Lincoln, Lilacs, and Grandma’s Outhouse

Lilacs in Washington State

Earlier this month, my husband Cliff and family laid to rest his father Lee Beaman in a tiny urn above the coffin of his mother in the cemetery adjoining the church. Across the street from the simple, white-plank Methodist Church near Ridgefield, WA, are lilac bushes in full bloom this April. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, here is a website you may want to check out: //

Lilacs along McCardy Road, Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA
Lilacs along Carty Road, near Bethel Methodist Church, Ridgefield, WA

Like floral fireworks, these blooms explode in vivid lavender, each blossom bursting in “bullet-shaped buds.” Poet Richard Wilbur seems to scrutinize the lilacs he describes by looking into not just at the hundreds of teeny buds arranged in each bursting bloom tighter than stick pins in a pincushion.


As poet Wilbur points out, each tiny lavender bud appears “quick and bursting,” not holding back its beauty – is open and free. Similarly, when friends and family eulogize the beloved, their remarks tend to be candid, “quick and bursting,” revealing true feelings, knowing this is probably the last time to express their sentiments publicly.

Lincoln and Lilacs

Another poet, Walt Whitman, connected grief to the springtime and lilacs as he expresses his deep attachment to Abraham Lincoln, whose death April 15, 1865, is commemorated in his famous poem When Lilacs Last By the Dooryard Bloom’d. Written in private, the poem is a public elegy to the President the people adored. The poet revered the President too and when the cortége passed by, Whitman placed a sprig of lilacs on the coffin:

“With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leave of rich green, /A sprig with its flower I break.” (stanza 3)  Then admitting that “the lilac with mastering odor holds me,” Whitman will forever associate the fragrance of lilacs with his fallen hero (stanza 13).

Finally, referring to Lincoln as a “Powerful western fallen star” the poem closes with the lines

For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,

Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,

There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

Kathy Beaman holding lilac after Dad's memorial service
Kathy Beaman holding lilacs after Dad’s memorial service

Lilacs Bushes and Grandma’s Outhouse

Please permit me this odd segué!

I love lavender and purple – and I love lilacs and wisteria. Wisteria climbing joyfully on a trellis on Grandma’s verandah and lilacs some distance away. . .

Close to an oak tree that Grandma Longenecker’s grand-children planted in her honor after her death in 1980, was an outhouse (now long gone) surrounded by a clutch of lilac bushes. The lilacs around Grandma’s house served as a fragrant air freshener. Of course, there is nothing elegiac about an outhouse, a tallish, square white structure with a roof, equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog or better yet for the job – a phone book. The outhouse, dedicated to defecation, bears evidence that bodily functions continue, that you are still alive. Lilacs thrive there.

Long live the lilacs. Long live symbols of life, death, and rebirth!

* * *

. . .  and a bush nobody had noticed burst into glory and fragrance, and it was a purple lilac bush. Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens.

The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim

Now, your turn. What is your relationship to lilacs or other spring flowers? To commemorating the death of loved ones?



33 thoughts on “Lincoln, Lilacs, and Grandma’s Outhouse

  1. I am enjoying my neighbors’ lilacs on my walks these days. We planted a miniature lilac bush, but it blooms late, and I wish I had planted a regular one instead. I asked permission to pick the lilacs on my neighbor’s bush last year. This year I am going to ask for a ten-year contract. Ha.

    Loved the “bullet-shaped buds” reference. You are a close reader of poetry and life.


    1. Actually, picking lilacs stems encourages other blooms. I’d ask for a life-time contract; you’d probably get it.

      I believe I’ll look for you on Thursdays now, a good day to post. No competition with other blogs I follow except those that publish daily. “How do they do dat?”


  2. Good morning, Marian. I don’t have any particular relationship with spring flowers–except that I love them. I don’t think the lilacs around here have bloomed yet, but my husband and I both noticed a couple of weekends ago how the trees in our area (the dogwoods and such) had suddenly budded “quick and bursting”–it seemed that they appeared literally overnight.

    Thank you for the poetry. I suppose the outhouse sequence is not so far out. You know Lincoln’s body toured several states before it was interned. I imagine the scent of lilacs would have been welcomed there as much as at an outhouse!

    Sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. The lilacs at the churchyard fence are lovely though.


    1. You above all read my posts with an historian’s perspective and always add interesting bits – thank you! One bonus about doing research for my blog: I see the personal side of history, the human interest left out of textbooks. Enjoy the New Jersey spring!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marian — I love the smell of lilacs! Wisteria, on the other hand, I’ve only read about in the Mitford series by Jan Karon (a must read). I have yet to see it, or smell it, in person.

    My condolences for the loss of your father-in-law.


