shelves were lined with candy bars, sardines, crackers, lettuce, milk. Mom would take the lettuce scraps to a lady who had chickens and a rutted, narrow driveway that must have been two miles long.
The back part of our house was an actual home. Two bedrooms, one bathroom, a basement where my brothers slept, a carpeted kitchen, big windows in the living room. It was in this house that we stayed with Dad while Mom was in the hospital. She had had a car crash while we were moving. Black ice. A broken hip. Things that my five year old mind didn't understand.
My sister and I shared a small bedroom here, beds pushed against opposite walls. She was just thirteen, into makeup and music and style. I was awkward and messy and annoying. It was a constant battle. Sometimes, when we weren't fighting over space she'd practice makeup on me. I held my eyes closed for what seemed like hours and when she was done my eyelids felt too heavy, weighed down by layers of shadow and mascara. I loved it and hated it equally.
It's funny how memories build a person. Memories sparked alive by a flash of color, a picture, a scent. A vignette plays in the mind. I remember being sick at this house, vomiting on carpet and marking that spot later by the creak in the floorboard. I remember laying in bed terrified by flashes of light in my sheets, certain that I was going to be consumed by fire only to learn that it was something called static electricity. I remember watching t.v, eating cold hot dogs straight from the package, drinking kool-aid. I remember my dad fixing Top Ramen for lunch and watching Perry Mason with him. I remember my mom frying up chicken hearts for her and I because we were the only ones that liked them until I didn't anymore. I remember my brother bounding down the cement stairs to his basement bedroom and cracking his head on a stair. I heard the word concussion for the first time. In a rural area folks use rural medicine. A nearby woman was a nurse or had been a nurse or knew a nurse once and she was called for advice (don't let him go to sleep or he might not wake up).
Our house was flanked by yards. On one side was the yard we played in. It was a quick jaunt to the little creek from here. The other yard was the pretty yard. It looked to me like a manicured garden. There were rose bushes and a perimeter of big lilac bushes, their sweet scent intoxicating, comforting. I'd make a home with rooms under those lilac bushes. I'd invite cats or stuffed animals inside. In the winter, after the first snowfall were weren't allowed in this yard. It was to be kept preserved, a winter wonderland, glistening and smooth, untouched by human feet. Cat feet didn't adhere to this banning and made weaving trails all through the scenic shrine.
It's the smell of lilac that always bring me to this time, this house, these memories. I'm thankful to have a modest sized lilac bush in our front yard right now. When spring comes I look to the lilac, waiting for the tight little buds to open. When they do I inhale deeply and the flashes of memory play through colorful and delicate: childhood and my siblings, my dad and my mom, carefree imaginings, velvety cats, and the haunting scent of lilac.