Scent is the most emotionally evocative of our senses. Why else would the house stagers recommend baking bread before showing your home? The fragrance of fresh bread conjures whole pages of positive feelings. One whiff and we’re transported to grandma’s house and all the love and comfort and security offered there. Who wouldn’t want to buy a house that offered that?
Right now, it is lilac season in my part of the world. and lilacs are like fresh baked bread to my olfactory senses. I walk downstairs and the bouquet in the front hall lifts my mood even more than coffee. The smell of lilacs takes me home, where we had a whole hedge of them and I was allowed to pick as many as I liked. In fact, I was encouraged to fill the house with blooms. I’d even sneak a few apple blossoms into the bouquet, their scent lighter but every bit as wonderful.
Lilacs and apple blossoms signalled spring. After schlepping about in heavy coats and winter boots for six months, spring meant freedom. We could run outside in our shoes. Our feet were light, our bodies buoyant. We’d run for the sheer joy of it, raise our arms and twirl in a circle, faces to the sun. Lilacs were part of that moment.
When I married in May, I carried lilacs in my bouquet — a bridge between my old and new life. For me, lilacs mean love and joy.
As a writer, I’m inclined to insert lilacs into a story when I want to show happiness. In fact, my first book is called Love and Lilacs. Sadly, there are people in this world who hate the sweet smell of my delightful lilacs. While I think love and springtime, they think hay fever and itchy eyes! They’ll never buy a book with “lilacs” in the title.
So what’s an author to do? Our stories would lose all power if we only referred to generic flowers, or pets or people. Who wants to read about a thirty-something woman who had a nice job and lived in a pleasant house? Readers want specific details if they are to identify with this heroine. If she were in my book, she’d have a garden around her pleasant house and it would bloom with lilacs in the spring and roses in the summer. She’d have fresh cut blooms on her desk at work and she’d take deep breaths to enjoy the scent. But, what if she met a man who hated flowers, associated them with funerals, the funerals of his wife and daughter? Hmm.