Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

Yesterday in Mallorca, a sweet lady presented this purple orchid in my name to my father. IMG_20170429_112105 On the card it says “For my Poppy with love from your delicate flower”… I am so touched by this kind gesture.

Here are a few photos of my father:

I will miss him forever and a day. Please pray for our family.

Peace and Grace,

~Olive~

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My brother disappeared from my life very early because he was adopted by my grandfather, so I have very few memories of him as a young boy. But sometimes while I eat my morning corn flakes, I imagine him sitting across the table studying his cereal box with a serious adult expression, penciling a line through the maze or cutting out an order form for the Goofy Grape Kool-Aid cup. He was always the scientist and the wise guy, no matter how ridiculous he appeared at the time.

I can see him now with his little felt cowboy hat and the red string under his chin pulled tight with a brown bead. His skin was the color of oatmeal and small freckles dotted his nose and cheeks. His brown hair was always just a bit too short and his cowlick looked like a paintbrush stroke over his right eyebrow. He tied a red bandana around his neck and chased me around firing his silver cap gun because he knew I despised loud noises.

He chewed Bazooka bubble gum and once in awhile gave me a piece, as long as I gave him back the comic because he was collecting them along with Cracker Jack prizes. My brother watched Batman in the evenings and savored superhero comics. His favorite character was Penguin, the aristocratic crook with flashy clothes.

My brother kept boxes full of creepy comic books like “Tales from the Crypt” and whenever I sneaked into his room and opened one of them, it didn’t take long for me to run back to my own room with my friendly Disney toys. (Of course I abused them when I was mad at my brother and wanted someone smaller to kick around.)

On Saturday’s we watched Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog and the Wacky Races. I imagined that I was Penelope Pitstop and my brother was Dick Dastardly, especially when he would say “Drat, drat, double drat.” In Underdog he was Sinister Simon. Of course I was Polly, but Underdog never showed up to rescue me.

I worked hard at school to get good grades, but my brother always came home with perfect report cards, straight A’s to be exact. Jealous and confused, I often wondered if you had to be wicked to be smart. That seemed to be the formula for the cartoon villains he admired, so I resigned to the fact that I could never be that smart.

I remember when he got his first job as a paperboy. I can still see him at the table, putting the rolled up newspapers into his canvas bag, and strolling out to jump onto his red bike and riding away. I felt jealous of him at times like these, and even more so when he returned and sat at the table, counting his coins in little round columns and then putting them into his cigar box. He was the only one with money, and sometimes he would walk with me and our little sister to Burger King. We would wear our cardboard crowns as we drank Orange Crush and ate cheeseburgers with mustard and no pickles and plenty of French fries.

But mostly my brother loved to terrify me, his stormy little sister who was already scared of everything. I was the perfect victim for his wicked games unlike my quiet fearless little sister, and he knew this too well. He would chew the warts on his fingers until they bled, light candles and pass his hands through the flame, set off noisy firecrackers- and he told horrific ghost stories. I always asked him to tuck me in to bed since our parents were away, but instead he told me frightful tales he heard over the campfire during Cub Scouts. Blue-eyed Bloody Bones was his favorite, and I would cry when he would wail with a quivery voice “Blue-eyed bloody bones gonna eat you up.” I would scream and beg him to stop and he would laugh and laugh.

His laughter was always odd, because it seemed to emerge from a frown instead of a smile like most people. The sound of his laugh was smooth and gentle, but his top lip would curl back over his small teeth, and the lower lip would contort like the lips of Gumby as if they weren’t sure what to do. His left eye would narrow and his right eye would roll upward like a milky glass marble towards his forehead. I never could figure out if he felt happy or sad, because his face never really told the story.

On Sundays, I would awaken to the sound of the TV in the living room. I would find my brother sitting in his footy pajamas on the cold wooden floor with his cereal bowl and spoon, watching the Lone Ranger or the singing cowboy. I could sense his loneliness at moments like these, because no one seemed to fit into his world. No Tonto or Silver or fair damsels. Only his mask.

