The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring (Tra la) by
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(The title is a nod to a quintent from The Mikado, for all you G&S fans out there. Having been in at least three productions, that song popped into my head as I thought about this prompt; it seemed so appropriate.)

We had a lovely, fragrant garden in my first house in Detroit providing fond memories of specific flowers stemming from that yard and how we would play there as small children. I’ve told my husband that I wore overalls, looking like Scout in the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He always doubted me. Here is the proof.

Betsy, aged 3.

Along the side of the house was a veritable thicket of grown lilac trees, so full of wonderful fragrance in the spring. A cardinal family made its nest there, returning year after year. I could hear them outside my bedroom window when I sat at my desk. The male would call his mate. I’d pretend he called my brother, “Rick-y, rick, rick”. I returned his call. We’d have conversations, as I sat at the open window, breathing in the lovely air.

My dad put in a rose garden in a cultivated patch between the lawn and the concrete driveway, leading to the garage. He really tended to it and put in variations of roses that were quite stunning. We had a screened-in porch and this made a lovely vista during summer nights.

On a trellis, at the edge of the garage, a honeysuckle vine grew wild. The scent was heavenly. If I walk past honeysuckle, even today, it takes me right back to my playful childhood; hula-hoop in the driveway. Running around with my best friend Susie, who lived next door. We saw a robin fly up into that trellis one spring day and went to investigate. I got some blocks, or something to stand on and reached up. I found a nest with eggs in it! I gingerly withdrew my hand and made sure never to touch them again, for fear the mother bird would abandon the nest. We couldn’t follow along closely enough to know whether the eggs hatched or not. Here I am, maybe at the age of 7, on the driveway in front of the garage, set up for a cook out. My dad loved to barbecue. He was the grill master, so we did that often throughout the spring and summer. Note the stylish “pedal-pushers”, even with a matching jacket!

But our favorite thing to do in our backyard was to use our swing set. It had a teeter-totter, a ladder, a trapeze and a swing. The swing was my domain and I used it as much as I possibly could. Right behind it, at the end of our property, was a large patch of lilies of the valley, as you see in the Featured photo and I just LOVE the way they smell, perhaps because I strongly associate the sweet fragrance with swinging on my beloved swing. I’d be out there early in the morning, singing Rogers and Hammerstein songs at the top of my lungs, waking the neighborhood, alerting my friend that I was up and ready to play. I would pump my legs and go higher and higher. As noted in an earlier Retrospect story, my brother and I staged our own version of Peter Pan in our backyard (with the kids in the neighborhood taking various roles), using the swing set to FLY! Here is my brother, at a young age, maybe 7 or 8, on the teeter-totter. At times, as I could see in our home movies, we’d enlist our elderly aunts to join us on the other end to balance us out. We were good kids and they always obliged. Goodness, doesn’t he look happy? We had such fun out there.

The prize of my father’s garden was his four, mature rhododendron bushes in a deep magenta color. They only bloomed for a week or so in the spring but were absolutely glorious when they did. No discernible scent, but truly beautiful, bathing that side of the yard, right next to my swing, in the most gorgeous color! I did have to be on the look-out for bumble bees, but other than that, they just made me go weak in the knees when they were in their glory. In fact, one of the contingencies when we sold that house, was that we took those four bushes with us to Huntington Woods (2 1/2 miles away). They got transplanted along the side of the garage at our new house. My dad took a few of my prom photos in front of those bushes in bloom. The light wasn’t perfect, but you’ll get an idea of the size  of the rhodies. I see now, they were already past peak in early June.

Prom, 1970

Dad never planted a garden in our new house (1963), for various reasons. We had a tiny piece of land, and two years after moving in, we got a puppy, who, of course, loved to dig and chew everything up, so it just wasn’t practical. Life was coming apart in big and small ways, children growing up and leaving. So the memories of the garden in Detroit are quite pungent for me.

I wanted to have lilies of the valley in my wedding bouquet, but that didn’t work out, perhaps they weren’t in season. I didn’t even get the requested roses, couldn’t afford them. I had daisies (with baby’s breath) instead. White for me, pink for my bridesmaids. They were fine.

But I have always loved the lilies of the valley fragrance, reminding me as they do of those carefree days, swinging on my swing, romping in the yard, playing with best friends, when anything was possible, even talking to the cardinals in the lilac bushes.

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: lilies of the valley, lilacs, honeysuckle
Characterizations: moving

Comments

  1. Ah Betsy, what wonderful memories of your childhood gardens and their fragrant smells, and thanx for the wonderful photos of you and your brother Rick.

    My parents’ first house in the Bronx had two beautiful magnolia trees, one on each side of our front door. Early bloomers, we’d wait for them early each spring.

    To this day. I watch for the first magnolias of the season and am transported back to my childhood!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a lovely story, Betsy! And I really appreciate that it was all about the “real” fragrances from flowers in real gardens, not the “faux” bottled ones of perfumes. You paint a beautiful picture — to say nothing of fragrance — with your words and your memories. And then, of course, top it all off with amazing illustrative pictures. Do love the one of you as “Scout!”

