Even in the most turbulent childhood, there are moments of light and joy. Some of the most positive memories I have involve flowers. Both my mother and my grandmother surrounded themselves with them.
Our family yard was not huge, but it was covered in flowers. There were lilac and forsythia bushes well over 5 ft. tall. Peonies and roses of all varieties were abundant, a tall flowering cherry tree shaded the back, shrubs of various sizes provided a living fence that gave us some privacy.
And maybe the most memorable, and certainly the most fragrant, were the Lily of the Valley. They grew just tall enough to reach the top of the basement windows. Every Spring, those windows would be opened, allowing that lovely fragrance to blow in and spread to all the rooms above.
Sometimes, I’ll find a scented candle with the lily label, but they usually don’t come close. It is true that our sense of smell is the one which evokes the strongest memory.
There was an entire street block behind us which was wooded and covered in wild flowers. This was the colorful barrier between us and the multi-story steel mill buildings which defined our community since the early 1800’s. The home must have seemed like a garden heaven to them, coming from company-provided row homes that were rented out to steelworkers, mostly immigrants, like my grandparents.
Most of those poorly-constructed row houses have been demolished, including the one I lived in at birth. It was at the top of a very steep, unpaved slope, overlooking the smoke stacks of the steel furnaces, and named Church Street, for the 3 ethnic churches that stood at the base of the hill.
Neither flowers, nor families, flourished there.
And then, there was this.
I was intrigued by the use of this particular lily in the plot of Breaking Bad. Walter White devised an elaborate scheme using the lily of the valley to simulate ricin poison. The plot thickened.