From the time I was six until my late teens I was obsessed with Olivia Newton-John. My room looked like a shrine dedicated to her. I had every album cover hanging on the wall. I had a life-size poster of her on the back of my door. I collected every picture from every magazine. I would listen to her before school and when I got home from school. To me there were no other singers, there were no other forms of art.
The obsession started when my sister bought a 45 thinking it was an Elton John song, but it ended up being “Don’t stop believen'” so she gave it to me. And I was sold. Her voice, her lyrics. I was in love. I mowed lawns every day after school to earn enough money to complete my vinyl collection. The “If you love me let me know” album was constantly being rotated on my cheap little General Electric turn table.
I hated it when the movie “Grease” came out. I felt that I then had to share my love with the entire world. She would no longer just me mine.
One day I decided to write her a letter. I must have been 12 at the time. I compiled a complete poem using only song titles from her albums. Seventy-two titles. I found her Malibu California address and mailed it out to her. Months went by and I heard nothing. I was so upset. I thought for sure she would get the poem and fall madly in love with me. But just when I was about to give up hope, I did get an answer.
I was so excited when I found the envelope addressed to me in the mail box. Although when I opened it I discovered that it wasn’t from Olivia at all, but from her sister Rona. Rona handled all of her sister’s fan mail, She ran her fan club and took care of her personal replies. There was a standard letter in the envelope which they send out to anyone who sends a fan letter. But there was another piece of paper as well. It was a hand written letter from Rona.
She told me that she very much liked my letter. She though it was very clever and moving. She said that she was going to frame it and hang it up in her sisters beach house. She said that Olivia was very busy and couldn’t answer me back personally but ask her to do it. At first I was upset that she couldn’t take the time to at least sign a picture for me, after all it took me weeks to compose that letter.
But a few weeks later I received another envelope. Again from Rona. Inside was another hand written letter, as well as an autographed picture of her sister and a picture of my letter, framed and hanging on the wall. That was a pretty big deal for me. So I wrote her back and told her how much I appreciated her doing that and how much it meant to me.
Over the next several years we continued to write each other. She became my pen pal of sorts. After awhile I forgot all about her being related to the object of my teenage hormones and saw her for her own person. She talked about her own dreams and how life was a dance that kept the feet moving as long as the music played.
Rona was a remarkable human being. She took the time to write me and seemed to take a real interest in me. I didn’t have a lot of friends back then and was very distant from my family. So those letters really meant a lot to me.
Rona passed away last week. It’s been decades since we last wrote, but when I saw her passing in the paper I couldn’t help but feel very sad. It brought back the memories of my childhood. And the thought of how much someone can touch another’s life by just showing small acts of kindness.