    As an aside, my wife is trying to remember the name of a perfume that smelled of lilies of the valley. Would you (or one of the other commentators) remember it?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. I appreciate your comments.

      I just googled the scent your wife seeks, since I don’t know. Turns out Dior made one, and now Jo Malone does. Don’t know if that helps Kathie. I think the scent is popular, so many companies seek to replicate it for women.

  3. Betsy, you did look like Scout! (And just as an aside, I once worked for John Badham, the brother of Mary Badham, the girl who played Scout.) Such an evocative story of your childhood, wonderful photos, and the scents of the flowers you mentioned really make it come alive. You have such a gift for detail! And I do remember those pedal pushers, though not the matching jackets. I love the thought of you conversing with the birds, and singing at the top of your lungs in the morning…I wish I’d been your neighbor on the other side, I would have run out to join you and Susie! I also had a neighboring best friend, Yolanda, who lived in the house behind ours. There was a wooden fence with some loose boards separating our yards, and we’d go back and forth all day long. We had a veritable playground with a jungle gym in our yard, but she had a single tall tree with a long rope swing and we’d take turns pushing and spinning each other and screaming with delight. Somewhere there’s a reel-to-reel recording of my mom practicing her singing in the house and you can hear us screaming in the background. Lovely story, Betsy…thank you for that trip down memory lane.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Barb. We just had a wire mesh fence separating our yards. Susie’s family had an interesting story. Her mother had been married before with an older daughter from that marriage, then one older daughter and Susie from the current marriage. This husband seemed to be in and out. Susie’s grandfather, a tough, cigar-chomping guy, lived with them. Her mother played piano in a lounge at night, so the grandfather kept order in the house. They moved away when I was 7 and I missed her terribly. Susie’s mom liked me, I had good manners and didn’t get into any serious trouble (beyond singing early in the morning). They would get cocker spaniel puppies, which I LOVED (my mother was afraid of dogs), so I’d be over all the time, playing with the dog, always called Rusty, then they couldn’t manage and would give him away. This cycle repeated a few times. Susie and I played in my bedroom every Saturday afternoon…usually dolls of some sort. She and I had such fun together.

      Thanks for the Scout shout-out. And you knew Mary Badham’s brother. Wow! I loved a jungle gym too. I remember playing on one on the playground at school (though I’ve thought about the fact that we had to wear a skirt to school, so wondered how I managed that). For such a feminine little thing, I had a certain tomboy streak, as I think back. I’m sure it would have been fun to run around with you, Barb. You have such a great imagination. Isn’t that what fun is all about?

  4. Thanks for this, Betsy. First for all the great pictures. Second for the wonderful descriptions of the flowers and scents. Coulda called the piece “Scents and Scentsibilities” or not. Third, because you reminded me of an associative scent. In my Adirondack place we had a large flowering tree, magnolia-like, with wonderfully scented large white blossoms. That bloomed only every other year. And I can’t remember the name of it. Might have been a Japanese magnolia but I’m not sure. In any event its scent returns to me.

  5. Suzy says:

    Betsy, of course I love your title, and the song has now been running through my head all day. I had to laugh when I mentally got to Koko’s line, “oh bother the flowers that bloom in the spring”! Anyway, great song and it fits your story perfectly. Although Tom’s alternative is pretty entertaining too.

    What a wonderful description of all the different flowers you remember. And you have the perfect pictures to go with them. I especially loved your saying that you still love the scent of lilies of the valley because it reminds you of your beloved swing. That is the kind of fragrant flashback I was trying to come up with in my life but could not. Thanks for all these great memories!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Glad you liked my title this week, Suzy. I knew you’d know the song (and yes, the funny line that Koko sings). These are powerful and happy images for me, as you can tell; just what the prompt called for! With each week, I go wandering through my mother’s old photo albums and come up with old photos not even related to the prompts that I email to cousins, so an added benefit is to keep me in touch with dear relatives during these stressful times.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your description of the special memories from your childhood evoked by the wonderful flowers that grew by your house, Betsy. My mother loved the lilac bushes in our yard, but her favorite flower was the common Queen Anne’s Lace that grows near highways for some reason. She claimed this weed was anything but and took my kids to pick bouquets of it. BTW, you did look like Scout — so cute!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you Laurie. Perhaps I am romanticizing those childhood memories, but they seem so idyllic, looking back. I really like that you mother had your children pick Queen Anne’s lace. I always liked the look of it too, so can’t blame her. Another happy memory for me was picking clover and dandelions from our lawn, tying the stems together and making chains and crowns. Sometimes the weeds are the best!

      Thanks for agreeing with the Scout comparison. I think my husband didn’t believe I ever wore overalls, but we all changed clothes when we came from from school, so why not?

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