Amid all of the confusion of our childhood, I think he discovered his super powers but lost his identity. I am still looking for his face behind the disguises.

It was hard for him trying to be a man at the age of ten in a house with no parents. I don’t know how he endured the pressure at such a young age. I couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now. He wanted to protect me, but he was trying to enjoy being a kid too. It was a terrible juggling act and I think he felt inadequate for the task.

Although I missed him when he left and never got to know him after he came of age, I am pleased that my grandfather offered him a secure world where he could relax and play for awhile.

Film poster for The Legend of the Lone Ranger

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I learned so much among the Spanish people, not only about civility which seems to be disappearing in my own nation, but about things that make life simpler and more pleasant.  I would never intentionally shed negative light on my own country, but we could learn so much if we would be more humble and listen to our friends from other places.  My father was a wonderful guide and explained many things to me as we wandered around different villages and cities.

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For example, I love the beautiful lace curtains that hang over the doorways in Spain, and it didn’t occur to me right away that I didn’t see any screened doors or windows.  My father explained that the lace is a more fashionable way of fulfilling the same purpose. When the doors are open, the lace keeps insects out of homes. Many of the people have beaded curtains, like the ones that were so popular in the hippie days in America. Flies and other insects can sense the motion of the beads in the breeze and it frightens them away.  And the homes are more aesthetically pleasing to look at without all of the screens.

One of the most pleasant features of Spain is the remarkable cleanliness of the place. The streets in even the larger cities like Barcelona were incredibly clean.  I never saw trash cans or litter drifting around while I was in there, because the business of trash disposal and collection occurs at night.  Metal hooks are set into the stone walls beside the doors, and the people place trash bags on the hooks at dusk for the trash collectors.

In the entire time that I was in Spain, I never sat at a table in a restaurant that had spills or crumbs on it.  Even in the airport McDonald’s, the tables were kept spotlessly clean and shiny. People seem to genuinely take pride in their villages and cities.

One taxi driver in Barcelona was beaming with pride as he explained to us about the best sites to see during our visit, and he pointed out his apartment as we drove by, remarking several times as he drove that he loved living in this beautiful city.  I don’t know that I have ever seen people take such pride in their places of habitation.  In America, we are proud of our own property, but Spaniards take pride in their whole community.

After a couple of weeks in Spain, it occurred to me that I had not seen any semi-trucks on the highways even in the cities.  My father explained that they transport merchandise at night, not in the daytime.

I saw a sign in the village square which showed a picture of a hand covered in chain mail, and I asked my father about it.  He told me that is was for the butcher shop. He explained that in Spain, a butcher is required by law to wear chain mail over the hand which is holding the meat when he cuts it.  It is not only a tradition but a matter of insurance liability. More importantly, it’s good sense.

My father asked me one night if we wanted to go to a tapas bar, and I glared at him and said “What?”  Then he repeated himself, and explained that tapas are appetizers or hors d’oeuvres.  In Spain you go out for tapas when you are not ready for a full meal but you need a little something to hold you over.  I love this concept because it saves the embarrassment of going in a restaurant when you only want soup or a salad and the waiter looks at you with annoyance as if to say “cheapskate” or “there goes my tip for this table.”

I noticed that many waiters wear arm bands above the elbow that resemble garter belts made of black satin.  So one day I inquired of a dashing young waiter, “Do your arm bands represent something, or do you wear them just to look nice?”  He answered, “We adjust the length of our sleeves with them, so that our cuffs don’t come in contact with the food we serve.” What a great idea! And they look much classier than rolled-up sleeves.

I saw mostly small cars in Spain, because they are economical and more suitable for the narrow roadways and easy parking.  I did not see the gigantic gas hogs driving around there like I am accustomed to seeing here.  The people are also smaller, and I rarely saw an obese person.  The competitive over-consumptive capitalistic spirit seems to be absent from the atmosphere.

