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Olivia and Dina

 

Olivia Cole was one of my mom’s good friends in high school. They were both in the theatre group, at their girls’ only school in the city. There were girls of every shade and religion there and none of that mattered. I got the sense that they were in a safe haven in that school, where the limitations placed on other girls in the fifties just didn’t apply to them.

Mom went off to film school in California after that, and Olivia went to RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Then Mom went on to work as a film editor, and got married, and had kids, and found that film work was not on the right schedule for parenting two little kids, and one big one. And Olivia moved out to Los Angeles, married, divorced and won an Emmy.

roots_actors_emmy

Olivia wins an Emmy!

I’d seen Olivia’s picture in the yearbook and heard her name, but I’d never met her myself. And then North and South, the miniseries, came on TV, and I was busily watching Patrick Swayze and listening to southern accents when I saw Olivia. I started screaming and calling for my Mom – Is that her?! And it was. I knew (of) someone who was on TV!

When I was in seventh grade, I got to see her on stage in A Raisin in the Sun, and then I saw her in three episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and a miniseries with Oprah Winfrey. But all of this time I still didn’t know her. I saw her in another play a few years later and she came out to meet us, and I was shy, and she smiled and called me “A tall drink of water” or was it “long” drink of water. Not sure. But she was still a stranger, a mirage even. When she was on stage or on my TV, she wasn’t really Olivia, and I wasn’t sure who she might be in real life. She wasn’t the kind of actress who played herself over and over, she played characters who were nothing like her, except that they used her eyes and her voice. They even changed her body, making her walk, her body language, the shape of her, unrecognizable.

olivia cole - the women of brewster place

Olivia in the Women of Brewster Place.

And then, when I was in my twenties, she came to stay with us. She had to sell her father’s house on the island and Mom offered our apartment as base of operations. Normally Olivia would have stayed in the city with her mother, but this was more convenient, and, more importantly, a chance to catch up with an old friend.

We had Dina then. She was probably ten years old, a black lab mix from the shelter, still in good health, and calmer than she’d been for the most of her life. I was still at my shyest back then (and only a few steps removed from that even now). I think Olivia was the only adult who ever slept over at the apartment (nephews, no matter what they might think, do not count as adults). Olivia was this mix of grand theatrical wisdom and down to earth, plain spoken quiet. And she loved my dog. And Dina loved Olivia.

dina smiles

Dina

Dina did not have many friends. Little children were as frightened of her as she was of them. They would see her black hair and sharp teeth and hide behind their mothers. Dina would see their quick movements, and short stature, and sit down by my leg with her back hair raised up. When people asked if she would bite, I had to say yes, she might do that. She’d tried to bite me, for picking her up when she didn’t want to be moved, for leaving her home when she wanted to come with me.

I took her to therapy with me for a few months, when she was suffering from unbearable separation anxiety, and maybe just knowing where I went without her, knowing what the place smelled like and sounded like, calmed her down. By the time Olivia visited, Dina was doing better, but she was still Dina. So Olivia’s matter of fact and immediate friendship was disarming and surprising to her. She wasn’t used to being liked by strangers. The two of them went for long walks together, down to the beach, keeping stride, breathing together.

IMG_0544

Dina loved to listen to Olivia’s voice.

With people, Olivia was a talker. She had that dramatic raconteur voice, with a touch of her southern Mom and her time in London coming through, and a lot of her time on stage filling out her voice so that even her whispers filled the whole room with a low smoky sound.

I don’t know if Olivia talked to Dina out on their walks, telling her stories of her own dog, Oro, or her trips around the world, or the characters she’d played. Maybe they were just quiet together, breathing in rhythm, walking towards the water and feeling the slight breeze in the air. Whatever it was, they came back content.

Dina had a friend. She didn’t know anything about Emmy awards and Hollywood and pilot season and table readings, all she knew was that this presence had entered her life and offered love of a gentle, fresh, relieving kind.

dina dances

Dina, the dancer.

I have to believe that’s part of what changed things for my Dina. She never became a social butterfly, but something in her anxiety seemed to slow down. As if she’d decided that it was all okay. She didn’t have to get better to be loved, she just had to be.

 

Olivia Cole is currently in a two-woman play about the Delany sisters, called Having Our Say, in Hartford, Connecticut. If you’re in the area, or plan to be there before April 24th, stop in and see her. She’s magical.

Olivia in Having our say

Olivia in Having Our Say.

This is a review of the play when it was at the Long Wharf theater:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/nyregion/review-2-sisters-navigate-100-years-of-black-history-in-having-our-say.html?_r=0

Link to Hartford Stage:https://www.hartfordstage.org/?gclid=CLiIobSOh8wCFUokhgodKvYGXA

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

92 responses »

  1. I would not have thought you were shy. At times quiet and introspective perhaps. But not shy.

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  2. A nice write up. Thanks and congrats.

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  3. That is so cool. Love the Dina and Olivia hit it off. I’m sure their walks together helped them both….Olivia probably needed space and a friend to talk to about her dad and her memories. (I am assuming here that she was selling her father’s house because he had passed.)

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  4. Very nice, I have a dog who is a little like Dina. It’s all about the self possession of the person – who is okay with not being immediately liked, who is okay with being initially mistrusted.

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  5. Dogs know a good person when they see/hear them. This sounds just magical for Dina. Wonderful post, Rachel.

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  6. Cool. I’d have liked to meet Dina, too.

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  7. This is probably my favorite post I’ve ever read on a blog. Ever.

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    • Oh my goodness! Thank you!

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      • Thank YOU. Your writing seemed to read like a chapter book. I couldn’t put it down or stop reading, even for a brief moment. I can’t explain it really. Reading it was like a movie. A story of lives and women and growing up. I was hooked.

