The Olive Man

A few weeks back in the middle of the afternoon there was a knock at our bottom door and I went downstairs to see who it could be. An older man probably in his 80’s was standing there and as I opened it he asked ‘I was wondering if you had any plans for your olives?’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked totally clueless as to what he was talking about.

‘You have an olive tree down there’, he said pointing towards our shed. ‘Do you mind if I pick them?’

In my head I’m thinking ‘Really?… you approach a complete stranger to ask if you can have his olives?… That’s weird…’

I’m also thinking ‘really – I have an oIive tree? I had no clue’.

I hadn’t got my bearings at all with the situation. I was expecting a courier, or a JW, not an ‘olive collector’. I mean who does that!? I didn’t have a pre-scripted fob off response for the ‘olive man’ so I reverted to my telemarketer spiel and offered a ‘nah she’ll be right mate.’

‘I guess that’s a no then?’ he said as he began to turn around sadly. ‘I’d give you some of the oil you know’.

And as he said that I became a little curious. I started to wonder firstly ‘where is this olive tree?’ and secondly maybe he really is just offering to pick them.

I wandered down the front steps and he pointed to the tree.

‘Oh…’ I said, ‘so we do have an olive tree.’

‘I’m John’ he said. ‘I live in Two Rocks. You might know my daughter?’ And he mentioned a local business person. I knew who she was.

I began to realise this wasn’t a runaway dementia patient. This bloke was genuine. We chatted briefly and eventually with some bemusement I said ‘Sure John – knock yourself out. Take as many as you like…’

I had assumed he was a local rambling eccentric with an olive fetish, but at the same time pretty harmless so I was happy to oblige. End of story.

Then in a recent conversation with friends they tell me of their Italian neighbour who came over to pick their olives and make oil with it. I laughed – a second odd bod – fancy that?!

And then I learnt that this is a ‘thing’. There are people who seek out olive trees and who are happy to pick the olives and make stuff out of them and its been going on for ages – its just part of being in community with others.

I felt a little sad that I had put John in the nutbag category pretty quickly because he was doing something that didn’t compute with my way of life. He was used to being in a community where we shared what we have and I was saying effectively ‘no – go away – let the olives fall to the ground.’

It was just a small reminder of how communities can be when we allow people into our lives and how we have been shaped to protect and guard ‘what’s ours’.

Perhaps if we picked one another’s olives, mowed one another’s lawns and engaged with one another’s lives on a more regular basis we would enjoy healthier and happier communities. No question about it…

So if one day an elderly ethnic man comes to your door asking for olives don’t laugh – he’s for real – its a good thing (and yes – you do have an olive tree.)