Monthly Archives: May 2018

Lovin’ Those Lilacs

My lifelong love affair with lilacs began when our family moved to a house with several bushes. Opening my second-story bedroom window, I inhaled a fragrance that made me want to write poetry.

“What’s that smell?” I asked my mother.

“Lilacs.” She took several long, luxurious sniffs, too.

Mom and I disagreed about short skirts, curfews and whether Herman of Herman’s Hermits needed a haircut. Lilacs made us one in heart, spirit and nose.

I didn’t know the Greek mythology behind lilacs — that a beautiful nymph named Syringa (now the botanical name for lilacs) was pursued aggressively by Pan, god of field and forest. Frightened, she hid by turning herself into a lilac bush.

Who was she kidding? No one remains in cognito smelling like that.

Case in point: few spies practice this form of espionage.

Sadly, no lilacs graced my subsequent homes. I indulged in sniffing them at church, where an enormous grove dominated the side yard. Every year when the allergic choir director threatened to dynamite my beloved bushes, I trembled.

Eventually, I married and moved to apartments and houses with no lilacs. Fortunately, many neighbors owned bushes covered with bouquets of blossoms. While walking with my toddlers, I cautioned that we couldn’t pick the lilacs. However, if we were very, very careful, we could borrow the smell. If you had followed us on our regular alley rounds, you would have seen little girls — and their mommy — standing on tiptoe, hands clasped behind backs, sniffing lilacs.

One kind lilac loaner brought a huge bouquet to my hospital room when my son was born. Her logic: with another sniffer added to our family, her blossoms might not survive long, anyway.

Once, I discovered a new neighbor had axed my favorites. They lay beside the road crushed, like green and purple roadkill.

“You may be chief lilac sniffer, but your name is not on the deed,” Hubby reminded me.

So instead of vandalizing their house, I moved into a home with a big lilac bush. Every spring, I filled my dining room with luscious fragrance.

Supposedly, no one can kill lilacs, yet I did the impossible. Inconsolable, I figured if we could conduct a dozen hamster funerals in the flower bed, we could hold a lilac funeral. But no one agreed.

My husband planted another lilac. But the following year we moved, and I had to say goodbye.

We now live in a house with a rather reserved bush that poises its large lavender parasol of blossoms far above sniff level. Still, it perfumes the garden and even graciously offers a few clusters for my olfactory pleasure.

One sniff on a busy morning makes all the difference in my day. Amazing what a little lilac love can do.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite sniffing flower?

Sneaking Stuff Past Mom

Despite video games, Sneaking Stuff Past Mom still ranks as the number one activity among children.

Sadly, I’ve always been a remedial sneaker. Once, having splashed puddles while wearing a Sunday dress, I deliberately approached my mother. Digging my toe into the floor, I muttered, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

Oh, I tried to change. “Cleaning” my room, I employed the time-honored method of stuffing all worldly belongings under the bed.

Mom made me finish the job, doubling my workload.

I swiped my face with a washcloth, sans soap, hoping I could evade inspection.

Mom clapped me into the bathtub, scrubbing me like her linoleum.

If only she hadn’t possessed that infallible radar that detected fingerprints on hidden Christmas gifts, books under mattresses, skirts rolled to mini-length under long coats, salivating dates on phones. Driving the car, she could tell we’d been speeding. And with whom.

She zeroed in on silences that told her everything: I didn’t get the part in the play; I couldn’t bear my concave bustline one more minute; and the boy who had entered my world exited without a backward look. These she treated with prayer, hugs and freshly baked muffins.

Throughout the years, Mom’s radar remained potent, even when my siblings and I reached adulthood. I caught my brother, a lieutenant colonel in the army, smoking a big cigar.

Panicking, he said, “Do you think Mom knows?”

Though I lived 2,000 miles from Mom for decades, I often heard over the phone, “What’s going on? I’ve been praying for you for three days.”

Often, she already knew.

“Mom, I’m 25 (35) (45) (55) years old. Please stop peeking over my shoulder!”

I thought her radar would never falter.

I was wrong.

During Mom’s final years, I hid several things from her — including her diagnosis of dementia.

Her radar didn’t function as it once did. But some aspects remained. No way could I sneak my stresses past her. She touched my cheek, hand soft as worn cotton. “Honey, you’ve been working too hard.”

Her radar still detected hurting people around her in waiting rooms, restaurants, stores. Once at an airport, she insisted a trendy-looking woman sit beside her. As the kindhearted stranger cooperated, I felt 16 again. Mom, please back off.

My mother talked her ear off. Eventually, though, the woman talked, too. Mom listened to a poignant tale of early widowhood and single-parenting struggles.

She slipped an arm around the woman. “You think God doesn’t love you anymore. But He sent me to tell you He does.”

That lady couldn’t sneak stuff past Mom. She went away blessed.

So did I.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did you ever try to sneak stuff past your mom?

