Why I still love to see the season’s first lilacs

The Globe and Mail

(Thinkstock)

A lilac bush bloomed every spring outside the dining-room window of my parents’ house in Montreal, a harbinger of all good things: June, the end of school, the smell of summer nights.

I haven’t see it bloom in many years, but it still grows there, shadowing an untended part of the yard, where nothing was ever planted and no one ever played.

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This spring in Toronto, it’s not even really bare-leg weather. There’s still almost two months of school to go for the kids, and we are walking around the corner for the first after-dinner ice cream of the summer, when I am surprised by my first lilac blooms of the season. They’re purple, on a bush I have always admired at the corner of Metcalfe and Carlton, in a little patch of a pretty south-facing garden I have never seen anyone tend.

I exclaim at the flowers, stop to smell them, and the kids laugh at their sentimental mother. They remember us stopping at this bush before, and they know what I will tell them next: that Once Upon a Time, when I was little, a bush like this bloomed at their grandparents’ house (and still does). That lilacs were the favourite flower of my late favourite great-aunt, Aunt Kaye; and that once, when Sophie was a baby, I climbed up on a foot-ladder at our old house with a pair of garden shears and leaned over the fence and brazenly stole some purple lilacs. I put them in a vase and drove them up to Aunt Kaye’s midtown apartment with Sophie in tow, my little accomplice. Those lilacs are the only things I have ever knowingly stolen. Aunt Kaye died six months later, and those lilacs were also the best things I have ever stolen.

The blooms at Metcalfe and Carlton are still too tightly furled to give off the heady scent of summer nights. The kids laugh at my disappointment; but I know I can come back to that forgotten garden to steal a smell of those lilacs, for a hit of memory and promise.

I have lived in four houses in this city and am about to move into my fifth. It is time to plant my own lilacs in a corner of my garden, so that they will bloom every year, and so that my children will remember.