The girl who loved lilacs

“We all go to heaven leaning on the arm of someone we helped.”

-Neal Cassady

The power and majesty and beauty of nature are oh-so-obvious during an avalanche or thunderstorm or sunset on the ocean. But sometimes it is the smaller, subtler things of the universe that touch us in our very innermost soul … like the smell of lilacs in spring.

When I lived in Salt Lake City, I dated a girl named Becky, whose mission in life at that time was to take care of an elderly woman named Alta. Now Alta was over 90 years old and weighed less than 90 pounds, but she had a good mind and a lovely smile and a real genuine twinkle in her eye.

Her family, however, did not appreciate her special kind of beauty and indeed seemed to be waiting for her to die, so they could divide up her money. They left her in that apartment for days and weeks on end, so whenever I would go over to visit Becky, I would put Alta in her “race-car” (wheelchair), and we would take her for a “ride” around the neighborhood. She truly reveled in these walks, and Becky told me she looked forward to my visits more than the rare occasions when her son or daughter or grandchildren would come by.

“You better be nice to Curt,” she would tell Becky. “He’s the only one besides you who takes me outside.”

And Alta loved outside.

It was springtime in Utah, and Becky and I were pushing Alta along a quiet, little street when we passed a church. I heard old Alta moan in a high voice.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Oh, look at the lilac blossoms!” she cried. On the other side of a chain-link fence was a row of healthy lilac bushes in full bloom. Their fragrance was sweet and heavenly.

“Oh I wish I could have a flower,” she said in a soft voice. Alta rarely asked for anything, but I knew that she really wanted this.

“No problem,” I said, and climbed over the fence. I broke off

several small branches loaded with lavender blossoms and returned.

As I walked up to Alta to give her the flowers, I saw her ancient eyes grow tender and young. She suddenly looked like a little girl on Christmas morning, slowly opening her best present. Then as I handed her the blossoms, her face seemed to say “Oh, I am not worthy.” But she ever-so-slowly accepted the gift from my hands and gently brought the lilac flowers up to her nose.

I will never forget the noise she made as she sniffed them. It was like a cross between a shiver that gives you goose-pimples, and a groan of sheer ecstasy. Becky and I watched Alta in awed silence as she hugged the lilacs to her bosom. She seemed to be glowing, as if there were light coming out of her.

When we got home, we put Alta in her favorite chair and placed the lilac blossoms in two vases, one on either side of her. Becky told me later that she’d never seen her look happier.

This was Alta’s last spring on earth. Her family sent her to Southern California for “health reasons,” far from the mountain valley where she had lived her entire life. She died soon after.

There are things in this world that we should best forget, and there are things in this world that we should never forget.

And so it is that each year, spring rolls around, when the snow has left the valley and moved back up into the mountains, and the land is green and growing once again, and I smell the first lilac blossoms of spring, I think of Alta, the little old lady that I met years ago. I think of Alta, the beautiful little girl who loved lilacs.

And always will.

– Curt Melliger



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