When I was growing up, my great-grandmother lived in the same town as my grandparents. Having lost her husband before even my mother was born, she lived alone in a small house three blocks from my grandparents. Picture, if you will, a rotund woman with a perennial smile and horn-rimmed glasses. She wasn’t obese by today’s standard; she was what we politely called “big boned.”
Growing up during the turn of the last century, she was still very prim and proper when I was little. She matched her shoes to her handbag, wore a dress every day, and wore gloves to church on Sunday, being the God-fearing Christian woman she was. The other thing she did was bake. I don’t mean the odd cake or a tin of muffins. This woman baked every day. There was a fresh loaf of bread each day with an accompanying cake in a glass cake plate. If you had dinner (lunch) with her on Sunday after church, there was always baked goods.
After the death of her husband, she moved into town at the insistence of her son, my grandfather. He took care of her from that time on. She continued to work, cooking for the residents of a local private Christian college, today’s modern equivalent to a “dorm Mother.” She did that until she finally retired and stayed at home.
I told you that to tell you this. When I was little, I spent weekends at my grandparents house. And because I was always there, my grandmother would direct me to take something to Great-gradnma’s house. I would walk down the alley, cut across the elementary school lawn and walk the half-block to her house. She would invite me in and I’d have a piece of cake and deliver whatever I was tasked with. On the occasion that my parents were in town to pick me up, we’d eat over there. While the meal was being prepared, the kids were asked to go outside and play.
Great-grandma had a gigantic lilac bush in her front yard. It was gigantic to me, anyway. The kids would crawl on hands-and-knees under the bush where the boughs would create a small clubhouse. We’d take our toy soldiers or Hot Wheels under the bush and play until we were called into the house to eat. It was a great time to be a kid.
Great-grandma died in the late 1970’s. Her house was eventually sold and another person moved in. As I got older, I’d drive by the house when I was visiting my ailing Grandmother and look at that ancient lilac bush in the front yard. Eventually, my Grandmother died and the only reason to go back to her town was to visit the cemetery on Memorial Day. I still drive by the houses I used to occupy as a child. Great-grandma’s house is gone and the corner lot is now part of someone’s yard. The lilac bush survives.
Yesterday, I was riding my bicycle long a rural roadway and happened to pass a farmhouse with a large lilac bush out front and the wind was just right, bringing that telltale scent and sending me back to my childhood for just an instant. That smell reminds me of my Great-grandma and I appreciate it every springtime when the purple blooms are in full maturity.
Photo by DougAlder, Flickr, No Derivs.