Listen to Wise Old Carol
At 87, this Beaverton writer knows what she's talking about
Let's get something straight, right up front. Carol Grier of Beaverton has already lived more life than you and me put together.
So, when she publishes a book called 'How to Recognize a Good Man When You Meet Him,' like she did at the end of this past summer, just accept it: At age 87, she knows what she's talking about.
For starters, she's been married twice - not so many by today's standards, maybe - but she's experienced both kinds: a bad one and a good one.
You also need to know that, with three books under her belt, a novel in the works and a fifth book already in her mind for later - not to mention the blog she devotes herself to constantly, under the name 'Wise Old Carol' - you'd be well to recognize that this lady is a force of nature.
'My first husband was a bad choice, a really bad decision,' said Grier, who these days lives next door to the Red Tail Golf Course in the Progress area.
It was 1942, and she was just 18 and fresh out of Grant High School, when she married a serviceman shortly after our country's entry into World War II.
'Right away we had a baby,' she said, 'And he was shipped off.' While her husband was overseas, she lived in a boarding house, she said, 'sharing a room with a woman I'd never met in my life.'
Meanwhile, 'We just waited and waited and waited and hoped our families wouldn't get killed.'
Well, Husband No. 1 didn't get killed. He came back and went to work - 'but he turned out to be unfaithful, over and over again,' she said. And abusive. Still, she resisted the idea of divorce for years - until finally calling an official halt to the marriage in 1963.
Grier said there was a pattern here that interested her. Over the years she has heard from plenty of other women - good friends and casual acquaintences - who made similarly bad decisions: 'This isn't the way they planned their life,' she said.
'I knew I-don't-know-how-many women who were all having these problems,' she said. 'They'd tell me all of their troubles, and I realized we were all in the same pattern, emotionally.'
'This one you have to meet'
So, that was a prime topic of conversation among her women friends. Meanwhile, she was having trouble finding a decent guy herself. And let's not forget that there was still a bad taste in her mouth from her own disappointing marriage.
'I had a friend who was bound and determined to find me a husband,' said Grier. 'And I had I don't know how many rotten dates before I decided, 'this is enough!''
But her friend talked her into going out with a guy.
'This one you have to meet,' her friend Margaret told her, pouring on the sales pitch. 'He's divorced and lonely. He's a doctor, he's brilliant, he likes classical music. Not only that, his wife was unfaithful, just like Ted.' The only drawback, Carol recalled, was that he was the single father of four daughters.
But she watched him closely. He was gracious, charming and generous. She decided that 'he had a wonderful brain, and that meant a great deal to me after being with one who didn't.' They dated for more than a year, taking their time for the benefit of his daughters, who had their own trust issues after living with an alcoholic mother.
Spoiler alert: They got married and shared many happy years. For all the details on that and everything else in Carol Grier's roller coaster ride of a life, you may want to pick up the book she wrote in 2010, 'Choices: A Memoir.' It's not only a good read that will familiarize you with the writer; it also may convince you that she really does know what she's talking about when she dispenses advice.
'I lived in paradise'
To recap just a tiny bit of what's in her memoir, Grier was born in 1924, in Orofino, Idaho. At age 7, she moved to Yosemite National Park, where her stepfather landed a job with the National Park Service. It was December 1931, and they lived there six years.
'It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,' said Grier. 'That whole valley was my playground.' She attended a two-room school, with four grades in each room.
'I lived in paradise,' she said. 'We didn't have any crime, and we didn't have many tourists because it was the Depression.'
At age 13, her stepfather got a new job, this one with the Food and Drug Administration, in San Francisco. 'I learned to love San Francisco, for different reasons.' After a couple of years there, they moved to Portland, and Grier went to Grant High, which brings us back to World War II and the beginning of her firsthand experience with marriage, good and bad.
Oh, there was plenty of other drama. She worked, went to college, later even starting a business exporting clothes from Mexico. Through the '60s and '70s, she dealt with her stepdaughter's drug problems. In 1988, her son Jim died of AIDS. A short time later, her youngest stepdaughter was hit by a car and killed. She had a double mastectomy to fight breast cancer, and in 2002 her second husband died.
Through it all, she kept watching what was going on around her. Eventually, she began writing about it.
'Never stop learning'
Her preoccupation with relationships, with men and women, with the pursuit of marital happiness, it all stayed with her.
'I was still hearing from other people, from friends - and I realized I was still studying this thing,' she said.
She wrote a couple of pieces for newspapers, one for The Oregonian, about Gov. Kitzhaber's jeans, and another which appeared in the Beaverton Valley Times, about 'how to take care of yourself when you're a caretaker.'
Now, she said, she writes 'every day.' In addition to the books (the first one was about her gay son called 'Secrets: A Memoir'; 'But it was so bloody sad, I don't push it'), she also blogs constantly as Wise Old Carol.
'I'm writing a novel now,' she said. 'It's one that I lost when my computer crashed.
'I'm also thinking about writing a smaller book - one similar to this - on old age.'
Age is something she's certainly aware of, but she refuses to let it define her.
'It's all in your attitude,' she said. 'One of the things about old age - never stop learning.'
Among Grier's personal quests is to become a better and better writer.
'I've taken so many classes in writing, so many workshops,' she said. 'I never stopped.'
She belongs to the Northwest Association of Book Publishers, Willamette Writers and Oregon Press Women.
People seem to just keep coming to her with their problems, including one acquaintance in particular who 'kept talking to me about it,' she said. 'And I wrote the book for her.
'At 87 years old, I have heard a tremendous amount.'
She paused a minute then remembered something that put a smile on her face.
'I have a couple of friends who are giving it to their granddaughters for Christmas,' she said.
'It isn't a war, it's a relationship'
Many of the points covered in the book, she said, are simply not being taught these days.
In many relationships, said Grier, people 'don't know how to argue. They don't know how to allow the other person's opinions to be expressed.'
'My thing is, they really have to learn to communicate, and really communicate. It isn't a war, it's a relationship.'
'I try to explain that this is not a fairy tale with a Prince Charming; this is real, and you have to deal with it that way. It's just plain old common sense.
'I'm giving a lesson in there, on how to recognize a good man, but I'm also telling how to treat them.'
'How to Recognize a Good Man When You Meet Him (And How to Treat Him)' is available at amazon.com and wiseoldcarol.com.
'And it will soon be at some bookstores,' she added, 'though I can't say which ones.'
Grier has two public appearances coming up in the new year. On Friday, Jan. 20, she will be at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, speaking about 'How to Recognize a Good Man When You Meet Him (And How to Treat Him)' from 1 to 2 p.m. The talk will be followed by a Q and A session.
And on Friday, March 9, she'll be back at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center to talk about her earlier book, 'Choices: a Memoir,' from 1 to 2 p.m.