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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Smell (the sense of smell) (07/29/10)

TITLE: Inhale Deeply At Your Own Risk
By Mariane Holbrook


As a child, I always smelled them long before I saw them.

Lilacs. Purple and white lilacs with a scent more overpowering than almost any other flower. At least they were to me, an eight year old whose curiosity was exceeded only by my courage.

Who else in our neighborhood dared to pick a bouquet from a lilac bush belonging to our neighborhood grouch to give to a beloved third grade teacher? Miss Burdick’s lilacs were in full bloom two weeks before anyone else’s. My mistake was in picking them all from one spot in the front of the bush. Mama dutifully administered my usual spanking after an irate phone call from the ever-vigilant Miss Edwina Burdick.

But one day lilacs took on a different meaning for me. When we returned home after a weekend at Grandma’s farm in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, our lilacs were in spectacular bloom.

When we opened the car door I could smell them from large bushes on the far side of our house.

I broke off several beautiful lilac sprays, inhaling deeply, and carried them inside to place the bouquet in an empty Bell canning jar full of water. I loved those lilacs like no other flower.

Suddenly a staccato knock on the front door sent four of the seven children in our burgeoning family scurrying to see who was there.

It was my friend, Bertha, and she was crying. Hard.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Bertha sobbed. “Our baby twin boys died this morning while you were gone.”

Mama was already at the front door and put her arms around Bertha. She motioned me to come with her while she escorted Bertha back home across the street.

Mama didn’t know Mrs. Babcock well since the family had only lived in their very modest rental house for about six months. You could call them poor, I guess, but then again, none of us were exactly bursting our way through the seams of financial prosperity.

The only time I’d been inside Bertha’s house was the day she invited me to stay for supper. Her paper-thin mother looked at us with a mixture of confusion and anxiety.

“We don’t have very much but you’re welcome to stay,” Mrs. Babcock finally offered. “We’re having cold sliced potato and onion sandwiches.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I volunteered. “We usually don’t have much either. And I love potato and onion sandwiches.” Both statements were untrue. But I rationalized that, in this case at least, God would forgive me for rearranging the truth for compassionate purposes.

On this day, Mrs. Babcock met us on the front porch which had been enclosed and made into a sort of living room. She was wringing her hands and weeping.

Mama put her arm around Mrs. Babcock’s thin shoulders. “I’m so sorry about the loss of your babies. What can we do? We want to help.”

Mama and Mrs. Babcock began making a list:


Money for Luckner’s Funeral Home where the babies are
White burial clothing
Food and flowers from the neighborhood
Cash for the family since Mr. Babcock was still out of work
Call our pastor about conducting the funeral
Ask if our church could donate a cemetery plot
Call Jason at the newspaper to see if he would write a story

Promising to return in two hours, Mama hugged Mrs. Babcock and raced home.

She sent my two older sisters and me to every home in the neighborhood, asking the mothers to meet at our house in thirty minutes for an emergency meeting. (Mama wasn’t called “The Drama Queen” for nothing!)

Every mother on our street came. The funeral was set for two days hence in the funeral home chapel. Mrs. Babcock insisted that the babies be brought back home and placed in the living room for the public viewing. When I saw their tiny translucent bodies lying in the white, satin-lined casket, I cried.

No one in this post Great Depression year could afford Florists’ sprays. The only flowers in bloom in the neighborhood were lilacs so everyone brought a bouquet of lilac blossoms in canning jars. I counted thirty jars.

But the fragrance that I’d always loved became so overpowering in that small, warm room crammed with people, that I exited the house and ran home, retching and gagging!

My headache lasted all day and I missed school. The next day, when I returned, Daddy sent a note to my teacher:

“Reason for Mariane’s absence: Sensory delight overload.”

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This article has been read 573 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/06/10
This is a touching story. I too love the smell of lilacs and I smiled at the little girl's adventure in getting them. You also pulled on my heartstrings. You did a great job weaving the two parts of the story together.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/07/10
I enjoyed so much this introduction to a delightful child, so full of heart she was willing to get a spanking for taking a gift to her teacher, as well as eating an onion/potato sandwich to keep from hurting a friend's feelings. Surely a foreshadowing of the woman she would become. The story pictures a special era when times were hard and neighbors shared and cared. Lots to think about here. Definitely on topic.
Helen Dowd08/07/10
A very touching story indeed! How well you wrap an emotional story around your memories of lilacs. The story pulls you in from the very start...Yes! You would have a deep connection with lilacs, from a lesson on "stealing" to a lesson on "compassion." I was with you there in that hot, cramped neighbour's house, smelling the overpowering aroma of lilacs...Very good! Hope this story rates high in the scores of the judges...Helen
Charla Diehl 08/09/10
The MC in this story stole my heart. The common thread of the lilacs was woven through this piece beautifully.
Sarah Elisabeth 08/09/10
Such a sad tale about the babies. I'm glad the MC had compassion and a sweet spirit for her friend.
Carol Penhorwood 08/09/10
A masterful presentation of compassion...I could almost smell the lilacs! You have such a way with words, Mariane, and I love hearing the stories you tell from the "olden" days!
Edy T Johnson 08/09/10
You made me cry over your beautiful true-life story. Your powers of description are unmatched. This is a keepsake for sure and a winner in my book.
AnneRene' Capp08/09/10
Yes, a keepsake, a winner and a downright treasure to say the least. Everything about this is superb. Boy, I should have read this while seeking to get a grip on myself today.:)
Barbara Lynn Culler08/09/10
I remember the smell of lilacs from my visits to Rochester, New York. So yummy. But there can be too much of a good thing.
Mona Purvis08/12/10
Your telling on this story made in come alive for me. I could see it so clearly. So believable and haunting, yet lovely at the same time. Your writing is top-notch as well. Just splendid and one I won't forget anytime soon.