When Michael was nearing his final stages, he had lost most of his memory, ability to perform basic daily skills, or even the ability to speak, except beyond a few, barely discernible utterances. That August, he and I would sit on the porch just gazing into the garden and down the hill as I would often try to keep him busy. I knew, of course, he assuredly had no idea what I was doing or chattering away about! This scenario framed over a month of memories that long, sweltering summer.
Occasionally, but not often, folks would stop by and TRY to visit, but usually the awkwardness and (their) sorrow would force them out of their chairs and out the gate. Michael usually didn’t remember the vast majority of these visitors, including his family. However, one of the few who stopped by regularly (and without fail) was Olive Oyl.
Olive was a drag queen. Yes, I could glamorize his avocation and suggest he was visual artist who specialized in female impersonation. But the simple truth was, for all his humor, lowbrow antics, and high camp, Scott was a drag queen. And, yes, Scott is his real name, or at least his non-theatrical one. This is the same Scott who, as Olive, arrived at a crowded city festival in full women’s regalia and seated on the back of a Harley, commandeered by a burley leather muscleman!
That summer, Olive came by the house almost every afternoon and stood at the gate, would wave without entering, and call out to Michael: “How ya doing, hun?” After about ten minutes of cheerful pleasantries and valiant efforts, he would depart. I should add that he was always in his men’s “street” clothes, and without hint of rouge.
One such day, I asked him why he didn’t come in to the house and have a glass of wine or iced tea and sit with us? And, by the way, that I was unaware that the two “very different” men were friends. He declined the invitation and admitted: “no, they really weren’t friends” but that Michael had the best laugh he had ever heard in his life. Moreover, he wanted to just be neighborly, express his compassion, and be there should we need any anything.
As I returned to the porch, I had to squelch my tearing, since Michael would no longer comprehend such emotionality. As I reached for the book I was currently reading to him, Michael pointed to Scott, who was still walking down the sidewalk to his car, and painfully uttered: “Olive?”
That was probably the only word he uttered that entire day.
Those fifteen minutes with Olive “Scott” Oyl will always remind me of the profound impact we can have on others in sometimes small ways. Further, he has always deftly sharing both the importance of humor and his inherent goodness. When we least expect it, a friend can reach for the gate, bearing an incredible and gracious gift and often when we need it most.
Olive Oyl left both Michael and me such treasures that afternoon: one, a precious flash of memory that was soon forgotten. I, conversely, was given a warm and touching moment to cherish for a long, long time.
(Note: this is from a blog entry on Tartuffe’s Folly quite a while back. I wanted to repost it in Michael’s honor because it captures one of the “sweeter” moments during his illness.)
Michael Eugene Anderson 6.14.52-10.16.01
(Image: “The Flipper” by Barnaby Whitfield, 2005.)