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Where Lilacs Still Bloom

Jane Kirkpatrick

  Praise for

  Where Lilacs Still Bloom

  “When reading any of Ms. Kirkpatrick’s books, I become engaged, almost instantly, on many levels at once. Where Lilacs Still Bloom is simultaneously a strong and gentle read of beautiful, spare language. It wooed and won me to Hulda’s story even as it coaxed me to look at my own life as well. Who am I staking up? Do I tend to my husband and my children as well as to my calling? The sweet message that lingers long after the book is closed is the promised truth of sowing and reaping, in gardens, and in life.”

  —SANDRA BYRD, author of To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

  “Jane Kirkpatrick reimagines the true story of a nature-loving wife and mother who studied Luther Burbank and devoted herself to breeding new and improved varieties of lilacs. Families suffer, thrive, and evolve as new flowers emerge in a gentle tale as sweet as its fragrant garden.”

  —JANE S. SMITH, author of In Praise of Chickens and The Garden of Invention

  “Where Lilacs Still Bloom is a charming, delightful story of Hulda Klager’s courage and perseverance on many levels, her gentle defiance of convention, her triumph over natural and personal disasters, and her desire to be sure her work is truly God’s will. Neither the author’s nor Hulda’s use of botanical research ever overpowers Hulda’s story but makes plain for readers her patience and ruthless care in her quest for the blooms she envisions.”

  —CAROL BUCHANAN, author of Wordsworth’s Gardens and winner of the 2009 Spur for God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana

  “Having worked with the history of the Thiel and Klager families for over six years now as a board member, I was excited to read how Jane gave the family members such character. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Hulda and Frank and the way Jane portrayed the youngest daughter, Martha. I loved reading Where Lilacs Still Bloom and visualizing what it must have been like to live in that old house when Hulda and her family lived and gathered there.”

  —JUDY CARD, genealogist and Woodland, Washington, historian

  “Extraordinary book. Jane skillfully drops the reader into Hulda Klager’s loving, hardworking pioneer life. She chronicles Hulda’s family and botanical triumphs and struggles. Thank you for this magical story.”

  —REBECCA W. ROBERTS, secretary of Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

  Other Books by Jane Kirkpatrick


  The Daughter’s Walk*

  Portraits of the Heart Historical Series

  A Flickering Light*

  An Absence So Great*

  Change and Cherish Historical Series

  A Clearing in the Wild*

  A Tendering in the Storm*

  A Mending at the Edge

  A Land of Sheltered Promise*

  Tender Ties Historical Series

  A Name of Her Own*

  Every Fixed Star

  Hold Tight the Thread

  Kinship and Courage Historical Series

  All Together in One Place*

  No Eye Can See

  What Once We Loved


  A Simple Gift of Comfort

  Homestead: A Memoir of Modern Pioneers

  Pursuing the Edge of Possibility

  Aurora: An American Experience in

  Quilt, Community, and Craft*

  *finalist and award-winning work



  12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200

  Colorado Springs, Colorado 80921

  Scripture quotations are taken or paraphrased from the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible®. © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. (

  This book is a work of historical fiction based closely on real people and real events. Details that cannot be historically verified are purely products of the author’s imagination.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens of Woodland, Washington, for the use of the photograph on this page. Used by permission.

  Copyright © 2012 by Jane Kirkpatrick

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc., New York.

  WATERBROOK and its deer colophon are registered trademarks of Random House Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Kirkpatrick, Jane, 1946–

  Where lilacs still bloom : a novel / Jane Kirkpatrick. — First edition.

  p. cm

  eISBN: 978-0-307-72942-2

  1. Klager, Hulda, 1863–1960—Fiction. 2. Housewives—Fiction. 3. Immigrant families—Fiction. 4. Plant hybridization—Fiction. 5. Lilacs—Fiction. 6. Woodland (Wash.)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3561.I712W53 2012b




  To Jerry, who at eighty began a new garden with me.



