Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Nothing takes me back to my childhood in Rochester, New York, faster than seeing lilacs in bloom. And Ukraine has them in profusion. Vivid memories in lavender, deep purple and white fill my senses. Or are they the real bushes I am passing on my walk to town in Starobilsk?

The whites were the sweetest, the deep purples the most elegant, the lavenders the most accessible. They are the same here. The memories and the reality overlap. I am a child, and I am an aging woman, basking in the glory of lilacs.

Rochester was known as the Lilac Capital of the US, maybe of the world. Highland Park, not far from our home, featured hundreds of species from around the world. I'm sure some of them were from places like Ukraine, but at the time I never thought of lilacs that way. They were just incomparably beautiful in that park, like the Cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, or the varieties of camellias that beautify and sanctify McClay Gardens in Tallahassee, Florida.

Lilacs are beautiful in this place, too, as if there is an unbroken connection between the cities of Rochester, Chernigov and Starobilsk. The lilac connection. Or maybe I'm in Rochester afterall. The memories and reality blend, the line between then and now blur. I am remembering and I am seeing.

In Toledo we had a few bushes in our yard on Robinwood Ave, like mom had in our yard in Rochester. They never quite matched the lilacs that filled my imagination, but I nurtured them like sacred icons and they bloomed every year. The stately Victorian homes of the Old West End served as dramatic backgrounds for the burst of lilacs that graced our neighborhood. They filled the sky with color and the air with sweet fragrance. And when the sun shone on them at sunset, they sparkled like thousands of little lights on Christmas trees.

I think this is why I love May in Ukraine. And why I can't resist the temptation to break off a stem from a free-flowing lilac bush on the side of a path and take it home with me.

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