The Lilac Planting Party

On this memorial day, I wanted to write about remembering those who have gone before us. In particular, the people we admired and who helped to make us and our families better. Many of us in America spend some part of this weekend remembering. In my case my two parents were instrumental in helping me become better. Mom is luckily still alive and when I see her this weekend, I will remember to ask her questions that would benefit from her wisdom, such as tell me more about our family history and how did our ancestors manage to hang on. I will also talk about the Celtics and the golf with her. Pops has been gone a few years and I miss him dearly. His wisdom always came wrapped in wonderfully phrased New England humor. They were pillars in my eyes and as I have heard from others, pillars in our community. I learned justice and humor, honor, duty and fun, love and death and taxes from both of them. I try to pass on to my three kids the central themes of my upbringing and every now and again, you can see that carried down three or four generations.

I also like to remember the fallen in war. So much of our history turns on strategic plans executed in this country or in far away places that no one has ever visited. And if those tactics had not turned in our favor we might be burying more dead. It is the bittersweet tradition that the living honors the dead with flowers, something living, and yet, something just cut from its roots and so soon dying.

I am told that the first lilacs came to America and were planted in Little Harbor, near Portsmouth, NH at the site of Governor Benning Wentworth’s mansion. He was the British Governor of the territory then and he had many of them planted around his house as early as 1750. Every other cutting in the US comes from these first purple lilacs. My two grandmothers, one from each side of the family and also very wise, started the Little Boar’s Head and Rye garden club many years ago and they embraced the lilac. This is probably why there are very old lilacs planted around my family house in Little Boar’s Head, NH. On this memorial day I remember their gift of planting something that flowers so beautifully each spring.

My family has a hundred-year old memorial day tradition to go out to our lilacs, cut a basket of flowering smells, go down to the graves, and place one lilac in front of one relative. The senior member of the Lilac Planting Party usually holds the basket, while the youngest ones deliver the purple flower brown stems to the graves. As this is going on the senior member is also telling the stories of each grave in response to the young’s questions. Why is this one buried next to that one? Who was this one again? Why does one of our plots have a carved limestone dog and the other does not? Some were in the wars, some were not. But as I remember the stories in order to tell them, so too the kids learn the stories because the solemn truth is that one day they will be telling the stories and I will not.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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