Tea with OlgaMarch 1, 2011
From my memoir, The Thrill of the Chase.
Somewhere along the way I learned that my cost could also show a profit. Olga Svoboda was a good example. She lived immediately behind our business in a space that was much too small, even for one person. Her bathtub was just thirty-six inches long and looked crowded in her bathroom. When I offered to move her into a condo and pay all of her housing expenses forever if she would trade me her little casita, she just smiled. She knew I wanted to expand my gallery space and declined, of course. So we laughed and drank red tea.
Then one day she asked me to go to her. When I arrived, her attorney was present. The mood turned somber when she said she was dying of cancer and needed a favor. Her plan was for me to spread her ashes on top of Taos Mountain and in exchange, she would state in her will that I could have her little rooms at their appraised value. She loved the sacred old mountain with its strong ponderosa and aspen groves that blanketed its landscape so completely. She said her father’s ashes were there and she wanted to be with him again. The deal was soon struck, so we sipped black tea and nibbled on Oreos.
Olga was a delightful woman with a warm and giving heart. She was also too young to be treated with such disrespect by the ungentle laws of nature and she joked about outrunning the well bug.
She had not seen the mountain from the air so I asked her to fly the ninety miles with me and take one last look. She was fearful of flying and said she would never undertake such an “outrageous adventure.” I explained that no one should ever fear crashing because it is only the last inch that counted. That brought a smile but not one of approval. We joked about the irony of my plane wrecking with her ashes on board as being nature’s ultimate affront.
Such good-natured repartee continued as the light in her eyes slowly dimmed. Over the weeks and months my little gifts of flowers and bubble gum brought temporary relief but did little to belay the relentless feeling of sadness that permeated our visits. The tea drinking rituals we always enjoyed had somehow become necessities. Although Olga’s cancer was insidious and unforgiving by nature, it also allowed time for her to reflect and prepare.
It was bright and sunny when my little plane lifted off and headed north, and I looked forward to performing the promised duty. The billowing clouds seemed to frame the task ahead and with a small window open I enjoyed the ever present aromas of sage and juniper.
My first view of the great mountain brought a shock. The top was covered with snow that I should have known would remain most of the summer. It looked cold and foreboding as I circled, trying to decide what Olga really had wanted. She said “on top of Taos Mountain.” That desire seemed unlikely under the circumstances and somewhat aloof from any sober voice of reason. The bitterness of cold remains long after the sweetness of a sentimental moment is forgotten. Surely her father was not way up on top.
I know Olga’s spirit was pleased when her white bone fragments flittered through the small window and softly floated down to a place where the chamisa and mountain laurels were blooming, and chipmunks scurried around all year. When my plane and I turned south for home I felt a serene sense of warmth and satisfaction. Olga was at peace at last and I suspected she may be having green tea with her father. Time had taken them apart but it eventually brought them back together.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, I built an art gallery in Santa Fe that my wife and I ran for seventeen years. Since then, my energies have been directed toward excavation of a large Indian pueblo and writing books about art and exploration. I hope you enjoy my blog!