It is amazing how our human minds work. Our memories can be sparked by little things that trigger past memories and transport us in time. A song that reminds us of our prom days, a team that was the champion at our high school or a lost love. A taste, a smell, or a sight conjures up our childhood, or the smell of our Grandma’s big soft hug. For me flowers are a powerful memory from childhood. Dandelions, lilacs, tiger lilies and meadows full of buttercups. I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm, and at a time when life moved slower. We enjoyed the beauty around us, or at least I did, as a carefree child running barefoot through the fields. I can still remember the smells, the warm farm earth on my bare feet and the sun on my face.
Sometimes we loose track of our roots and our history in busy lives. I was recently traveling along the prairie roads from Minneapolis to Fargo on a beautiful sunny spring day. As we went, mile after mile we saw many old farmsteads from the past, now neglected as farms have become larger and consolidated, leaving the stone and brick houses and barns to slowly wither with time. Many were still surrounded by the beautiful lilacs, probably planted by some young woman many years ago who tended her garden and the farm animals, and raised her family on the Minnesota plains. She planted the hardy lilacs to surround her yard, provide a break from the winds and of course provide beauty and color. I could imagine her picking the flowers in the spring and putting them in a mason jar on her farm table. As we drove I could smell lilacs in the air.
It triggered a flood of childhood memories of our own farm. There is no flower that has a more lovely color. Sometimes in a soft light hue and others a deep purple. I would rather have lilacs than roses, and lilacs smell better too. They have a beautiful smell, but part of their beauty is the memories of warm, spring days, and in particular they remind me of my grandma. She would literally pick buckets of lilacs and we would dig in every cupboard scavenging all of the vases in the house to put the aromatic lilacs in every room, including our bedrooms.
I knew when I had my own house I would like my own lilac bushes. When our kids were young, I actually went and dug some at an abandoned farm in Blaine, right before they bulldozed the entire site for a golf course. It was a farmstead from the past that now had to make way for the new golf course. I had those rescued lilacs at our last house, but they were never big enough to pick as many as my grandma did to fill the house with that distinct smell. When we first looked at our current house on the Lake, I was really excited to see many beautiful mature lilac bushes. We have a variety of colors and they are so prolific, I can pick all of the lilacs I want, just like Grandma.
I can still see grandma in her flowery house dresses doing her gardening and tending her raspberries and her flowers. I can still see her and grandpa’s 1960’s blue car, as it drove down our long driveway into our farm yard. They only lived a mile away, so they came frequently. We were all excited to see her, but our dog went particularly crazy when he saw their car, because she always brought him food scraps. He could not wait for her to get out of the car, and he would practically knock her down, as she unwrapped the neatly folded peach crate papers to reveal the scraps of fat and meat she brought for him.
It never took him long to devour it all, and she would praise him the whole time, what a good dog he was. She always brought something for everybody. In the spring, she brought her galvanized pail full of the lilacs in water, nicely tucked into the back seat, so it would not tip on the ride over. She often brought her homemade donuts along in a dishpan carefully covered with a towel. They were usually still warm. We would snitch donuts from the pan, as they were being brought into the house and we would carefully put all of the lilacs in vases. I can still smell the fresh lilac fragrance as it took over the house.
My mom also loved her flowers on the farm and still loves tending her flowers in their retirement home in the city. I don’t know how she does it, but she can grow hydrangeas the size of a basketball. When I was very young, she had pots of violets growing in the kitchen window. I still remember their fuzzy leaves and the deep purple colors. She also had a lot of dragon lilies. I cannot see those without thinking of the farm. She had bunches of them in flower beds around the house and the yard, and as I got older I was charged with watering them. I loved the color and the little brown stems waiting for the bees to spread their pollen. I recently planted some around my mailbox, because they invoke so many strong feelings of home and warm summer days on the farm.
As we drove along that road to Fargo, I had a vivid memory of myself as a young child when I saw the meadows full of yellow buttercups. Buttercups have bright yellow, almost glossy leaves and grow in wet lowlands and meadows. I hadn’t seen those in years. I was instantly transported in time to my childhood. I remember putting on my rubber boots as a grade school child and walking through the moist meadow, picking the short yellow flowers and bringing some home, where my mom would help me put them in a glass on the kitchen table. They grew so thick in our meadow along our driveway that it looked like a fine carpet of yellow and waxy green. We had meadows full of buttercups on our farm in the spring.
Every child should have beautiful flower memories of warm spring days and lovely scents; of picking dandelions, of running through the meadows free of all cares and playing in the bright sunshine. Of a mom who grows tiger lily’s and keeps violets on the windowsill and a grandmother who brings homemade donuts and fills the house with the scent of beautiful purple lilacs. We were lucky to grow up on a farm, with a loving, but hard working family, but childhood flower memories can be created anywhere for any child. Make time to create beautiful flower memories for the children in your lives. Pass on the beauty to our next generations.