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Cast of Characters




  Selection One: Food for Thought

  Two: Secret Progress

  Three: Jasmine and Nelia

  Four: Swept Along

  Five: Shelly Berringer

  Planting Six: Salacious Joy

  Seven: Lost in Seeking

  Eight: Cornelia Givens

  Nine: Longing for Lemoine

  Ten: Jasmine

  Eleven: The Change

  Twelve: Like Water

  Thirteen: Foreign Influence

  Fourteen: Ruth Reed

  Fifteen: Both Vexing and Privilege

  Sixteen: Nightmares and Daydreams

  Seventeen: Shelly Snyder

  Eighteen: New Beginnings

  Nineteen: Cornelia Givens

  Twenty: Fair

  Twenty-One: So Little Time

  Pruning Twenty-Two: The Beginning of Endings

  Twenty-Three: A Time for Everything

  Twenty-Four: Ruth

  Twenty-Five: Planting for the Future

  Twenty-Six: Shelly

  Twenty-Seven: Planting Trust

  Twenty-Eight: Launching Life

  Twenty-Five: Giving Away

  Thirty: Cornelia and Shelly

  Thirty-One: On the Road of Healing

  Thirty-Two: The Power of Passion

  Thirty-Three: Transforming

  Thirty-Four: Moving On

  Thirty-Five: Generosity

  Thirty-Six: Life Like a River

  Thirty-Seven: Replanting

  Thirty-Eight: Cornelia

  Thirty-Nine: Lilac Starts

  Forty: Ruth

  Forty-One: Overwhelming

  Forty-Two: Shelly and Bill

  Forty-Three: Achievement

  Forty-Four: Splendid Space of Grace


  Author’s Note


  Readers Guide


  Hulda Klager—wife, mother, gardener

  Frank Klager—dairyman in Woodland, Washington; Hulda’s husband

  Klager children—Elizabeth (Lizzie), Idehlia (Delia, Della), Martha, Fred (Fritz)

  Klager grandchildren—Delia’s children: Irvina, Clara, Fre
d; Lizzie’s children: William, Roland

  Amelia and Solomon Strong—Hulda’s sister and brother-in-law

  Bertha and Carl Tesch—Hulda’s older sister and brother-in-law (also Frank Klager’s best friend)

  Emil and Matilda (Tillie) Thiel—Hulda’s brother and sister-in-law who lived next-door

  Thiel children—Albert, Elma, and Hazel

  Bobby—Klager dogs

  Dr. Alice Chapman—family doctor in Woodland, Washington

  Dr. Carl Hoffman—local family practitioner in Woodland, Washington, and surrounding areas

  Laura Hetzer—lecturer, Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women

  *Nelia Lawson—a garden helper, formerly of Mississippi

  *Jasmine—Nelia’s nanny

  *Ruth Reed—a garden helper

  *Barney Reed—Ruth’s father

  *Cornelia Givens—a reporter

  *Shelly and William Snyder—botanists from Maryland

  *a fictional composite of people in Hulda’s life

  Hulda (left) in her garden with visitors.

  In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house

  near the white-wash’d palings,

  Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped

  leaves of rich green …

  With every leaf a miracle …

  WALT WHITMAN, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

  Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will

  come for miles to watch you burn.

  JOHN WESLEY, founder of Methodism

  And out of the ground made the LORD God to

  grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight.


  I am thinking of faith now …

  and what we feel we are

  worthy of in this world.

  DAVID WHYTE, “The True Love”



  It’s the lilacs I’m worried over. My Favorite and Delia and City of Kalama, and so many more; my as yet unnamed double creamy-white with its many petals is especially vulnerable. I can’t find the seeds I set aside for it, lost in the rush to move out of the rivers’ way, get above Woodland’s lowlands now underwater. So much water from the double deluge of the Columbia and the Lewis. Oh, how those rivers can rise in the night, breaching dikes we mere mortals put up hoping to stem the rush of what is as natural as air: water seeping, rising, pushing, reshaping all within its path.

  I watch as all the shaping of my eighty-five years washes away.

  My only surviving daughter puts her arm around my shoulder, pulls me to her. Her house is down there too, water rising in her basement. We can’t see it from this bluff.

  “It’ll be all right, Grandma. We’re all safe. You can decide later what to do about your flowers,” my grandson Roland tells me.

  “I know it. All we can do now is watch the rivers and pray no one dies.”

  How I wish Frank stood beside me. We’d stake each other up as we did through the years. I could begin again with him at my side. But now uncertainty curls against my old spine, and I wonder if my lilacs have bloomed their last time.



  Hulda, 1889

  Daffodils as yellow as the sun, ruby tulips, and a row of purple lilacs from the old country border the house I live in with my husband, Frank, our three young children (ages eight, five, and three), and next month, if all goes well, our fourth child. We are hoping for a boy. My parents live with us, but only for a few more months. They’ve built a new house near Woodland, Washington. We’ll be moving too, to a farm of our own south of Whelan Road. We’ll still be within a few miles of each other, a close-knit family of German Americans captured by this lush landscape between the Lewis and Columbia Rivers. We call where we live the Bottoms. It’s made up of black soil that was once the bottom of those great rivers—and sometimes becomes so again with the floods. We hope our new places will be less prone to flooding, though it’s the nature of rivers to rise with the spring thaws. We live with it.

  My mother and children have dug daffodil and dahlia bulbs, snipped lilac starts to plant, and my sisters and brother and neighbors will give us sprouts from their bushes once we move, which is the custom. A lilac says “Here is a place to stay,” and how perfect that such promise of permanence should come from family and friends?

