May 8th, Mother’s Day – 2016.
When I was born, my parents and older brother Jacob moved into a new house. It was a semi-detached house on a quiet street, with a storybook name “Castlebury.” Number six. I spent the majority of my life growing up there.
Winters were dreadful in Toronto, but every spring the neighbor’s home had these lilac bushes that would bloom. And for almost half a year the deep purple flower at number four Castlebury would paint the way towards my house. The owner was an old lady named Pearl. Pearl was the kind of woman a young child would be afraid of. She was old. A little bit of a curmudgeon, dour in her elderly state. Her face seemed only to frown, her cheeks filled with wrinkles upon wrinkles, with short grey hair in tufts that would peek out from old lady hats she may have worn. She the kind of old lady brought to life by a cartoonist with the assignment of “old lady that scares children, but isn’t a witch, maybe.”
As a child, I loved those lilac bushes. I would bury my face in their fragrant blooms and inhale that scent with each enormous breath I could muster. I believe I read something much later that breathing in lilac could damage your olfactory senses, but with the Internet that idea has yet to prove that correct. With Pearl never around to see me, I would break off branches and bring them to my mother as a gift. I had learned that women, especially mothers, love flowers. And so, I would bring my mother flowers.
My brother’s and I were never really good at keeping track of the days, and one year mother’s day comes and the three of us are without a plan. We were young, and most of our allowance already spent, we needed some flowers fast. As April showers brought May flowers, Pearl’s lilac bushes was in full bloom. Her fence was fortified by the plant, the rich purple stalks peeked through the chain links. The lilac blossoms were plush, like a purple boa.
I ran over to number 4 to see if Pearl was around. The ol’ lady was nowhere to be seen.
I began carefully breaking off the largest branches I could steal in hopes of getting enough to bring to my mom.
When all of a sudden I hear “Hey, hey… what are you doing there!” Pearl had been resting on her front porch, enjoying the May weather, or being old and needing the cool Canadian breeze to calm her nerves. Either way, I was overcome with a sense of dread.
Being eight or nine at the time there are only two things I could have done – piss myself and hope that Pearl wouldn’t eat me, or run all of 20 feet back to my home where Pearl would probably tell my parents what I had done. My crime: one count stealing lilac branches (known), multiple counts of stealing lilac branches in the past (allegedly), and multiple counts of destruction of property, and hurting mother nature (I was young, give me a break.)
Paralyzed by fear I stopped what I was doing and try to blend in with my surroundings. Maybe Pearl would think I was a bird. She trudged her way to the front of her property, her eyes barely visible from the folds of skin, her cheeks and lips appeared soft, and saggy. She asks me again what I was doing. I thought about lying, or not saying anything, but the truth is, I just wanted the flowers. So I told the truth.
“I’m getting flowers for my mom. She loves lilacs,” I stammered. (For those that care, it was years later I learned her favorite flower was actually cala lilies)
“Well, why didn’t you just ask,” Pearl chirped. “Let me get you some of the big ones up top.”
She opened up the gate on her fence and handed me a grotesque amount of lilac branches. “Next time, just ask me.”
Knowing I wasn’t in trouble, and ecstatic I clearly had the greatest Mother’s day bouquet ever, I skipped back home and brought my mom flowers. She turned around and was so happy to see the purple cloud around her child. “Oh they smell so wonderful Alex! Thank you,” she probably said.
“Pearl said it was okay. She gave me the big ones.”
“I know. That was very nice. Thank you,” my mom would have replied back.
Or something like that. I remember small details. The lilacs for sure. Almost getting eaten by Pearl our neighbor for stealing the flowers for my mom on Mother’s day, definitely. But my mother’s voice? Her words? I’m not too sure. But these thoughts sound right.
Memories fade, voices go quiet, and pictures get fuzzy. Certain songs, and certain scents will help you a little, but it is like pieces of a puzzle. And little by little you try to put it together again. I remember burying my head in the lilacs, almost as much I remember burying my face in my mother’s leg when I was a terribly shy little boy. Little by little. I do remember. I promise.
It really is nice there is one day set aside for everyone to stop and remember, but I promise you, take more time to celebrate your mom. Looking back, it sometimes life feel like a story book filled with characters you only remember as a child.