Lily of the Valley

Takes me back June 1, 2020

For about five days every spring I think a lot about my grandmother …  

In sync with the bloom of the lilacs, and often overshadowed by the popular purple giant, there is a little tiny flower called Lily of the Valley that sprouts up.

Nan had a huge patch of Lily of the Valley next to her house on Iron Works Road. The patch flanked both sides of her front walkway, and for a very short window of time every spring their aroma was intoxicating. It smelled so sweet and lovely — just like spring.  

The Lily of the Valley were like a carpet of dark green sprinkled in with their little bell-shaped flowers that hung from their petite and upright little stems. And if you looked really hard, in Nan’s patch, you could find a couple of light pink blossoms too, a rare find in most stands. 

Nan must have loved the smell of the sweet little flowers because when my sisters and I were younger, upon arrival back from a trip to Calgary, Canada, she presented each of us with a bottle of Muguet perfume. Captured in the bottle was the sweet scent of Lily of the Valley, which served as a reminder to me of the fragrant little flowers that grew every spring at her house. 

Today, with every pick of the little flower, my mind can’t help but wander back to my grandmother and the things that stick out in my mind during the brief, yet so important, moment in time when she was a daily figure in my life.

Nan introduced me to my first taste of coffee when I was 5 years old. I would walk down to her house, my mother and she watching on either end as I went, and sit and have an afternoon cup of Sanka coffee. It really was terrible stuff. Mine of course was decaf with lots of cream and sugar; it’s the only way she knew I would be able to choke it down. I wanted it so bad that it really didn’t matter how bad it tasted, it helped me seem more like a grown up. 

Nestled on the couch in what she referred to as the “Bermuda room,” the two of us sat, watching the end of General Hospital, between us sitting a small plate of saltine crackers spread with chunky peanut butter. Those too helped the coffee go down. 🙂

I will never forget the day we lost Nan off a double decker bus on a special trip to London, England. “There goes Nan,” I called out to my cousin Sally behind me as I hung from the bus pole and waved. Around Piccadilly Square we went again until we came back to her. She had gotten off at a redlight instead of the actual bus stop. It’s a funny memory.

Nan always acted the lady in everything she did. Manners, manners, manners … appearances, appearances, appearances. Dressed in her suede suits from McQuade’s with the matching pumps, she always looked her best at church. And gosh, let’s not forget those polyester pants that she did her house work in. I am hot just thinking about them.

She protected me from snakes on afternoons when I mowed her lawn. She would stand in between me with the lawn mower and the evergreen bush where we had once seen a snake … Lord knew, in my mind, it was still lurking there. She was an awfully good sport.

She loved her cat and on many days I hear echoes of, “Mandy, Mandy … here kitty kit kit kit …” from when she would stand on the porch and call for her when the cat was slow at returning.

Her patience sometimes ran thin when my sisters and I got to fooling around. But oh, how she loved it when we belted out the Sound of Music songs in her car on rainy summer days when she would drive us around just to get out of the camp for a change of scenery … and divert us from the fooling.

A little waft on a spring breeze of sweet Lily of the Valley and I think about how I miss her and how I would love to just sit and have a cup of Sanka with her and eat crackers with chunky peanut butter. What would she think of my life and the crazy twists and turns it has taken?  What would she think of me and how I turned out from the little girl that she once knew?

I have not seen Nan since 1990, and oh how I regret how standoffish I was toward the end of her life — it was the only way my teenage self knew how to deal with her terrible disease, ALS, and watch her waste away. In my heart, I know Nan understands why I was a little quiet.

Every May, I do get to be with her. She is carried in on a bouquet of Lily of the Valley. She sits on my kitchen table and observes my life, and we commune. All of my memories come back, and once again I am a little girl drinking Sanka and sitting with my Nan.  

How thankful I am for the little, sweet smelling, spring bloom of Lily of the Valley.

With love,