Harold Grice, owner of Grice Engineering in Salinas, is our guest columnist this week. He is a member of Central Coast Writers and writes memoir, poetry, and screenplays. Harold gives an intimate look at how the past changes when we see it here, in the future.
Harold’s book, California Country Boy, was published by Park Place Publications and is available on Amazon.com
As I grew up many things happened that I didn’t stop and consider, things that occurred in passing but left its impact on my life: the dog chewed my face up; we moved often. Daddy dying. Momma remarrying, moving to the ranch, my oldest brother assuming mastery over me, Momma dying, running away, and being shuttled between relatives. I didn’t come to grips with life as it happened; I was too busy staying alive. There was no time to rethink or resolve these issues, along with an ignorance that they even needed resolution.
I wrote as I grew, but often, after reading what I had written, would think it bad and give it a toss. Then I started to write about what I did know, my life. A little bit of memory of this and that, and all sorts of things would come to mind. The mind is a funny thing, with a little nudge here and there, it connects the happenings as they occurred at the time. Not how we might have wanted them to be, but how they actually were.
As I wrote, things that happened along the way became clear and sharp; they became real as I struggled my way through them. One example: The dog that bit me was just giving me a scolding for pestering him. I was three and didn’t know that sort of thing. I never told which dog it was; I thought it was my fault. But then, when I got into trouble, he protected me. He became my dog. We became good friends and he would tolerate me no-end but did not like anyone to abuse me. Momma gave the dog to Mr. O’Brian because the dog wouldn’t let her scold me. At the time I thought it was my fault, in retrospect I see otherwise.
We moved often, as Daddy went where the work was. I didn’t develop close childhood friends. I became closer to my siblings but that was much more internal. I learned not to share with my siblings, as the youngest I was supposed to be the dumbest. But when I asked some question they couldn’t answer, they’d pipe up, “Look out, Harold’s thinking again.” I wasn’t dumb, actually, I was thinking of stuff most all the time. And they liked to blame me for everything, as I was always doing, what they considered, unusual things. Through recollection and writing, I have come to understand that each of us is different and, when closely examined, we are all screwed up and doing things in own way.
Then Daddy died. I was six. He had been ill and either working or resting so he was mostly absent from my sphere of activity. His was a declining presence, so it was more a phased loss rather than the abrupt one that came later. Momma couldn’t stay in that house any longer and bought one in Arroyo Grande, another house, another school. Fortunately my uncles, Milt and Bill, and sometimes Don, stayed with us, so there were always men around to help out.
Then Momma met and married a rancher and we moved again. This school was one room with all grades. It took a while for me to develop a niche.
During this period, we boys were given chores: milking cows, slopping hogs, feeding calves and stock, herding cows, splitting firewood, and hoeing weeds. I learned to ride as well as an eight-year-old can and I also drove a team of horses. Fortunately, the team was well schooled and didn’t try any funny stuff. But my older brother, by four years and forty pounds, assumed responsibility for my correctness. His method was to either catch me doing something he figured was wrong or assume I did something wrong he didn’t know about. Punishment was a wupp’n and, while never with closed fist, getting hit by someone twice your size hurts pretty much the same. Then if I didn’t yell and scream, he considered it a challenge to pummel away until I did or couldn’t stand. As he said, “I always like a challenge.”
Writing about this I learned that this was likely about him acting out his loss as much as me irritating him. He felt an obligation to accept a responsibility that he was too immature to administer in a reasonable way. I am sure it was a release of his frustration and hurt, and to feel that he was doing something important. The only thing is, he didn’t have to be so enthusiastic and enjoy it so much.
Then Momma died. We spent that Sunday at the beach. Momma didn’t feel well. We kids sleep out under the trees. As we were getting up, our car was speeding down the road, away from the ranch. I was finally told Mom had gone to the hospital. After a pretty empty day, our stepfather came home and we found out mother had died while coming out of anesthesia after an operation for an appendix enlargement. It was thought a blood clot got to her heart and caused a heart attack. This is the hard one. How can this be resolved? There are no good ways. For some reason I felt a tremendous guilt, as though it was all my fault—I should have been a better person. This diminished but is still there—in the element that I can be a better person. I can only believe she is in heaven with Daddy and they are having a good and happy time. This is one that has no reason on resolution—live with it. That was the resolve I found in this writing.
Running away and shuttling between relatives, the families separated me from my siblings, as they were of my older brother’s brutal habits. This distanced me from my siblings and keep me so occupied that I had no time, and was not inclined, to stop and resolve these happenings in my mind. I don’t think I even considered them as being important. That didn’t come until I began, during my writing, the journey through my mind. So, while I have not come to grips with all of them, I at least am aware of what has created my character as it is.
So in the final analysis, we write memories, not to entertain others, but to resolve those issues that have made us who we are. The memories we do publish may be somewhat enhanced, i.e., a Creative Memoir, but those in our mind don’t lie. Memories we’ve expressed to others are often consciously edited to make us look good or hide early missteps. However, in the journey of writing a memoir and as we examine and re-examine the past through our adult’s eye, we become more authentic to ourselves and, hopefully, to others.
Harold writes in a country boy voice and his books and poetry transport you to another time, another realm, one that may still exist in the backwoods of your mind. When Harold gives a talk, he takes you there and you’re happy. Patricia Hamilton, Park Place Publications, 831-649-6640. Writer services, Guided Autobiography classes, self-publishing and marketing services.