THE OLLIE GIFT
I was told that Ollie was a woman slight in means. She spoke with a lisp, and was a cook at Glenmar, a seasonal lakeside resort in Redwing, Minnesota: a modest establishment of the 1930’s tightly run by an Air Force Officer’s widow. For what Ollie lacked in financial means, she compensated with a strong work ethic and a gentle nature. She was adept at managing a trio of mischievous, but not malicious, young boys; and she worked well with the widow’s two sisters who assisted with the daily routine when they could. But what is most memorable about Ollie was her penchant for giving gifts to the widowed woman.
Had I paid closer attention to the stories I was told, I would remember the list of gifts that were carefully chosen, neatly wrapped, and proudly presented. The list would include more than a moth-eaten stole, a threadbare tatted doily, or a yellowed armchair cover transported from Ollie’s home. But I did listen carefully enough to know that she gave her gifts with joy and genuine fondness for the widowed-woman whom she believed deserved the very best. Winifred, being a Victorian lady of manners and grace, accepted Ollie’s annual treasures. A thank you was delivered promptly followed by a presentation of her own gift to Ollie. Winifred never divulged that at the close of each season, Ollie’s gifts would be quietly and secretly forgotten, a ritual that ensued most of their working relationship.
However, there was one gift, one special gift, one very memorable year. I don’t recall Winifred telling me that it was a comparatively different year to the ones that had passed before. But she did tell me that this gift-giving day halted her secret ceremony at the close of that season, and how the gift that Ollie had given made its way to the dresser drawers of her off-season home. More importantly, though, she emphasized that the gift had made its way into her heart.
In the midst of story, Winifred withdrew the Ollie gift from the left hand pocket of her embroidered denim shirt. In her hand she held the treasured Ollie gift. It was then I knew I was to be the recipient of a Ollie gift of my own. Winifred told me that she had used the gift often during the years. She explained that the time had come for the second-hand gift to make its way to another home and into another’s heart. She further instructed me as to my responsibility to take the Ollie gift and retell its story as I grew to be a woman and a mother with grandchildren of my own.
I gently scooped the gift from Grammy’s outstretched hand. The form was perfect: no missing stones, no worn parts. The shape and the color were perfect: a symmetrical beauty with a deep, rich hue. Every cut and each contour of its elongated, diamond-shaped form was magnificently and beautifully crafted. It had been one of Ollie’s most prized possessions, and now it belonged to me. The blood-red garnet brooch hummed in my hands. Each facet of every stone in the 18 carat gold setting shined as if to say, “Remember Ollie.” The brooch rests in a place of honor inside the vintage jewelry chest on my dresser. The jewelry chest is chipped, broken, and carefully glued in places. It plays a tinny tune, and parts of the blue velvet lining are faded and worn white patches; but the flawless adornment is safely swaddled inside, and on occasion makes it way to the lapel of a blazer or the collar of a dress.
The Ollie gifts were more than just tattered and worn second-hand possessions and examples of aged artistry. The humble woman who helped the family of a World War II Air Force widow was not aware that her gifts were cherished in the memory of a grandmother, nor did she know that her gifts would be a gentle reminder of a wise woman’s lesson and symbols of entry into womanhood and responsibility. Neither did Ollie know that one of her gifts would be a legacy for future generations to recount her acts of genuine caring and admiration. She probably didn’t even realize that her gift is to be the subject of a conversation between two women who will celebrate first steps into womanhood with the opportunity to participate in acts of human kindness, generosity, and tradition.