Last Thursday my day included an outing to Lilacia Park in the western suburb of Lombard, IL, which holds a festival every May to showcase the park’s numerous varieties of lilacs. With the weather too chilly to eat my lunch outside, my visit began with munching on French bread and half of a stuffed pepper in the warmth of my car while admiring the wall of lilacs planted on the park’s east perimeter.
Afterward, a stroll into the park showed me the cool weather had preserved nearly all the flowers at the height of their blooming. Only a handful of lilac bushes had gone past their prime; a few others remained in bud, waiting for their turn to shine. The blooms on all the rest ranged in color from white to pale lilac to bluish lavender and on through pinkish lavender to mauve to deep purple. Wandering along the park’s paths, the flowers’ sharp-sweet scent filled the air and filled my heart with nostalgia for my childhood delight at the huge lilacs in our family’s yard.
Spring bulbs surrounded the lilac bushes and offered contrast in both color and height. Although nearly all the daffodils were spent, the tulips had reached their full glory: some presented softly rounded petals on elegant stems nearly three feet tall, while their shorter sisters commanded attention with spiky or feathery “parrot” flowers. Massed together in artful color combinations, the tulips formed a sea of Easter purple, pink, and white in one area of the park, with another zone warmed with a mix of red, orange, and medium pink. Other sections blended yellow and purple tulips, white and purple ones, and yellow and pink ones. A combination of yellow, pink, and nearly black tulips completely filled the area beneath an enormous tree.
Labels heightened the tulips’ beautiful mystique by sharing names such as Elegant Lady, White Triumphator, Westpoint, and Cum Laude. Others boldly announced themselves as Big Smile, Kingsblood, Texas Gold, Blue Heron, Flaming Parrot, and Fancy Frills. As for the lilacs, several honored public figures with names including Frederick Douglass and Presidents Lincoln and Monroe. Many of the white lilacs evoked the modesty of bygone days with both their color and names such as Miss Ellen Willmotte, Madame Lemoine, and Annabel.
Passing through the park’s center, the aroma of pipe smoke reached me and mingled with the smell of damp earth, grass, tulips, and lilacs. At that moment, bells in a nearby church rang 60 times in succession, as if to call everyone within earshot to attention. A glance at my watch told me it was 3 p.m. Then the bells pealed out a hymn, but a freight train on the tracks just past the park’s northern boundary drowned out the melody. The hymn ended just as the train did, and then the bells sounded out “Faith of Our Fathers.”
The entire experience gave me a feeling of being outside of actual time…and fully immersed in eternity thanks to Lilac Time. Every year, nature gives us a few weeks of Lilac Time, when a whiff of lilacs in bloom lets us travel back to our childhood, to our collective history (President Lincoln…and “when lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed”), and to an imagined past that can comfort us even as it inspires us to hold fast to our dreams and ideals as we create the future.