    1. Thanks for the tip on the Mitford series. It sounds like good reading material for our sisters’ getaway coming up soon. I prefer the scent of lilacs to that of wisteria though in my opinion wisteria is more graceful looking. Visit the south in March or April and you can smell wisteria in my back yard. That’s an invitation, Laurie.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Marian — I’m wearing a great big smile at your wonderful invitation. Thank you!

        When you read the Mitford series, make sure to read them in chronological order:
        At Home in Mitford
        A Light in the Window
        These High, Green Hills
        Out to Canaan
        A New Song
        A Common Life
        In This Mountain
        Shepherds Abiding
        Light From Heaven
        Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

        Len and I read them out loud, back/forth to each other. You and Cliff may enjoy doing the same 🙂


        1. I just checked out the first in the Mitford series today and was wondering about the order of publication and then – presto – here is the log!

          I love that you and Len read them aloud to each other. Sounds like a date for the two of us.

          Muchas gracias!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Our minds were running alike this day–on lovely spring flowers and trees. Lilacs were my favorite growing up. I would love to have a bush of those, too! I agree with Laurie Buchanan above that the Mitford books were a great discovery when a friend shared her collection with me. And I’m wondering where Laurie lives not to have seen or smelled wisteria. The wisteria, while lovely, certainly can take over whatever they happen to grow beside (another tree, or in our case, an old shed). I’m fascinated that lilacs were already in full bloom in Washington state in April!


    1. Cliff says that the lilacs in full bloom were several weeks early this year, a nice coincidence with his family’s celebration of life. I’ll check our library to see about the Mitford series. Thanks!


  5. Yes, Marian that is another beautiful thing about the Pacific North West. Every spring I had fresh cut lilacs in my home. They don’t last long, but are truly fragrant and beautiful. Makes me miss home.


  6. “Floral fireworks”…loved that, and the fragrance of lilacs. My grandparents had an outhouse until 1967. As children, if we had no newspaper, Grandfather would dole out store-bought toilet paper two squares at a time. Not much you can do with that, so we would strip the privet hedge leaves on the way from the house. Argh! Young people or the privileged of those times have no clue.


  7. My house in Medicine Hat Alberta had a lovely backyard with a lilac hedge all around it. The scent in spring was amazing. So sorry to hear about the loss of your father-in-law. Sending hugs to all


  8. So glad you enjoyed the whiff of lilac today. Everyone seems to have pleasant associations with this fragrant bush. I appreciate your condolences and will pass them on to husband Cliff.


  9. My condolences to you all for the loss of your father in law. Although the sun zaps my energy, I love flowers. I used to have a lilac tree near my kitchen window that wonderful scent that would come through my window in the spring. It was hit by lighting and died. I have never replaced it, but will do that this summer. I love the evening scent of petunias. I plant them down my walk. All different colors. God was good to give us such beauty to enjoy.


  10. Beautiful prose here Marian. I’ve always loved lilacs. I remember walking by lilac bushes growing in spring time as I walked to school past neighbours homes. I couldn’t resist picking them, especially the lavender ones. And, my condolences for your husband’s loss. 🙂


  11. My lilac has just come into bloom. It stands on the corner by the drive and was a gift from a friend many years ago. I love the anticipation of watching the buds each day until they finally burst into a mass of star like mauve and the scent is beautiful. There is also lavender and rosemary along my path to brush past on the way to the door along with choisya by the gate, even in winter the leaves provide a sensory delight.


  12. The lilacs we found that day across from the cemetery where we laid Dad to rest were a wonderful gift! Love the lilacs in Spokane, WA, the Lilac City and the Lilac Festival.


    1. So happy to see you here, Kathy. Cliff said that lilacs were blooming early this year, so appropriate for the memorial service, Dad’s and others held this time of year.

      I have always associated lilacs with bright color and scent, almost over-powering, but it certainly is a welcome announcement of spring coming to stay (I hope I’m right there.)

      Thanks for stopping by. Do visit again soon.


  13. We love our lilacs… Tree with bird feeder adorning front window! We even planted a lilac hedge just behind our rose bushes that line our property along the country road. Glorious blooms! Enjoyed your history lesson, Marian! Thanks. Can’t wait for spring!


  14. Sorry for the loss of your father. My connection with lilacs began in childhood. We had 1 lilac on our property but across the road in the ditch grew 4 or 5 bushes from which I would gather flowers every spring. To me they meant winter was over and they were my favorite flowers for years. (I am now 66 and have about 4 or 5 favorite flowers of which lilacs are 1.)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Welcome, Rebekah. Like you, lilacs are one of my favorite flower. However, they don’t grow well in Florida where I live now. Thanks you reading and commenting today. I have moved to a new site:
    That one is more up to date. If you like, you can subscribe to my blog and get weekly updates every Wednesday. I write about my growing up years in Pennsylvania and also about current events, except politics – ha!

    Again, welcome and thank you! 🙂


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