Little Choir Boy’s First Concert

My little choir boy.

Though I never would have told him, my eight-year-old grandson resembled a cherub, with blond, adorably mussed hair and big blue eyes.

Instead of wings and a halo, however, a choir T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes betrayed terrestrial origins. Fifty other similarly-clad choir “angels” appeared equally earthbound.

A couple possessed wild hair that defied mom-smeared pomades. Some faces betrayed streaks of hastily gulped suppers.

All had practiced at 7:15 a.m. for weeks. They weren’t even paid overtime.

Weary, yet eager parents awaited the first song. Sleeping babies hung around necks like 15-pound ornaments. Surrounded by tantrum-throwing toddlers and texting teens, these mothers and fathers still showed up to support their kids.

With the first tuneful voices, quiet spread like a sweet epidemic.

Grandparents sucked in the children’s fresh melodies, a Fountain of Youth elixir. We wouldn’t trade these seats for any in Carnegie Hall.

Though I’d liked to have sat closer, where I could video without standing on my chair.

People behind me might have preferred that, too.

So whispered my daughter as she yanked me down.

“But those grandmas do it.” I pointed toward other seniors, poking up through the crowd like prairie dogs.

She hissed, “If you don’t sit, no ice cream.”

Gasp! I obeyed.

An older choir, wearing favorite team hats, sang a spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

They even sang harmony. If only someone would send these kids to Chicago to do the seventh-inning stretch.

When the third-grade choir strutted their vocal stuff, they sang a memorized song in German. On key, even — unlike many restaurant servers who attempt “Happy Birthday.”

Recently enduring a nearly unrecognizable serenade to a neighboring table, I threatened Hubby with a seafood fork if he revealed it was my birthday, too.

But my grandson’s choir gave me fresh hope that good singing won’t become a lost art.

So did his director, who with gentle, iron words and sweeping gestures, inspired beauty in a hundred kids. Plus, she kept them from killing each other.

Thank God for my little choir boy, who patiently endured a photo op afterward. His great-grandparents sang as they worked, played and prayed. Ditto for grandmas and grandpas, who grew up harmonizing with their families in the car and singing in school and church choirs. So did his golden-voiced daddy and mama.

Maybe, as I did in the past, this little guy will strike deals with fellow servers, earning extra tips when he solos on “Happy Birthday” to diners.

Surely, more applause will await him in his musical future as he shares the song in his heart —helping other hearts sing, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What were your favorite grade-school songs?

The Great Broccoli Debate

Soon after our wedding, Hubby and I discovered crucial differences. A key divisive subject: broccoli.

I softened its presence in a casserole. Nevertheless, he turned up his nose. His extra-sensitive taste buds perceived broccoli as impossibly bitter.

I had grown up eating broccoli, pretending to munch trees like a powerful giant. I liked the taste. Broccoli was good for me and filling — important in a household with four siblings. What wasn’t to like about broccoli?

In Hubby’s family, no one competed for food or imagined eating trees. His father and brother also loathed broccoli. Drowning it in cheese sauce, his mother insisted they eat it occasionally.

However, my new husband formulated his own broccoli policy, namely, nada.

I adopted his mother’s.

The debate continued for decades.

Unfortunately, the elder President George Bush undermined me with his broccoli policy. “I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!’”

If my mother-in-law had cooked the President’s meals, he would have tried three bites or been sent to his room.

Like Steve, President Bush probably believed his DNA rejected broccoli. My husband even insisted God never created broccoli for human consumption.

Dragging God into a debate is risky, not unlike asking my mother to settle a sibling argument. Historically, both debaters ended up listening to a lecture and doing extra chores.

I’d never encountered Scriptures regarding broccoli, with or without cheese sauce. However, several commanded him to give thanks for what was set before him.

Hubby replied with Scriptures that discouraged quarrels.

One day as I typed, deep in Novel Land, Hubby leaped from the hallway, hands thrown open like a spotlight performer. “Ta-da!”

Not his usual morning routine.

He announced, “I’ve found scientific evidence that taste depends on a person’s DNA—”

“You interrupted my best writing time to diss broccoli?”

“Look.” He offered his laptop.

“I don’t have to look. That writer’s scientific expertise probably consists of blowing up science fair projects with his kid.”

Finally, I read the article. It stated a person’s DNA profoundly affects taste. The author, a bona fide scientist, didn’t sell snake oil or exploding science projects on the side.

I. Was. Wrong.

Daily I become more aware of Steve’s forbearance and generosity … because he reminds me.

Still, the more I pondered his broccoli triumph, the more I questioned: Should our DNA enslave us?

I take bitter-tasting medicines because they’re good for me. Hubby wants his patients to do the same.

Yet he can refuse broccoli, despite its nutritional value, because it doesn’t taste good?

The great broccoli debate rages on ….

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What food inspires debate at your house?