MEADOWLANDS – When spring arrives and the earth is renewed with a spanking new wardrobe of green, like many of my neighbors, I throw open the windows of the house. It’s an invitation for spring to send her clean, crisp breezes floating gently through. I have waited for sunshine, warm temperatures, bird song, and those gentle breezes. I will them to dust clear the dark, neglected corners, not only of my house, but of my mind and body as well. It also triggers the annual spring housecleaning urge.
I am reminded of the years we lived and worked, third generation, on David’s home family farm and the spring breezes would float through my dining room windows laden with the scent of lilacs. I would momentarily stop in my tracks, the dust cloth in my hand forgotten; the dust on top of the piano unseen. The lovely light perfume from blossoms on the small lilac bush filled the room. I remember inhaling deeply and my eyes would mist over. Lilacs—my grandmother’s favorite flower. I see her with her arms full of lilacs, her sweet face smiling above the delicate blossoms. She carried bouquets of lilacs to neighbors, sick friends, and her married children.
The tiny enclosed front porch of my grandparent’s farmhouse was surrounded by lilac bushes, any one of them larger than the porch itself. Spring visitors to the farm left with arms full of the lavender blossoms. Grandma’s home contained fresh bouquets as long as the bushes continued to produce.
She was a Czechoslovakian immigrant, a strong pioneer and hardworking farm wife. She bore six children and buried one before he was a year old. In an age of no convenience or fast foods, no automatic household appliances, she prepared threecourse meals three times a day. She was Babicka (Grandmother) shortened to Babi (Bubby).
A light soil produced an abundance of produce for the farmers market, income to supplement the milk check from a small dairy herd. Twice a week, my grandparents and young aunts and uncles spent time preparing fresh vegetables for transport to market the following day. I see Babi’s work-worn hands scrubbing carrots in icy water directly from the well. She sat on a wooden milk stool next to a galvanized washtub in the shade of the milkhouse. Her short, body bent over her work as her hands deftly washed, graded and bundled.
She wore cotton-print dresses, always covered by full cotton-print aprons. If the weather was cool she wore a flannel or wool shirt, the cuffed sleeves pushed up to her elbows. A straw hat was parked firmly on her short, graying hair.
I see her in the garden. So much of her time was spent in the garden—seeding, weeding, blocking, thinning, harvesting. I see her gathering raspberries, her bright cotton dress barely visible between the rows, her ever-present straw hat floating along above the bushes.
Now I see her large, round oak dining room table stretched to the maximum length, covered with the paper-thin dough of apple strudel and Babi sprinkling the buttered dough with apples, nuts and raisins. My mouth waters at the remembered taste of that delicacy—and her poppy seed kolache, the crescents known as rohlicky, and the huge round Christmas bread that was Hoska. I have made all but the strudel, but none ever tasted the same as those Babi made.
We all grew up on old country recipes. Seated around the big oak table, we savored roast goose or duckling, served with fluffy dumplings and homemade sauerkraut covered with creamy sweet-sour gravy, Bohemian rye bread flavored with caraway seed, thick soups, fruit dumplings— recipes handed down now through three generations.
I see the same table, now heaped with Christmas gifts. The tree in the archway between dining room and living room has given up its stacks of gifts to eager, brighteyed youngsters who carry their treasures to the table for viewing by parents and grandparents.
Gifts cleared from the table, Babi brings out the fruits and nuts and the Christmas wine. I hear the happy conversation and laughter of the adults, gathered at the same table where some of them had taken their meals as children.
In the spring, when the lilac bushes were heavy with blossoms, this same table was graced with a large bouquet of her favorite flower. The front door leading into the tiny porch was open, the porch windows open wide to capture the lilac scented breeze and carry it through the large two-story farm house.
That round oak table with the addition of three leaves, accommodated that full family. It had come with two, but Grandpa made a third one. It is now in my dining area. It was in the dining room on the farm and when we retired and sold the farm, it came with us to the smaller home we were blessed to be able to purchase not far from the farm. The new home is perfect for the two of us. We came from a two-story, four bedroom to a one-story, two bedroom. Another lovely plus is that the laundry room is on the main floor right by the door that leads to the clotheslines.
This home is surrounded by the beautiful trees we Minnesotans all love, but there were no lilac bushes. I’ve been singing for weddings and funerals, other events for many years. Not long after moving I was asked to sing at the funeral of an uncle and I used that payment to purchase four lilac bushes. They are planted in the lawn near the house in memory of that uncle.
My lilac bushes have grown just enough to begin blooming in the past three years. Not enough yet that the breezes carry their scent into the home, but a bouquet of blossoms in a large pink vase that belonged to her, sits on Babi’s oak dining table and the beautiful scent that fills the room is in memory of my grandma!
Helen Abramson lives in Meadowlands, MN. She is a frequent contributor to Hometown Focus.