Gift from the Old Country 

When lilacs bloom, I remember childhood days with my grandparents. More adventurous than my younger sister, I loved to spend the night with Grandma Susie and Grandpa John. 

Sleeping in the bedroom nearest the lilac bush, with the windows open, I dreamed of cousins who lived across the ocean in Czechoslovakia. Sometimes I lingered there, in the security of my grandmother’s handmade quilt, to dream a little longer.

Grandma wasn't a dreamer, but Grandpa was. He was the romantic one, too, always ready with a gift, a song, a confession of love. Neither of them talked about the Old Country. They did spin their tongues around a language I learned at their house. It was rich in low tones with lots of wide vowels and consonants that melt together in comforting sounds. Slovak was our language of love.

My Grandpa John Kolody and the lilac bush that grew in the front yard

My Grandpa John Kolody and the lilac bush that grew in the front yard

Grandpa was a gift giver. My parents say I learned my generosity from him. Each spring, before the garden vegetables were planted, he and I were planning how to share them. We collected brown bags all winter so we’d be ready to give summer’s bounty to neighbors and friends.  

I loved Grandpa’s and Grandma’s yard. As soon as it was warm enough each spring, I would spread a quilt under the maple trees, not too far from the lilac bush. I pretended I was in love with a man from South America, who only came to visit me on Sundays in my grandparents' dining room.

Each year when Grandpa mowed the grass near the lilac bush for the first time, he always stopped. He stilled the whirring of the blade, pushed his cap back on his head, closed his eyes, and breathed in the sweet smell. I could tell by his slight smile that he was enjoying more than the fragrance. Lilacs were the bouquet of love for him.

One spring day he rushed into the house, looking for Grandma. “Susannah, come outside. I want to show you something," he called to her in Slovak.

My Grandma Susan Kolody in their front yard

My Grandma Susan Kolody in their front yard

Soon I saw them coming out the back door together. She was scolding him, probably for interrupting her lunch preparations, but her mouth was turned up at the corners. He took her hand and led her to the lilac bush. I joined them there.

Still speaking in Slovak, he said, "Close your eyes, Susannah," and she did. Then he broke off a large bough, full of just-opening blossoms, and placed it in her hands. I kneeled on the ground between them. A few lilac petals fell on me as I looked up through the blossoms. I saw their heads moving together until their lips met. When they parted, Grandpa said, "Remember?"

Grandma smiled and kissed him again. Then she brought the flowers to her face and inhaled deeply. They both laughed and reached for each other, not realizing I was there. When they bumped me, they bent down and pulled me up between them. Then with lilacs crushed between us, the three of us hugged and laughed together.

I never knew my grandparents. Both of them died before I was born. But this is how I would have wanted them and us to be. Imagination can be a wonderful thing.