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Why I still love to see the season’s first lilacs

A lilac bush bloomed every spring outside the dining-room window of my parents' house in Montreal, a harbinger of all good things: June, the end of school, the smell of summer nights.

I haven't see it bloom in many years, but it still grows there, shadowing an untended part of the yard, where nothing was ever planted and no one ever played.

This spring in Toronto, it's not even really bare-leg weather. There's still almost two months of school to go for the kids, and we are walking around the corner for the first after-dinner ice cream of the summer, when I am surprised by my first lilac blooms of the season. They're purple, on a bush I have always admired at the corner of Metcalfe and Carlton, in a little patch of a pretty south-facing garden I have never seen anyone tend.

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I exclaim at the flowers, stop to smell them, and the kids laugh at their sentimental mother. They remember us stopping at this bush before, and they know what I will tell them next: that Once Upon a Time, when I was little, a bush like this bloomed at their grandparents' house (and still does). That lilacs were the favourite flower of my late favourite great-aunt, Aunt Kaye; and that once, when Sophie was a baby, I climbed up on a foot-ladder at our old house with a pair of garden shears and leaned over the fence and brazenly stole some purple lilacs. I put them in a vase and drove them up to Aunt Kaye's midtown apartment with Sophie in tow, my little accomplice. Those lilacs are the only things I have ever knowingly stolen. Aunt Kaye died six months later, and those lilacs were also the best things I have ever stolen.

The blooms at Metcalfe and Carlton are still too tightly furled to give off the heady scent of summer nights. The kids laugh at my disappointment; but I know I can come back to that forgotten garden to steal a smell of those lilacs, for a hit of memory and promise.

I have lived in four houses in this city and am about to move into my fifth. It is time to plant my own lilacs in a corner of my garden, so that they will bloom every year, and so that my children will remember.

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