Tuesday, July 9, 1996
People have their reasons, I guess, for not writing out their memoirs.
Who would ever read them? Im not much of a writer, really. Oh, the past is best left undisturbed. Ill maybe write something for the grandkids someday, but Im 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, Ive written my very last paper. You write. Ill 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 shed 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 cant get out a telephone call, like you can a saved letter to re-read if thats 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 dont 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, its been more than some, Ill tell you that. In half a years 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....Ive never been able to shut out that womans 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 Pigs delight.... He didnt lick, like dogs do, he didnt slobber, and his grunts were wonderful to hear....
Pages and pages of crisp, clear memories have flowed forth from Alices 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 Alices good life. I have an idea, though, that Alices stories—many written in longhand on lined paper like her students once used—will be among the most cherished of her bequests.