Whenever I think of Rochester, New York, I think of the annual May lilac festival. And when I think of lilacs, I think of my mom. The first and last trip Mom and I ever took together was from San Francisco to Rochester. Airlines had just stopped serving meals, much to my surprise. But I had string cheese and crackers in my carry-on and Oreo cookies in my purse, and Mom had Juicy Fruit gum, so we were just fine.
Everything about that trip excited Mom. The plane ride, the tomato juice the flight attendant served to go with our snack—everything. But most of all, the lilacs in Rochester. They all seemed to have opened up to greet us. Pink lilacs, white lilacs, lilac lilacs. Their fragrance simmered in the spring sunshine and enveloped the city.
I went to speak at a conference. My mom went along so that after the conference we could go on to Albany to see her brother and sister-in-law. We rented a car at the Rochester airport, enjoyed the conference (Mom happily worked on her quilting and snoozed a bit). The next day we oooo-ed and ahhhh-ed over the gorgeous blossoms at the lilac festival, then got up early the next morning to drive across the state—in pouring rain. With a directionally challenged driver at the wheel (me!). And less than accurate instructions that left us in the middle of a rain-soaked field. But we made it to Albany, and we had a wonderful time.
I just saw in the paper that Rochester’s lilac festival starts today. I can almost see the beauty. I can almost smell the blossoms.
I’d like to call my mom so that together we could remember our excellent adventure, but I can’t. She left this earth the year after our trip.
Mama, it’s May. I hope you are smelling lilacs in heaven.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
T. S. Eliot