Weapons don’t mean a thing to most Spaniards.  My father says that aggression takes place everywhere, but the Spanish people don’t like fighting.  In fact, he says they don’t like to place their hands on each other at all during an argument.  When they get angry with one another, they shout mostly, but seldom push or strike one another.

My father says that there is a strong sense of community in Spain, that
there is not an attitude of every man for himself, striving against the whole world.  Spaniards think in terms of every man for himself and his neighbor.  He said that Americans think this is communist, but it isn’t. Communism is every man for the government.  What could possibly be wrong with “love thy neighbor as thyself”?

There is no charge for medical care in Spain, and if you need antibiotics, you don’t need a prescription. You walk to the pharmacy and buy it complete with instructions on dosage, warnings, etc.  You are assigned a doctor based on where you live and from there to specialists if you need them.  Spain is fourth in quality of medical care in the world, and America is around thirty-two while the care is more costly than anywhere else. My father had a quadruple bypass surgery about two years ago, and paid nothing for his care. There goes that community spirit again.

People really enjoy being together is Spain. When you meet a friend at a restaurant, you don’t sit for an hour and get your ticket from a hurried waiter. You commune with your friends for hours over food and wine presented with style and kindness. No rude service there! My father says once you sit down at a table, it is yours as long as you like and no one will take it from you.

The cathedral bells there ring out the hours of the day, the church services, special holidays, and the deaths of villagers. I loved seeing the birds flying from the bell towers when they chimed. There are unique rings for each kind of event, and the bells toll differently to signify the passing of men or women or children.

I have been dreaming of Spain ever since our departure.  My son and I wandered around the beautiful Barcelona airport for an hour or so before our departure, shopping for last minute souvenirs and gifts.  The floors were so polished that I felt as if I was walking across a pond.

When we flew into the Atlanta airport, we looked out the windows and saw trash everywhere in and around dumpsters.  As we walked inside, we smelled the dismal smell of sweat and dirt.  We were so sad that this is what foreigners experience when they arrive in America.

When will we ever learn?

~♥~

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The village of Valldemossa affects my mind like a dream because it is so quiet and charming, and the people seem to be the same.  Those whom I met had soft voices and a gentle demeanor.  In the first shop I walked into, a white-haired man smiled at me and lowered his head as if to say “Welcome.”  I don’t know how he could tell I didn’t speak Spanish. When I had found the scarf with oceanic colors that I wanted to buy, I approached the man and he took out a calculator, pressed some keys, and showed me the display.  “Gracias” I said and counted my confusing little coins.  The paper money started with fives and that always mixed me up, but I placed one- and two-euro coins on the glass counter until I had the right amount.  The man wrapped my scarf with decorated tissue that said “Valldemossa” in provincial blue, and placed it into a pretty paper bag.  We nodded nervously at each other and I stepped away.  As I reached the threshold, the man got brave and said “hello.”  I wanted to chuckle, but I didn’t.

In Spain, banks are required to dedicate their profits to social and artistic projects in the villages. One afternoon, Sa Nostra bank brought in a choral group to sing and I walked in with my father and son to listen.  Three rows of ladies and men sang in Spanish with pleasant melodies and harmony, and their faces seemed to be glowing with peace.  After listening for about half an hour, suddenly I was pleasantly surprised to hear a line in English: We are marching in the light of God; we are marching in the light of God.”  I noticed the singers began to switch languages so that everyone could hear these words in their own language.

After the concert, I talked with my son and said, “These people seem so sweet and humble and happy.  They remind me of the Who’s in Who-Ville (from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas).  “I could see that,” he replied with a smile. (The thought occurred to me that my father could very well be the Grinch.)

As I walked through the monastery where Chopin wrote some of his most famous music, a lady named Francisca approached me and offered to take my picture in the gardens.  I remarked, “Oh, the new Pope is named after you, I see” and she smiled broadly.

