The smell of childhood

2 min readMay 2

In which the author “has a moment” thanks to a lilac

Photo of a large (mauve) lilac tree in bloom
The subject of this story, May 2, 2023 (Author’s photo)

I grew up on a small farm, and if you know anything about farming, you know it involves lots of things that smell. Things like freshly mown hay; manure (multiple varieties, each with its own special tang); wet sheep; and that smell inside a very old barn where things have been hanging around and scents have been mingling and maturing for a long time.

I was reminded of the smells that were a big part of my childhood earlier today, when I walked out my back door and discovered the lilac is blooming.

We’ve had a cool, long spring here on Canada’s Pacific southwest coast, and only in the last week has the thermostat inched its way up past 15C.

You can see the impact of this welcome warmth immediately: the plants seem to be growing so fast that you can see them progress, and all kinds of blossoms have bloomed. Cherry and plum trees are decorating the boulevards with their pink and mauve “snowflakes”, and the magnolias are putting on a show.

The lilac in my back yard has been looking like it was ready to “pop” for a couple of weeks now, with little purple buds at the end of every branch. But today, after two days of warm, it has exploded into a festival of colour and scent.

Closeup of lilac blossoms
The unfurling blossoms (author’s photo)

I planted this lilac about 10 years ago, thinking about one that was just outside the kitchen door of my childhood home. I brought this one home when it was just a spindly shrub. Now it’s about 15 feet tall, and in the spring it’s a real show.

If you get within a few yards of the tree, its perfume envelops you. Apparently this variety (the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris) is known for its toughness, reliability, and fragrance. I can vouch for these qualities. It also looks pretty darned glorious.

I was admiring the lilac this morning when a wave of nostalgia swept over me — memories of that farm, more than 60 years ago now. Memories of that lilac tree, and its scent. It felt like a hug from my past.


Recreational writer, collector of antique corkscrews, urban gardener and management consultant to social profit organizations. Proudly Canadian.