  We can’t move the apple orchard. But I wielded my grafting knife and wrapped the shoots, scions they’re called, in sawdust and stored them in the barn earlier this year when the trees were dormant. Today I’ll graft them onto saplings at my parents’ new house, so one day there’ll be an apple orchard there. I’ve also stepped into the uncommon for a simple house Frau: I’ve grafted a Wild Bismarck apple variety known for its crispness with a Wolf River, an apple of a larger size. My father encouraged such dappling with nature—and that I keep my efforts quiet, at least for a time.

  It was April, and we tied the scions onto the saplings he’d started as soon as he knew they’d be building the house. I liked working with my father in the orchard, a misty rain giving way to sunbreaks, and the aroma of cedar and pine drifting down from the surrounding hills in the shadow of Mount St. Helens. So much seems possible in such vibrant landscapes. A garden is the edge of possibility.

  He was a great storyteller and advice giver, my father, though this day his story surprised. “Don’t tell Frank right away,” he told me. “Let him think you’re just grafting plain old apples to help us extend the orchard.”

  “Frank wouldn’t mind.”

  “In time—when you have the final result in hand. But Frank discourages you. I see it, Hulda.” I pushed at my frizzy walnut-brown hair and stared at him. “He dismisses your interests if they go beyond your children and him.”

  “It’s a woman’s duty to meet her family’s needs.”

  “Meet their needs first. But you want a crisper, bigger apple too,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that.”

  “I do. I get so annoyed at those mealy things that hang on to their peels like bark to a tree.”

  He nodded. “Some would say that meddling with nature isn’t wise. Frank might agree—especially if the one meddling is a mother who should be content with looking after her family.”

  I stood, using my hoe to help me and my burgeoning belly up. I was nearly as tall as my father. He liked Frank; at least I always thought he did. My love and admiration for both men were rooted deep. It felt strange to defend my husband to my father. “You’re wrong, Papa.” I pushed my pointy straw hat back. “Frank’s a good helpmate for me. And he’ll like having more pies.”

  My father tied another scion onto a branch, making sure the cambium was fully covered in the slanted cut I’d made so the two would bond securely. “You have a gift, Hulda. You can see distinctive things in plants. You see the possibility, like a crisper, larger apple, and then imagine it into being.” He lifted another scion as emphasis. “Those are gifts few have, and people can be envious.”

  My father had never granted me such a compliment, and I was both pleased that he noticed and humbled that he shared it. “Not Frank,” I insisted.

  “Not everyone understands that we are all created to have complicated challenges and dreams. We must honor our longings, then go beyond them whether others support us or not.”

  I wondered if he spoke of my mother. Did she resent my father’s dreams that took us from Germany to Wisconsin, Minnesota, San Francisco, then back to Wisconsin, and then here to the Lewis River of the new state of Washington? My father had many longings: farming, becoming a brewmaster, investing in creameries and cheese factories before the landscape was dotted with cows. He’d done all those. Now logging interested him, and he’d built a big two-story house; yet another adventure that meant more change for my mother—and the rest of us too.

  “My dream is to raise my family.” I didn’t see getting a crisper apple as any budding desire. I wasn’t rising beyond my station. “These apples will make life bette
r for them.” I was merely an immigrant housewife wanting to save time peeling apples.

  “Just think of what I’ve said.” He wrapped his big paw around my hand that was holding a scion. He looked me in the eye. I swallowed. “Huldie, don’t deny the dreams. They’re a gift given to make your life full. Accept them. Reach for them. We are not here just to endure hard times until we die. We are here to live, to serve, to trust, and to create out of our longings.”

  “Yes, Papa,” I said, but it wasn’t until after he was gone, years later, that I came to understand what I’d committed to.



  Hulda, 1899

  In the ten years after my father’s caution, I accepted that I did have an eye for seeing what wasn’t there, something formed out of subtle differences from the blending of two things. He passed on three years after our conversation. My mama’s gone now too. Their big two-story house sits empty, though I keep the apple orchard under my wing, hoping for that crisper, bigger apple.

  “I love making you pies,” I told my husband of twenty years one morning, “but the apples are so mealy and small it takes a week of Wednesdays to get enough to bake.”

  “Ach, woman. You do more than the average mother, I submit, but there’s not much you can do about the nature of an apple.” Frank washed his sinewy arms at the sink, removing the barnyard stink clear up to his elbows before grabbing the towel and placing a peck on my cheek. He sat down for breakfast. I set the platter of biscuits and gravy, Frank’s favorite—after eggs and bacon or pancakes and sausages or hot sauerkraut with spices and juniper—before him. Lo, that man can eat despite being only an inch taller than my five feet seven inches!

  “Remember what happened to Eve and the apple,” he said.

  “Eve was being curious.”

  “See what it got her?”

  I set hot coffee next to his plate. “Yes, but God gave us curiosity along with the ability to listen. That’s where she failed. So it’s natural to wonder about everything, even the nature of an apple.”