White Lilacs and other dreams
It’s that time of year…time to re-dream lilacs. I wrote this in 2007. Lilacs were not a part of my life until I moved north in my thirties. When I discovered them that first spring, it was as if I dreamed them. They felt that important and that personal. And yet, I never remember a conscious thought of lilacs before then. Growing up in southern Texas, lilac wasn’t a flower or a smell—lilac was a colour. In my fifties, I moved even farther north and now I have lilacs in my yard. They are white. I have to re-dream lilac. The lilacs in my yard are old; some so tall that we don’t bother to even try to prune them. I can see them from the second story. I imagine they were first planted by Florence around the turn of the last century when the house was built. She married George, an engineer and—by reputation—a sweet man, after the death of her first husband. Her daughter by the first husband was named Ava and Ava’s daughter was named Flora. George and Florence’s house, though large, was a smaller version of his brother’s house nearby. They named their homes after castles in Scotland where George was born before the family immigrated to Canada. The brother’s large house was named Craigevar. George’s more sensible house was named Moneymusk.
George and Florence had no children of their own and when they died in the 1920’s within a few years of each other, the house they built was left to their granddaughter, Flora. But Flora wasn’t the only grandchild. There was another offspring of Ava’s named Billy and Billy, in the vernacular of the times, was a ne’r-do-well. He gambled and drank (in the times of prohibition) and was, incidentally, a cripple.
The house was inhabited by Flora and Billy, and soon all of Billy’s nefarious friends. Flora loved the house as she had loved her grandparents. She had lived with them off and on in her later childhood. By that time, Craigevar was gone—first abandoned, then vandalized, then burned—and her relatives lived far away in Glace Bay and Baddeck. Some lived in the States.
She saw the house she had inherited being turned into a house of ill-repute.
There was a family nearby who had worked for George and Florence. The father did caretaker’s duties and the wife came in to clean. They had four children. In an act of desperation—trying to regain control of Moneymusk from her half-brother, Billy, and his friends—Flora invited the family to come and live in the house.
One can only imagine the sobering effect it had on the ruffians to have a poor, working family with children living in the house. Perhaps there were scenes. Perhaps the friends—who were, after all, only drunks and gamblers, not evil persons—simply left one sunny morning when they realized there were decent people, a family, in residence.
No one knows what happened to Billy.
Flora lived with the family for some months and then, for reasons lost to time, decided to go to the States.
The family stayed and took care of the house. Flora never returned and they stayed and stayed until the mother and father died. The house was left to the oldest son who stayed and stayed—for many years with his sister who did all the cleaning and care-taking. In his older years, he married and he and his wife continued to care for the house until they grew too old. The sister still lives nearby and she, and others, have told some of these stories, but have been careful not to tell other parts of it.
Some of this is fact, and some the stuff of dreams.
But this is true: all this time, white lilacs came back fresh and new every June, becoming thicker and taller with each passing year and if lilacs are white, any of it is possible.