Friend #29: Olivia

Olivia and I have a tradition where I visit her when I’m driving across the country.  It started when I was at home for a few months a couple years ago and drove back to Los Angeles via Denver, where she lived at the time.  It was a few months after we had reconnected at our 10-year reunion.  By the second visit, Olivia had moved to Billings, Montana (go ahead and google map it because you probably don’t know where it is), and Seattle friend Susan and I stopped and stayed with Olivia on our drive.  So, in order to not break with tradition, I headed to Billings from Denver to stay with Olivia once again.  Apparently, I am Olivia’s first house guest to visit Billings twice.  I gladly accept the honor.

Olivia and I made our own prom dresses senior year in high school.  We took a beginning clothing class first semester (it fulfilled a requirement I needed to graduate), then we decided to take Advanced Clothing as an independent study course during second semester and make our prom dresses.  Mine was lime green and black and hers was a variety of pastel colors (I wish I had some of my old pictures with me).  Every senior girl’s nightmare was to show up at prom in the same dress as someone else.  That was definitely NOT happening with our creations.

I actually mention Olivia whenever I am tutoring high school students in SAT vocabulary.  We recommend that students use a mnemonic, or memory trick, in addition to the definition because it will stick better in their minds.  Every Friday in high school, every senior would take a vocabulary test.  Both Olivia and I had English class (and therefore the vocab test) during 2nd period.  We had clothing class during 1st period.  So we would always study for vocab together on Fridays.  To this day, I remember Olivia’s mnemonic for the word “purloin,” which means “to steal.”  I remembered it because it was a lyric from the musical “Rent,” which I was obsessed with that year (“They purloined my coat.  Well you missed a sleeve!”).  Olivia would think “to purloin the sirloin.”  She would do this cartoonish walk, hijacking a steak held on an uplifted palm at her shoulder.  Let me tell you people, mnemonics work!  I STILL remember purloining the sirloin to this very day!

Thankfully, we’ve both moved on from vocab tests and prom dresses.  Olivia is delightfully activistic.  She has worked on political campaigns across several elections and states.  Currently she organizes farmers in the Billings area.  Billings has 3 oil refineries in town, so farming takes a back seat.  But Olivia encourages the farmers (and ranchers, too) to advocate for their rights.  She actually supervises the organizers themselves, so she organizes organizers.  I love her fiery passion for the political realm, especially since it is so often met with apathy in our generation.

There was a special treat awaiting me in Billings….a variety show put on by Olivia’s friend who wanted to throw herself a very entertaining going-away party.  I got to meet Olivia’s boyfriend Joe, who had been out of town on my previous pass through Billings, as well as a bunch of their friends, all of whom are progressive and politically involved.  Since Montana is a small state, and Billings is a small town, a person can actually know his or her representative personally.  And if someone is of a particular political leaning, he or she gets connected to this group of people pretty quickly.  It was a great crew, and the show was a lot of fun….I couldn’t stop smiling!  Olivia served as the MC for the evening, and did a great job.  It rained before and after the show, but during, the drops staved off.

Olivia opening up the show when it was still a little bit light out.

A duet of "Burning Down the House."

A west coast swing number.

A sadly blurry poet

A local celebrity/newspaper columnist and his brother perform a duet.

Olivia introduces the Grand Finale!

The Grand Finale farewell dance.

The Grand Finale farewell dance.

I loved getting to meet Joe, too.  He and Olivia are such a great match.  He is just as feisty as she is, and I so appreciate the candor and confidence with which he presents his point of view.  He and I got to talking after Olivia had left for work, and it was just so refreshing to speak openly about opinions on politics and religion.  And just to cover all the things-you-never-talk-about bases, Olivia and I had quite an extensive conversation about finances.  She and Joe are very into a curriculum put out by Dave Ramsey called Financial Peace University.  I have several friends who have benefited from using the curriculum to get their finances in order.  She and I talked about how we wished that someone would have sat us down and crunched the numbers of our monthly finances with us; how it’s difficult to navigate finances and loans and debt with little but the cliche sayings of previous generations.  We also talked about Myers-Briggs personality test–an assessment I was trained to use during grad school and Olivia uses with her team of organizers.  It was fun to discuss the ins and outs of real-life, day-to-day, nitty-gritty issues with someone who otherwise isn’t in my daily life.  At one point she remarked, “You know, not much has changed since I last saw you–I’m in the same job, the same house, and the same relationship, and the stability feels pretty good!”  Here’s to leaving the chaos of the twenties behind.  I know that there will always be good conversation and great hospitality waiting for me wherever Olivia might be….so, until the next cross-country road trip!

Olivia in her MC get up.

Olivia ready to go to work....quite the transformation!

Olivia and Joe and their dog, a perfectly centered shot.

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