If you are reading this on the 1st of November, just know, I wrote it mid-October which is to say it is old news. It is 2020, which will surely go down in history as one of the most challenging years ever. A perfect storm of epidemiological, political, climatic and financial turbulence second to none, outside of declared world war. But this year, like previous years, is merely the outermost layer of a deep, rich compost bed of history that lies beneath us and it too will break down and be transformed int0 simpler elements barely resembling its current self. Nothing keeps time from passing.
My dad, Leonard E. Oliver, was born in 1920. This Sunday, October 18, 2020 (that’s two weeks ago to you) would have been his 100th birthday. He was one of those dads who made choices that would benefit his family, even if it meant sacrificing his fantasy life plan of being a beach bum in Hawaii. I picture his sacrificed-dream-life like that of James Garner’s character, Jim Rockford, of “The Rockford Files,” living in a trailer on the beach, taking interesting assignments like hunting down bad guys, and teaching cocky young punks that “Poker is not just a game of cards, it’s a game of people.”
Now that I think of it, my dad also had a bit of Bret Maverick in him. No small coincidence that he resembled, somewhat, James Garner who our family met during a movie filming, and who was a mentor to my sister, Julie. Both men were handsome, funny, and charming—the real ladies-man type. Our dad was loyal to the bone to my mother and his three daughters. In fact, Julie shares a birthday with him, and Cindy was born ten years and ten days later, making me the middle child. As such, I was always his favorite, although I was instructed never to let the others know our little secret. You guessed it, my sisters were told the same thing. Oh, daddy.
Yes, I called my father Daddy my whole life, never caring to call him by his common name, Ollie. Cindy has adopted his name, however, using “Ollie” when, for whatever reason, “Cindy” doesn’t suit her needs. He died on May 17, 2003, at age 83, of lung cancer. He hadn’t smoked for many decades before his death, but he smoked from a very early age, and even if he had not been an early adopter there would have been no escaping the second-hand smoke because, with few exceptions, his friends, co-workers, and his wife were all committed smokers.
One of Daddy’s passions was composting. He loved turning grass clippings and leaves into rich soil. Every fall, right around his birthday, he would plant tulips. Then in February, when the gray Oregon sky would trigger his seasonal affective disorder he would head south to Desert Hot Springs where he would soak in mineral pools, get warm, tan, and lose anywhere from 10-20 pounds of SAD fat. More than once, he would return to Oregon only to have missed his precious tulip bloom.
So what will I do to honor his life, and celebrate his big ten-0? I am going to plant 100 bulbs, of all sorts. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, and of course tulips. I will also eat chocolate cake, his favorite and mine. And I’ll probably pour a bit of scotch into a glass, hold my nose, and quickly down what tastes to me like someone rinsed out an ashtray and left the butts still burning. Then I’ll deal out the cards and play a few hands of Solitaire because “Solitaire is not just a game of cards, it’s a game of person.”