        Then, your dog was introduced. My cheeks were wet by the end. I just absolutely love it.

  8. What a lovely, beautiful memoir and story. Thank you.

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  9. My peep grew up with some “celebrities”. Some were good and some not. They’re just people and not to be worshiped.

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  10. What a wonderful story! Thank you!

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  11. What a great story, Rachel!

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  12. What a beautiful story. It looks as if they connected at a higher level without any ideas or emotions attached to them and enjoyed being in the moment together.

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  13. A wonderful tale of two lovely souls. Thank you x

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  14. That’s such a great story! This feels like something that could be turned in to a book, somehow…the two friends, parallel lives, connection at the end…love it! 🙂

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  15. I love to hear that your dog had separation anxiety! I had a horse that I grazed next to a family with young children. A little girl (about 8 years old) spent hours a day with him, brushing him, feeding him and talking to him. One day her aunt came to take her to a party and the horse didnt want her to go! So he pranced about and reared and snorted, running in front of the vehicle and not allowing them to open the gate – they called me in a panic to come and control him! Nothing more scary than an Arabian Stallion trying to stop you leaving. Loved this post, wonderful slant on pets and people.

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    • Dina’s separation anxiety was pretty extreme, but I could understand it, and relate to it. It was so rare for other people to be able to bond with her, so Olivia’s visit was a rare and wonderful thing for us.

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  16. A touching story, and such a beautiful name. I would have loved to have met Dina. Her eyes speak her heart, and it sounds like Love to me.

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  17. What a great way to start off my day by reading this wonderful heart warming story, I love it. Thank you so much for sharing it sweet Rachel.

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  18. My husband had a “Dina” when we first met. Ivy even looked like Dina. I adored her immediately (everyone else gravitated to the outgoing Collie mix, Lily). She and I became best friends very quickly, much to my soon-to-be husband’s amazement.

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  19. Dina sounds lovely, despite her crusty exterior. And I suspect, like those of us in human form who are ‘Dinas’ – she had a 6th sense about who would accept her as is, without trying to remove bits or add bits that suited them, not her. And some people are blessed as ‘animal whisperers’…I am one in a modest sense, and I have a niece who is one full on. No animal is ever afraid nor tense around her, she has a quiet way of talking to them, no abrupt movements which seems to put them at immediate ease. This story was lovely too. thank you for starting my Sunday off on the right foot! 🙂

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  20. A very lovely piece Rachel. And so many special relationships here…thanks for sharing.

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  21. Lovely story. Thanks for sharing.

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  22. I loved this story! Isn’t it nice when two souls connect? And I wish I could see that play…

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  23. I am now completely starstruck. I love Olivia the actress, and you know her personally. Awesome, thanks, Mom.
    On another note, you must read Stable Relation by Anna Blake. I read it this weekend, It is fabulous!

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  24. This story did my heart good Rachel. Thank you so much.

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  25. The Women of Brewster Place is one of my all-time favorite television movies. Olivia’s character stood out. Thank you for sharing this, especially the picture with her and Lou Gossett, Jr.

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  26. Very nicely done. Loved this.

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  27. Hello Rachel, I love reading your blog and this post in particular so much that we have nominated you for the Liebster Award. I hope you are willing to accept and if you prefer not to we can totally understand. Sending you love and wags, Seamus, Eivor & Pearl. Here is a link if you want to participate:
    https://whippetwisdom.com/2016/04/18/opening-the-closet-liebster-award/

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  28. I’m sure she’s magical. And so was your post, quite magical. Well done!

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  29. I’m so glad I read this today! I read a book about the Delany sisters years ago, and was impressed with their devotion to each other, to family, to healthy habits, and to the truth.

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  30. Wow….beautifully written. Typing thru years. Thank you.

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  31. This is a another great post! I have been a fan of hers growing up. Reading this was fun.

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  32. I’d seen livia in many things, and I knew about her role as one of the Delaney Sisters. What fun to know her for real. And Dina the dog is swell.

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  33. Wonderful story and beautiful dog x

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  34. Really like it when you write about your memories. Especially when you were young and growing up.

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  35. Hello. I am very pleased to have stumbled onto your blog. I have no idea why but this post brought tears to my eyes. Maybe because, well…dogs. I firmly believe all that you need to know about a person based on how they treat dogs. I plan to follow your blog and I look forward to it!

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  36. Beautiful story. Our 4 legged friends are so special❣ Thanks for checking out my blog.

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  37. I was really touched by your story, thx u for sharing it with us.🐾❤️🐾

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  38. What a lovely story.

    You can’t go wrong when you write about old friends and a dog.

    Thank you for a wonderful read.

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  39. I enjoyed reading your post, and can imagine how tranquil and calming Olivia and Dina must have found each other. In my years of working in theatre I found that most theatre people relate well to animals. I think it’s to do with their natural sense of empathy and ability to project emotion easily, and animals can sense it.

    Many years ago – 1998 – I worked on a stage production of “Having Our Say” and I so enjoyed watching the fascinating story of the Delaney sisters night after night that I also bought the book and read it.

    The two actresses we had in the roles were both lovely ladies from America, and the play came to us in South Africa as part of an exchange between the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and the McCarter Theater in Princeton. I still have a beautiful, soft scarf that one of the actresses gave me as a parting gift.

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  40. Lovely writing! It flows so easily and naturally from you and I like the way you get into Dina’s head xx.

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  41. Really a great story. I assume it’s true, and it’s very heartwarming. Thanks for posting it.

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  42. What a wonderful post , love true stories Rachel. That little face Dina she was a Star. x

    Reply

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