I was on my way out of work today and I smelled lilacs. It’s not a common smell anymore, at least not as much as I remember as a kid. The flowers only bloom at one time of the year and usually they take a lot of effort and work to actually get the flowers from the lilac bushes cut properly so that they sit in water and look nice. I know this because it was a yearly ritual for my family. Try as I might, the smell of those flowers tugged at my heart and just pulled me back to the past.
Having read this blog before, you probably think I’ve got some amazing part of my love story that will take you on a journey to my life with the amazing woman I married 19 years ago. But you’d be wrong. The smell actually pulled me back to my childhood. You see, my older brother and I both had the duty of helping my family to get the lilacs that my family put in our house. I really hadn’t anticipated getting the blast from the past when it hit.
When I was growing up I spent every weekday at my Grandma’s house for lunch. My mother didn’t think the cost or the nutrition at the school lunch room was worth a damn, and she was right. As a result, I got to spend a half-hour every day with my grandparents, as my grandfather joined us for lunch every day as well. When my Dad’s father – my grandfather Farajollah came to visit – visiting only twice in my lifetime – he used the Persian pronunciation of my name – Da-ood. My Grandma found that both endearing and humorous. She would hybridize it, call me Davood instead of David. As a result, my Grandma used it to greet me every time I came in the door.
You see, my Grandma lived just about a block away from the school. I’d walk down the road and into the alley that went behind her house. The back door was the easiest and typical entrance to her house, so I’d go in and before the door was even closed to the house I’d hear my Grandma’s voice, sing-songing the words “hello, Davood!” She always had a good meal, something hearty and homemade. At Thanksgiving and Christmas the house smelled of food, the smells wafting outside the house. She had an outer porch before the inner door to the house. At Christmas all her tupperware containers would be there filled with treats, from sugar cookies to kolaches to pumpkin pie. (We had a Czech background on that side of the family) It wasn’t just a pleasant smell, it was a smell of home.
The Spring would come every year and my Grandma would take my brother and I out to where they used to live – a farm about 6 or 7 miles outside of town. My Grandma would come with her gardening shears and buckets for water and we’d go to what was a massive row of bushes that were filled with the light purple colored flowers. We’d cut and cut and the whole car, the house, the entire place would smell of lilacs. My grandma called us her helpers and she’d tell stories of the farm that used to be there. We’d then get in the car and deliver those flowers to everyone in the family: her sister; my Mom and Dad; my great-uncle . . .we spent an entire weekend day doing it.
When I got married, I’d visit my Grandma and Grandpa. My Grandfather was a lot judgmental, a little crotchety, and loved us dearly. As a result, it was very hard for anyone joining the family to immediately gain his trust or favor. The first day Andrea walked into the house, saying hello and flashing her smile, my Grandpa walked up to her and gave her a hug. On the way home that day, Andrea looked at my Mom and said how much she liked my grandparents. “They’re really nice, very friendly.” My mother looked at her aghast and said ” you worked some magic there, dear, because my Dad doesn’t even hug me most of the time.”
I bring all this up because losing Andrea wasn’t the first loss we’d suffered in the string of months, even a year. My Aunt passed away, something that saddened us all. She and my Uncle were always visiting. He flies airplanes and his wife was different and sweet and fun. It crushed my Uncle. Not long after that, just about a month or two, my Grandfather had a stroke. In a string of events I won’t detail here, my Aunt took both my grandparents out of the state, something that my grandparents agreed to, but I’m not certain they understood what it would mean. Their house is not theirs any more. My grandmother planted roses and tested new hybrids for one of the major flower distributors in the nation. Now that garden is gone. My family was isolated from them . . . and within a month or two, again, my grandfather passed away. I happened to be in Omaha the day he died and I stayed for the funeral.
It was impossible to get time alone with my Grandma that day. My cousins and Aunt wouldn’t allow it, they hovered and eavesdropped and it grated on me. My older brother wouldn’t come because he was worried what he might say or do. I remember getting that moment – a short period in the parish hall of my old school and church, and this amazing, strong, and happy woman was broken. I walked up to her, and she was sitting in a metal folding chair at a table. I knelt down in front of her and gave her a big hug. All she said was “This is so hard, David. I don’t know what to do.”
I noticed it immediately. She called me David. Since I was 8 years old my Grandma called me Da-ood and this day she had fallen. I came to her again that day but she was never alone. It wasn’t much later that I understood exactly how she felt.
That’s the hard thing about those damn lilacs today. I smelled them and I wanted nothing more than to talk with my Grandma. I wanted to hear her say it again – greeting me the way she always did. But now she’s living in another state, far away and never allowed a moment’s privacy to talk with the rest of us. I smelled the flowers and I was that little boy again, looking up through the windshield at the blue line that shielded us from the direct sunlight and smelled the sweet scent of the lilacs permeating the car. I remember my grandmother’s smile and the visits she had with everyone.
The hardest part is that, as close as I was with my Grandma, she’d understand what we’re going through better than anyone, I think. I’d kill to be able to visit my home town again and have the ability to come to the house and see my grandma and hear her say “hello” the way she always did. I took having those daily lunches for granted. Now the one person who would be able to tell me about how this feels and understand as well as anyone else is gone. It’s like I’m grieving for the loss of both grandparents because I can’t have a singular conversation with her. Letters are opened by others in that house. Phone calls are put on a speaker phone. I have lost the connection with my Grandmother like she was gone forever, and for all intents and purposes she is.
I hadn’t realized how much more than just our own losses we’d seen in the last year. The past tugged me backward but today it made me realize just what I had. It doesn’t change that I’d still like nothing more than to hear my grandma look at me and say “hello, Davood,” again. But for now I settle with hearing it in my mind, and in the smell of the lilacs.