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Bud Grossmann’s
Words of the Week
for the Week of
July 8, 2018

Published as Family History
in a Gramma Letter
dated July 9, 1996

© 1996, 2018 by Bud Grossmann.
Portions © 1996 by Alice Porter Metcalf
Used By Permission
All Rights Reserved.

Evening Storm (2011)
  Evening Storm (2011)
© 2011 by Bud Grossmann


Tuesday, July 9, 1996

Dear Gramma,

      People have their reasons, I guess, for not writing out their memoirs.

• Who would ever read them? • I’m not much of a writer, really. • Oh, the past is best left undisturbed. • I’ll maybe write something for the grandkids someday, but I’m awful busy just now....

      Four years ago, through my friend Katharine English, I met a retired Oregon schoolteacher named Alice Porter Metcalf. Alice is the mother of Janet Metcalf, the woman with whom Katharine shares her life and home. Alice and I spent a morning together as we shepherded my two kids through Walt Disney World while Katharine and my wife Frances attended a professional seminar. Our families had combined a business trip with vacation time.

      Alice had a colorful, candid style of expression. I thought the stories she told me were worth preserving, but when I asked if she ever wrote them down, she just laughed. About a year later, I mailed Alice one of my stories—a piece featuring a fictional schoolteacher—and tried to coax her into putting some of hers into print. She sent back a polite note. “No, Bud,” she said, “I’ve written my very last ‘paper.’ You write. I’ll read.”

      When another year had passed and I had begun my routine of composing weekly letters to you, Gramma, I sent Alice one of those letters and again asked if she’d write, too. She repeated her refusal. But she told me, “I believe in the written word. Somehow it means more than any telephone call. You can’t get out a telephone call, like you can a saved letter to re-read if that’s what you need. Yes, I like words on paper.”

      One more year slipped past us. Last Christmas, Katharine bought a Gramma Letters subscription for Alice. I don’t think I nagged, but every letter includes a Response Page, and Alice began pushing her pen across those pages. “Yes, Bud Grossmann,” she said, “you can finally be so persistent that I will be writing—some.”

      Well, it’s been more than some, I’ll tell you that. In half a year’s time, Alice has produced plenty of prose about her North Dakota childhood and the years that have followed. Here are a few of her lines:

• I am a genuine prairie product. There is nothing urban about the whole state of North Dakota.... • Social dancing was absolutely my life in high school and college. If a week passed without going to at least one dance, I was bereft.... • About the unpredictable effects of alcohol?! Well, yes! I know some things about that—some never to be related! However, ... • Now, after five years, this rose rocks the neighborhood. It blooms a magnificent bushel basket of red, red blossoms, on top of a stately trunk.... • I can remember the coats they took off were frozen solid and would stand alone....I’ve never been able to shut out that woman’s moans as Mom tried to warm her feet.... • Every year Dad gave me a poor orphan piglet to raise for my own.... A good scrubbing with warm or cold water was Peter Pig’s delight.... He didn’t lick, like dogs do, he didn’t slobber, and his grunts were wonderful to hear....

      Pages and pages of crisp, clear memories have flowed forth from Alice’s head and heart. But, alas, she soon shall cap her ink pen for the last time—pancreatic cancer is taking Alice from her beloved husband Larry and from her family and friends.

      Those of us she leaves behind will find comfort in photos and roses, in favorite recipes and a hundred other reminders of Alice’s good life. I have an idea, though, that Alice’s stories—many written in longhand on lined paper like her students once used—will be among the most cherished of her bequests.

– • –

      I thank you, dear Gramma, for a letter I received last week. Aunt Dorie helped you with it, and I was glad to get all the news.


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