My mother was neither a gardener, nor a lover of nature. In fact, once she had a construction guy who was doing some cement work in the neighborhood, come to our house and lay cement over our entire backyard. A surprise for all of us when we got home in the afternoon. Our yard was not huge, in fact super small, but still a surprise. “No more mowing that patch in the back,” was her comment.
But she did have a lilac bush. I remember when she and my father first planted it. It was on the side of the house nearest to our neighbors on the corner. She said it would take seven years until it bloomed and I remember waiting each summer, curious and respectful of that auspicious occasion. It seemed to me that the blooms would have to be really sensational if you had to wait that long to see them. When it did finally bloom it was terribly exciting, at least to me. I remember running into the house relating the miracle that had finally arrived. My mother came outside, smelled the heavenly aroma, then went back inside content that nature had followed her limited understanding of it.
The mythology is that a nymph named Syringa (lilac’s Greek name meaning “hollow tube”) was fleeing from the amorous advances of Pan (near the river Ladon) and with the help of other nymphs was able to transform herself into the lilac. The stems of the lilac are reedlike and when Pan sighed at his failed attempt at this relationship, and discovering he was just holding reeds, melodious sounds emerged. Apollo suggested he bind seven of these reeds together to make pan pipes, known as Syrinx.
Two years ago, we planted a lilac in our front yard, also postage stamp size. It was purely for the memory and the sense of promise that the plant holds for me. Today its remarkable blooms are pungent and exploding. After work JB and I lingered on the front porch, sipping wine, and feeling grateful for Syringa’s reluctance to dally with Pan.