Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Scent of Lilacs and a Lesson in Incorporating the Senses Into Your Writing

Back in April 2010, I wrote a blog post about lilacs and how when each spring their fragrance takes me back to a warm day, likely in May. Miss Thomas, my fourth grade teacher, had raised the windows wide open in our nearly half-century-old classroom to let in some air. Air that was unusually heavy with humidity for so early in Wisconsin. Those kind of days usually didn't kick in until the hot days of July and August.

Lilacs I picked yesterday on my walk.
The lilacs were in full bloom and many of us kids would pick huge purple bouquets of the fragrant blooms and bring them to our beloved teacher. Fast running out of glass vases, she usually resorted to filling whatever she could find--old coffee cans or empty jars--to hold the flowers.

In the near-tropical air that long-ago day, their heavy fragrance seemed even more pronounced, and I sat at my desk, inhaling the scent and reveling in the heady feeling that came over me. Yesterday while out for my walk, I stopped and picked some lilacs, and right now I'm inhaling the scent and for one brief moment I'm transported back to Central School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

It's interesting how a sense of smell can transport one back to another time in our lives--sometimes pleasant and sometimes not-so-pleasant.

Maybe it's time to revisit that article I wrote back in 2010 about incorporating the senses into our writing, particularly the sense of smell. The book I refer to in the piece is Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin that just released last month, and the scent of lilacs is mentioned in its pages!

April 30, 2010

Yesterday seemed more like March than April in Chicagoland. The southern winds kicked up a lot of debris and flower petals fell from the crab apple trees like a pink and white blizzard.

But one thing I noticed most of all was the scent of lilacs.

I pass a lilac bush on my walk each day, and I always stop to smell the flowers because in a few day's time, that wonderful scent will be gone until next year.

That got me to thinking how in my stories I need to make sure I incorporate as many of the five senses as possible. My current project takes place during spring in my hometown, and I became excited as I realized the novel concludes during May. I'll be able to bring my very precious memory of springtime in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to the story.

No matter what the season your stories take place, be sure to bring in as many of the five senses as possible. The smell of a burning fireplace as your character walks outside on a cold winter's night. In summer, the scent of suntan oil on a hot beach. When I think of fall, the aroma of pumpkin pie baking in the oven conjures of memories of Thanksgivings past. Adding the senses to your story deepens your story and draws the reader closer. If you haven't done so already, be sure to work in smell, touch, hearing, tasting and sight before you turn in that final draft.

Meanwhile, I'd better run outside for one more sniff before the lilacs disappear till next year!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I Almost Never Knew my Mom

This Mother’s Day I’ve been thinking about my mom. She passed away in December 1982, at the age of 70 after a long illness. She died earlier than many, but I’m grateful that Mom never had to live in a nursing home.

Today I listened to a message my pastor Colin Smith preached a couple weeks ago on Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. My mom’s life was nothing like Hagar’s, but the message caused me to think about my mother’s suffering as she went through my birth. She almost died. Even though I’ve known that for a long while, this morning the thought jarred me as I realized I could have been raised without her in my life at all.

My mom was in nursing school when she came down with Juvenile Arthritis. Almost out of her teens, it was very unusual for one so old to get the disease. After being told by doctors that she’d never walk again, she proved the them wrong and did walk again, but she also had a permanent curvature to her spine. The curve wasn’t overly pronounced, but it was there. Because of that, she was told that if she ever became pregnant she’d have to have her babies by C-section rather than natural birth. And back then C-sections were not often done.

After my parents married, it was six years before she became pregnant with me. I sat here this morning, wondering if like Hannah in the Old Testament, my mom prayed daily for a child and God delayed the answer. I’ve heard bits and pieces over the years but never about the years of barrenness. Maybe that part was too private.

How much Mom must have rejoiced when she found at long last she was pregnant. I wonder if that joy was tempered by the warning given to her over 12 years earlier that she should deliver her babies by C section.

The sad thing is that by the time she reached her ninth month of pregnancy none of the doctors who had advised her against natural birth were around, and the only doctor available to do the delivery waved off the warning. He told her she would be fine.

Of course, I remember none of it and that’s probably a blessing, because after about two or three days of labor, I entered the birth canal and it wasn’t long before the doctor realized those other doctors were right. To deliver me the natural way would be very dangerous for my mother.

The doctor found my dad in the waiting room (those were the days when husbands paced the floor and were not in the delivery room). He told my dad I was too far into the birth canal and he could save me, but he couldn’t promise that my mom would live through the birth.

Of course, as you have figured out, my mom again proved a doctor wrong and lived through the birth. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I heard the entire story, and when I did,  I immediately realized why I’m an only child. And also why my mom loved me so fiercely.

Another profound thought popped into my mind today—if it weren’t for the grace of God I wouldn’t have known my mom at all.

The picture is one that is printed at the back my book, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I was about two years old at the time—not that long after the ordeal Mom went through having me. How deep must have been the joy she felt being alive and able to hold me and enjoy a beautiful summer day at the beach.

I’m very grateful that God chose this Mother’s Day to bring these thoughts to mind.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who read this!