Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mr. Oliver, my mountain neighbor...

My friend Gene died today. Oh, he was old and had been sick for a long time but it is still a jab in my heart. Not unlike my own father, he was a gentleman, a man of integrity, a man of faith, a man who was always willing to help his neighbor. Gene was a man who was always reading, was interested in the world and had an opinion about how to solve it's problems. He fought for this country, worked hard and raised a loving, close family. He shared his life, interest and work with all those who walked in his front door. He loved his wife and was her life long helpmate. A man like this should be honored...and I honor him. I am a better person having known this fine man.

Good bye Gene. I'll miss you terribly.



Queenie said...

I am so sad about the passing of
Gene. Yes he was an intelligent
man and always was happy to greet
a neighbor or stranger. He and
Evelyn have become a part of my
world when I am at Northcroft.
We could never pass their house
when leaving Cashes Valley, no more than we could fly out.What a little beauty Gene has in the lower corner. Kate grew up with
the Olivers and she loved them too.
Gene is at peace.

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Elegy for Gene Oliver

By the time I met you –
A Victorian doll clambering up your ragged
Denim knees, kissing silver stubble –
You did not till the earth,
Wear a soldier’s uniform,
Chop wood for the fire,
Touch your wife.
You did quiet, womanish things –
Picked cherries,
Took scraps out to the dogs,
Read a thousand books.
You wore dusty overalls and bragged about
Her pound cakes –
In fact, when you spoke, it was like a bottle uncorked
And the two of you sang folkwise duets
Lyrically impossible, but such sweet melody:
These were the songs of my childhood,
Raising me up in the soil.

It’s been years since you hoisted me into the cherry trees,
Since you fetched potatoes from the root cellar
Or shaved your own face.
Mostly you’ve slept,
Or half-slept in a medicated haze,
Curled on the couch –
Your face cool, but familiar to my kisses.

The last time I saw you
We sat together at the kitchen table in the farmhouse,
Each with a cool jar of water from the well
Though you didn’t drink yours, or even hold it.
You answered my questions sparely,
And didn’t speak beyond them –
How are you feeling?
And, I love you, I love you, I love you.

Later I peeled your white cotton undershirt
Off the weeping yellow lesions burned into your back –
Melanoma, just removed –
And spread antiseptic balm
With my fingers.
I helped you, gingerly, into a new shirt.
One fourth your years, or nearly,
I am for the first time an adult –
For the first time, permitted these intimate acts.
This is not an embarrassment for you, old father,
But an honor for me –
My fingers in your wounds.

I ate a warm wedge of pound cake
And you rolled your wheelchair back and forth
Over the one creaky floorboard,
A minuscule movement
Driving her to feigned distraction –
Exasperation covering her relief
That your playful self was still inside that gory husk
Just as your age and pain
Concealed your mirth.

The hummingbirds suckled a feeder at the window,
Their hearts in their ruby throats
Thrumming, thrumming
‘til the earth.

juju said...

Oh, dear Kate-What a tribute in words and memories. How special to have had such a special relationship with Gene and Evelyn. We will all miss him. This blog is such a testament of a good and decent life.

tschafee said...

beautiful tributes, both. it makes me wish i knew him, though i never really did. i'm glad, as must evelyn be, that he had you both in his life. he was certainly better for it. i know he will be missed.

Elaine Sims said...

That is so sweet, Kate! I know Gene felt blessed to be such a big part of your life. Gene was loved by many people, but you and he had a special relationship. Thank you for sharing your poem.

Brad said...


Your sincere thoughts of Gene are precious. Our family was deeply moved by your words. We share your sadness. Gene was loved by many. He really enjoyed the many visits by "cabin people". I don't know he enjoyed sharing with everyone. I've been blessed to have been part of the family for 24 years. Gene was always good to me even if I was a son-in-law. I hope that someday I can be as well remembered as Gene has been. Thanks for your memories.

Brad said...

Lucille was not here to check my wording. I intended to say "I don't know what he enjoyed more than sharing with everyone". He really enjoyed talking with all the visitors.

Merry said...

To all who have read, commented, and otherwise joined in together to grieve and lift up Gene on, or as a result of, this blog...Thank you. It has been a great help to do it together, to share memories, to shed tears and to be understanding of each others pain and good fortune.