Hesitation of the Common Lilac

I seem to always miss the lilacs. When spring comes, the sweet fragrance dances across the breeze at my son’s baseball game, and slips inside the open window as I drive down County Road. But one can’t simply tear a lilac branch, and I don’t have pruning shears in my car, so I remind myself to come back on the weekend to cut some for the dining room table. But instead, I get caught up lining errands and children in neat rows, watching the workday open and close. When I finally remember, a week or perhaps a pounding rain later, the lilacs are gone. Their tiny petals are shriveled and fall to the touch.

My mother was the one who always reminded me to cut the white lilacs at the foot of my driveway. She would call me some day in the spring, insisting, “You better go out there now—seventy percent chance of rain tomorrow!” She had the mind and creative attention for such things.

But she passed away four years ago, and I haven’t caught a lilac since. I dreamed of her last night—that I had found a red raincoat that belonged to her. First, I thought it was a dress—it had beautiful, tailored lines and was a deep ruby color. I thought about wearing it to a cocktail party. As I unbuttoned it to try it on, I found a matching red clutch purse attached inside. It was still full of her cosmetics. Tiny foam brushes for painting on eye shadow, rouge, two lipsticks, packets of eye makeup remover for when she traveled.

My mother would never leave the house with curlers in her hair, or without putting her face on. I, on the other hand, will head out on the weekend sometimes without even showering. I like it best when I can pull my hair back in a ponytail or throw on a baseball cap and hide under sunglasses. So while my mother is off nurturing azaleas and Chinese lanterns in heaven, I continue to be confounded by simple charges. Dilemmas such as how did she make beef bourguignon, why can’t I hem my own jeans, and what will I wear to this stupid party?

Lilacs are impatient with such shallow, silly questions. They know I might come someday, shears in hand—the purple lilac is the New Hampshire state flower, for heaven’s sake. According to historian Leon Anderson, the lilac was chosen because it “is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State.” But life is uncertain, and full. And I’m a native Californian. So for now, the Syringa vulgaris rest complete for another year, and I sigh as I watch their fragrant possibility slipping quietly into brown.