Wednesday, December 12, 2007

JacketFlap mourns the passing of Olive Evans

I would like to take a moment to pass along the sad news that a wonderful member of our JacketFlap community passed away a couple of weeks ago. Olive Evans was the author of “The Thrift Store Bears." Olive's husband David sent me the following email. I have included the full article below. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do. This letter is a reminder to enjoy every minute of life. Olive you will be missed. From this point on, when I see a bear in a thrift shop, I will think of you.

" This was an article that Olive was working on before she went into the final decline. It's a little rough but considering her condition it is wonderful, positive and enlightening, A lesson for us all. David"

Olive Evans, January 16, 1933 - November 25, 2007

My Life

Olive Evans was born in England before the start of World War II to Maude and
Harold .Wheeler. Since she and her twin sister Sylvia were Londoners (Cockneys from East Ham) they became evacuees when London began undergoing heavy bombing. When hearing that they were to be evacuated to Wales, their father put his foot down and said “My daughters will not be going to a foreign country” (or words to that effect), so they went to Felixstowe, on the English east coast, which was a mistake. Her family took us back to London and I’m afraid, into the worst of the bombing. Finally we went to the county of Buckinghamshire with our mother and new baby sister.

At the end of the war, my identical twin sister and I continued our education first in high school in Buckinghamshire and then onto London University where we graduated with degrees in elementary education. We both taught in England for a number of years in small village schools where I had all the children between 4years of age up to eight years of age. It was a wonderful experience and I learned the importance of poetry and even simple plays have on children’s education development.

Fourteen years later after my father’s refusal to allow us to be evacuated to Wales, Olive told her parents that she would be marrying a Welshman, her father put the other foot down and said: “My daughter will absolutely not be marrying a foreigner.” However, his future son-in-law managed to charm him, as only Welshmen can do, and her father finally decided that the Welsh weren’t such a bad lot after all.

While raising two very young sons, they moved from England to Nova Scotia, then to Rochester, New York, where their third son was born. After four years, they moved to Manhattan Beach, California, where they arrived in 1968. They rented an old redwood house two blocks from the ocean, then bought it, and are living in it still. As the boys became older, Olive returned to Cal. State University Dominguez Hills and earned an English Literature degree and obtained a California early childhood teaching credential. Then I then taught for a couple of years in a private school helping children with learning and emotional disabilities.

Olive’s life changed substantially the day she received a telephone call from the Manhattan Beach Recreation Department’s Program Director asking her to teach a belly dancing class. The lady obviously had the wrong number, for Olive had absolutely no skill in that area, although she could dance the polka quite well after a drink or two. The director, not to be put off, asked Olive if she would like to teach a drama class. This sounded more interesting, and before she knew what had hit her, she was down at the Joslyn Center teaching drama to 8 – 12 year old children. Then she began writing plays for the children to perform, and finally she decided to take some acting classes to help her with her teaching. She tried out for the part of a Cockney maid in a British farce and was soon acting in several plays produced by the City of Manhattan Beach. Olive also had lead parts in the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival and other acting adventures.

She also managed to become part of a vaudeville revue called “Av’A Banana” and because of her age (middle at that time) and her inability to sing and dance at the same time, she was considered “comedic.” That probably explains why her solo performance consisted of the old music hall song “Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty,” a naughty song with sexual innuendos of which she was quite unaware until the day the troupe performed at a birthday party for a television producer and his friends. Since she was- well, rather flat chested, she was advised to put a bag of birdseed in each ‘cup’.

She remained a naughty fairy for two years and then decided it was time to work with children as a storyteller. So she became “The Fairytale Godmother” and for the next thirteen years she traveled to schools, churches and birthday parties with her own stories, costumes and sets and turned the stories into plays in which the children could perform. She made the costumes and headbands and designed the forest scenery, which all fitted snugly into her little red Ford Escort.

In 1999 her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He dealt with the surgery and subsequent side effects with bravery and humor. The following year Olive was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy, two rounds of chemotherapy, followed by radiation, the usual regimen for this type of cancer. Since she had retired from storytelling she was able to concentrate on returning to good health as quickly as possible, and David was very instrumental in doing everything he could to see that she would eat properly and rest.

But chemotherapy can be a downer at the best of times, and there were times when Olive had a hard time trying to stay positive. That’s when she decided she had to do something to keep her mind off the treatment she was going through. She needed to write, because she had always found that writing took her to a happy and creative place. She couldn’t write about how she felt, but she could write about the ‘thrift store bears’ she had bought over the years from thrift stores all over the L.A. area. She had forty-two bears at the time, so she set herself a goal to write about each bear, and to write poems rather than stories. She had never written poetry before and it didn’t come easily to her, so she had to concentrate for hours finding appropriate rhymes.

After getting started, Olive settled down into a routine, writing each day, going for chemotherapy treatments and visiting the doctor’s office in between. As her poems began to improve, she would sometimes take the bear and poem to the Wellness Community, and would read the poem to her weekly support group, who encouraged her to bring more poems and bears to the meetings. When she had finally finished her forty-second poem, a dear friend told her to take the poems to another friend who was an artist and loved bears of the teddy variety. Pat Woolley wanted to paint them, Olive picked out twenty seven of the better poems and with encouragement from friends and family, she and Pat decided they would self-publish the book. Olive’s husband, who many, many years ago had received training in printing, took on the tremendous task of scanning the illustrations on to the computer, organizing the written words with the illustrations and making a PDF file which would be used by a printing company to produce the book. Then another good friend, Jim Furmston, who is a well known musician and composer, persuaded Olive to record the poems in his studio, and when that was done, he decided to write music to accompany each bear poem.

In August, 2004, 2000 books arrived from Taiwan, and shortly afterwards, the CD was available to add to the book. “The Thrift Store Bears” book and CD were ready for sale.

Olive considers this time to have been one of the most productive, creative and joyful times of her life. The book has brought so much happiness, so many new friends, and has made her realize that having cancer was part of the journey she had to take. She also realizes that she has a spiritual strength she never knew she had, and the love and support of friends as well as strangers, who continue to encourage her and bring laughter to her life. She is now “The Teddy Bear Lady” and goes into schools with a select few of her thrift store bears to read their poems to the children. She has written a second book of
poems about other bears in her home, which Pat illustrated and Jim composed music to go with the narration and also recorded the CD. Olive intends to continue reading the poems to young children, encouraging them to face life’s challenges and to be proud of their accomplishments. Though she continues to fight cancer and has to have a another form of chemotherapy weekly, she continues to draw positive thoughts and inspiration from her writing and, of course, from her friends The Thrift Store Bears who, like her, are survivors.

Olive leaves her husband of 50 years, David, her sons Gareth (Dianna) of Newport Beach, Huw and her grandchildren Alex and Bianca of Stockholm, Sweden and David (Alicia) and nine week old twin girl granddaughters (Audrey and Gabriella) of Culver City, her sister Valerie (John) and niece Sandra in Sidney, Australia and twin girl grand nieces