Walter and Olive

He's not technically related to me, but is the father of the woman who was dating an adult-friend of my step-brother before my mother and step-father met (is that convoluted enough for you?)

However, in the way of 'made' families, he and his wife Olive (who prefers to be called Olivia, these days), quickly became as surrogate grandparents to A. and myself, offering free piano lessons, hosting Thanksgiving, by turns, (I won't mention the stories of how, at one such occaision we all – including Walter and Olive's own children – admitted that none of us liked O's uber-midwestern jell-o salad, or how they used canned cranberry sause, and didn't even mash it so the rings from the can weren't obvious) helping my stepfather move a refrigerator once. Stuff like that.

Walter is an artist, and taught at Modesto Junior College. Their house, in Modesto, was filled with sculpture and paintings and abstract art that defies description. He designed the stained glass for Modesto's Unitarian Church, and his son like-named, also makes art.

My mother and I would always laugh when we visited, because invariably Olive would exclaim, in her shrill tones, that somehow were still filled with incredible diction, “Wal-TER! You just can't DO that! You must be COLOR BLIND!” Of course she was really just referring to his lack of attention to what he was wearing, or what napkins were on the table, or some such.

When I turned 12, three months after Mom and Ira married, and I suddenly had, not only a step-brother, but one who was OLDER, and (thanks to the movie), I still had Annie on the brain, Walter sat down and drew his own rendition of the entire cast of the comic strip on boxes and tags and things and he and my parents filled the boxes with things with my name on them. Rulers, pillows, pins, those license plates for bikes.) I think he realized before my mother did that I was feeling like I had no identity. Smart man.

When I was thirteen, Olive offered Piano lessons, and, since we didn't have a piano, I'd ride over to her house after school, and practice there. She got mad at me because I zipped through her beginning book too quickly. But by then I'd already had four years of cello. I knew how to read music, just not how to play the piano. Since we moved, soon after, this was never resolved, and I still don't know how to play the piano, and anyway, I sold my piano. I'm thinking of replacing it with a keyboard, and attaching it to the computer. But I digress.

The same year, at some political rally, Walter and I did a scene in a skit together. I don't remember it, really, just that it happened, and he made it fun.

When I turned eighteen they moved to Palm Desert, and built their own personal oasis. And that's when Walter suddenly became all-too-human. The man who'd never been sick a day in his life, worked for three days on his house with a cracked rib cage and broken arm, after falling of the ridge of the roof. And he never really completely recovered. (I vaguely remember hearing that Olive yelled at him for getting hurt and interrupting her writing.)

Recently, Walter developed back troubles, and had to have surgery. They sent him home, thinking he'd heal quickly, but he developed an infection. As of right now, he's paralyzed except for his hands and feet, can't speak, and is extremely disoriented. And I'm sad for him, for the terror he and Olive must be going through, and for the horror of such a vibrant mind trapped in a body that can't do anything.

My mother said, when she called me to tell me of this, that if she was in the same position, she would not want to live, and I had orders to shoot her, or something.

I completely agree.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Walter and Olive by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.