Recollections and Reflections
by Patricia Crosby
While I knew and admired Oliverfs work, ours was a personal rather than professional relationship. He was a good friend; good not just in its meaning of close and dear, which he surely was, but good in the qualitative sense of fine and principled. Among his many excellent qualities -- and I do not exaggerate here -- were modesty, discretion, thoughtfulness, loyalty, and kindness. He manifested these and more in so many ways so often that I can only hope to suggest with a few observations and recollections the sort of person he was.
I admired Oliverfs ability to find the balance between solitude and social engagement. He spent ample time alone, studying, writing, and reflecting, thereby acquiring several areas of expertise and producing several books and numerous articles on a variety of topics Japanese. He was at the same time unselfconsciously sociable, comfortable in the company of a range of people: people who swam, people who loved opera, people who traveled, people who, like me, obsessed about their work. He had multiple interests and maintained many of them even as his health failed and his physical capacities diminished. He collected -- most notably modern Japanese prints, but also ceramics and all kinds of books -- with the discernment of a professional. He lived like many collectors in a charming state of Dickensian clutter, at one time filling two apartments with art and books, back issues of the New Yorker, and the correspondence of half a century. I remember once trying to tidy his bookshelves, an effort quickly defeated by the lack of any clear space on which to sort the books. I suspect the same must have been true of the gorganization coachh he once hired to help him impose order on his papers.
Oliver was scrupulously observant of the distinction between the personal and the private. He was not, in other words, given to gossip or the exchange of intimacies. There was always a degree of formality about our relationship, a felicitous distance. He had all sorts of friends and no doubt different kinds of friendships, but our time together was spent in the pursuit of common interests and enthusiasms. He never told me his troubles, and, unfailingly generous himself, never once in all the years I knew him imposed on me for a favor. As he grew older and more infirm, he hired taxis and employed drivers when I would happily have ferried him to and from the drugstore or doctorfs office, if only he had asked.
One of the interests we shared was film. Oliver loved movies and had quite catholic tastes. Even as he lost his eyesight to macular degeneration and his increasing immobility made going to theaters difficult, he continue to treat me to films at his home. Although he had never acquired the vice of television watching, he bought at the age of eighty a big-screen t.v. and video player and set about collecting tapes of old movies. He introduced me to cinematic gems from the 30s and 40s -- he was fond of Ernst Lubitsch comedies and captivated by the beauty of Marlena Dietrich. Our mutual favorite was Trouble in Paradise, a sophisticated bedroom comedy starring Herbert Marshall and set in a grand Paris apartment. I had mentioned in passing that I had never seen the film, only to have it appear within the next week or two. I learned later, at his memorial service, that Oliver had arranged to have that tape especially made for me by a local movie savant.
For years we celebrated together all of Oliverfs birthdays and many of my own. We made a tradition of observing the New Year by making the rounds of Shinto shrines, always ending our peregrination at the Shingon Buddhist temple where he was a member. It was at that temple that he arranged, without fuss or fanfare, a private ceremony for me to memorialize the death of someone who was as close to me as he was a stranger to Oliver.
Oliver delighted in dining out and was a habitue of many of Honolulufs best restaurants, where he endeared himself by his lovely manners and prodigally lavish tips. Head waiters and hostesses all over town greeted him with an ingratiating gGood evening, Dr. Statler.h His enthusiasm never lapsed, even in the last few years when he grew increasingly frail and his activities more restricted. He continued to enjoy lifefs good things -- art, music, food, theater, conversation -- and, to the extent he was able, maintained high standards. After he became wheelchair bound, we met as before on most Sundays for dinner. But now, instead of fine dining out, I brought to him greasy store-bought roasted chickens and pints of ice cream. He ate both with good grace and apparent relish. We diverged from this routine only once, a Sunday evening that I regard as quintessentially Oliver-esque. I remember I arrived at his apartment in paint-stained jeans, chicken and ice cream in hand, and found him as usual sitting serenely in his wheelchair in the half-light petting Sylvia and Goro, his ostentatiously overindulged cats. I noted an unfamiliar presence rattling about in the kitchen. Oliver didn't explain, and I assumed the man must be one of the home-care workers that came in from time to time. We shared our usual glass of preprandial Perrier, ignoring what increasingly became clear was cooking at the periphery. Shortly, we were beckoned to the small table in Oliverfs magazine- and book-choked dining area, where we were served an elegant four-course meal by a person I then recognized as the proprietor of a popular downtown bistro.
Oliver was not what could be described as rowdy or high-spirited, but he was eminently good natured and had a refined sense of fun. One final recollection will perhaps convey a little of the flavor of Oliverfs humor. Congenial and considerate as he unfailingly was, Oliver knew his mind, and I often had the sense of being subtly steered in the direction of some activity that was of less than mutual interest. Once, annoyed at having endured the narcotic effects of a concert of Broadway show tunes, I accused him of always getting his way. He was unrepentant. I remember that he looked at me with an expression of amused puzzlement and countered the complaint: gBut, I always imagined that I was putty in your hands.h
7 June 2006
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