Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Carol Grier

In 2010, when the Northwest Association of Book Publishers was planning it's presence at Wordstock, a popular Portland, Oregon book fair, we asked members to volunteer a few hours to work at our booth. One of the first hands in the air was that of Carol Grier, an octogenarian who is no stranger to answering the call for help. I'm delighted to be an associate and friend to a woman best described as a Class Act!

Carol was born in 1924, in a farmhouse near Orofino, Idaho where she lived briefly with her mom, Elizabeth, and her birth father. In an era when society quietly expected a woman to tolerate beatings from her husband, Elizabeth rebelled. The marriage ended in divorce, forcing the young mother and daughter to return to her impoverished parents' home. After the move, Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant, and tragically, one of Carol's earliest memories is the death and funeral of her baby brother. Another, less heartbreaking recollection, was of her mother's return from nearby Moscow, Idaho where she had gone to work. She brought with her a new husband, a father for Carol.

By 1931, the nation struggled in the grips of an economic depression. Carol was seven when her new father, lucky enough to find a job, moved the family to Yosemite National Park. The experiences of the next six years would stay with her for the rest of her life. From Choices, a Memoir: The bittersweet echo of Yosemite is still with me. Paradise is supposed to be our last adventure not our first. It was painful to leave but I'm happy for those halcyon days. The purity of the air, the majesty of the mountains, and the quiet privacy taught me the value of the earth on which I lived. As I absorbed the wonder around me, I developed an inner strength, for Yosemite had crept into my soul, never to leave.

Although magical, the years in Yosemite were not perfect. After one of her father's friends touched her inappropriately, she ran home and told her mother, only to find doubt and disbelief. Carol knew that if her mother wouldn't believe it about a stranger, she would never believe that her father was doing the same thing. She decided to deal with it herself. The next time he slipped his hand under her blanket, she told him to stop. He did.

From Yosemite, the family moved to San Francisco for a short time before finally settling in Portland, Oregon. This brief summary is just the beginning of Carol's story, told in her second book, Choices, a Memoir. In chronicling her own family's history, Carol artfully reveals the struggle of women and families in the twentieth century. Her writing and storytelling moved and entertained me, but it also reminded of the importance of memoirs to both literature and society. What better way to examine our past and prepare for our future than the well penned experiences of those with whom we share this journey.

Why did you write Choices?
I had several reasons. Overall I wanted to emphasize how important our choices are. Good or bad, we live with them for the rest of our lives, but it is possible to have a good life in spite of tragedy and grief. I also wanted to demonstrate how much we women have gained from the early 1900s to the present. It is my hope that our youngest generation of women will value it. And for my own benefit, I wanted to determine if it was possible to escape the negative patterns that are set for us by preceding generations. By the time I finished the book, I realized that my mother had escaped at least part of the pattern, which enabled me to escape even more. Writing the book was a great experience because it rounded out my memories.

Carol's first book, Secrets, a Memoir opens as she reads a letter from her estranged son telling her he has inoperable cancer and six months to live. It is never easy to read about tragedy. Even when it happens to people we don't know, it stirs our emotions and the memories of our own loss and pain. The story of Carol's relationship with her son in the last 8 months of his life stirred many of those emotions. It also stirred anger at the inhuman treatment inflicted on people with AIDS and their families and friends. The book, filled with descriptions of the remarkable courage of some, and the remarkable insensitivity of others, is a testament to the endurance of love. In the end, whatever barriers existed between mother and son, whatever hatred others dispensed, disappeared in that bond. Carol, thank you for sharing your story.

I still see Carol at NWABP meetings and can keep you posted on her up and coming books. She is currently writing How to Recognize a Good Man When You Meet Him…and How to Treat Him, to help women pick out good husbands.  She is also in the editing process of a novel, Pine Bluff, a multi-generational story of a family in Idaho. See Carol's interview on Author's Forum.

Thoughts from Carol
You want to be happy? First, sit down and make a list on one side of the page with a heading of Happy.  Add another column with a heading of Unhappy. It’s simple. All you have to do is fill in the columns with what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy, but you have to list 20 things under each heading. You should learn a great deal about yourself from these lists. For those of us who really don’t want to be happy, it will be a hard lesson, perhaps one they just can’t absorb. For those of us who have been ground down with responsibilities and tough breaks, it will give them a chance to breathe again. Try it. Find some joy.

Carol Grier’s Ten Commandments
1. Be faithful to yourself, your mate, and your children
2. Be honorable
3. Be ethical
4. Be compassionate
5. Treat others as you would have them treat you
6. Cultivate humor and laughter
7. Be generous with love
8. Be eager to learn
9. Be outgoing, not in-growing
10. Always have a goal


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