My father introduced me to some of his close friends during our visit:  Suzanne the quiet concert pianist who forgets her shyness altogether when she plays on stage, Barry the violinist who came with a kiss upon my hand and a deep kind voice, Michael the opera composer who met his wife Philippa when she was singing soprano in a concert, Nils the artist who sketched the musicians at the International Music Festival in Deia, Owen the cowboyish fellow from Peculiar, Missouri with floppy hat and a scar over one eye and fowl language after a few drinks, Arturo the English gypsy artist with a black and white pinstripe shirt, a large black handbag over one shoulder and a hot pink scarf.  “I love your shirt,” I remarked.  He answered with a sweet and high voice, “I am not ashamed. I got it from someone’s trash.” He stole my gypsy heart instantly.

My father leaned towards me and said, “You have asked me why I stay here and don’t return to the states.  These people are the reason, as you can see.”  Yes, I do see.

On our final day in the village, my son and I wandered for one last time down the stone streets. We stopped into the gallery of Coll Bardolet which also features a charming little cafe with various kinds of espresso. Just before we returned to my father’s wooden door, I saw Francisca sitting upon a bench.  “We are leaving tomorrow morning,” I said. “It was delightful meeting you.  This is such a lovely place.”

“You will be back” she said.

~♥~

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Mandala Supernova

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been reflecting gratefully upon the human angels that have been dispatched to me, those who helped me pass through the wilderness of my youth safely and joyfully. I wanted to take a moment to write a list of their names. I also challenged myself to find a single word to define each of them, something that represents what they taught me by their character:

Evelyn the Wise

William the Gentle

Katy the Courageous

Isabel the Nurturer

Rabbit the Whimsical

Margaret the Noble

Savage the Healer

Sparrow the Lighthearted

Gandalf the Mystical

Linda the Generous

Elizabeth the Compassionate

Today I am thankful for these and many others who have helped me in my travels.  Try writing down your own angels, if you will.

Peace & Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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I was once asked to say a few words to a high school classroom for troubled teenagers.  I was caught completely unprepared, but I knew exactly what I wanted to say in that short window of time. I was not accustomed to speaking, but I had watched the problems in this class and listened to students, and I perceived the situation pretty clearly.  Some of the students had parents that never cared about their studies or paid them any attention unless they got suspended or went to jail.

So I improvised and made myself vulnerable for their sakes.  I told this group that I came from a painfully difficult background, abandoned by both parents and tossed around to foster homes and orphanages. Some things that were done to me were unthinkable. I told them that after being mistreated for years, I had so much anger in my heart towards the world that I wanted to lash out at everyone in authority.  I became wild and rebellious and lived in the gutters for several years as a teenager.

But one day, the light came on in my head and I knew that I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself.  None of the people who did these things to me cared to begin with, so why should they care now?  I had to make them care, and there was only one way to do that.  I could make something of myself and defeat them for once and for all.

I explained that I am sure many people have terrible stuff going on in their homes. “But why destroy your own life trying to get even or get someone’s attention?” I asked. The best way to get their attention and sweet revenge at the same time is to make something of your life and become better than those who wounded you.

After I had finished speaking, a coach who was sitting in on the class that day stood up and said tearfully.  “Boys and girls, you’ve heard many things in this class over the years, but what you have heard today is more precious than gold and I hope that you take hold of it.”

This is the reason that I have written my own story.  I didn’t write it to seek revenge or hurt someone or invoke pity, or even to get some things off my chest (although that was a nice fringe benefit).  I wrote it to help someone who is in the wilderness of their own life, looking for a pathway out.

I only hope that my story will “fall into the right hands”.

Peace & Grace,

Olive Twist

~♥~

Children sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) Art.

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Several people have asked me lately how they can read my book since they don’t have a Kindle.  Kindle reading apps can be downloaded for free to computers and various devices through Amazon.  Here is the link to see which one works for you.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000493771

Thank you to those of you who have been reading my book and sending your remarks.  I am grateful to all of you.

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

English: The second generation Amazon Kindle, ...

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