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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

From the Fringes -- Grateful

At some point in the life of this blog – and I can’t tell you the exact date when it began – I began to refer to him as “the Artist” rather than as “my husband” or by name, following a kind of minor tradition among bloggers, who often use first-letter capitalized common nouns to stand in for the names of steady partners who play a part in their stories. My point today is that until he died in early March 2022, I was married to an artist whom I called the Artist, because in my life he was the one who counted.


His studio and gallery, in the same building as my bookstore, had a separate entrance, but a doorless doorway connected my bookstore to his space. Nevertheless, on busy summer days, with people coming and going for hours through our respective domains, both of us living days brimful of talk and laughter with friends and strangers, along with sales of books and paintings, we might not see each other until day’s end, when at last we had time to share accounts of what had transpired in our side-by-side but separate realms. Both in those physical spaces and in our lives beyond Waukazoo Street, his art world and my book world intersected and overlapped and enriched our life together year after year. In this bookstore blog I called him the Artist. His name was David Grath.


The late years of our winter life (“seasonal retirement”), from 2016 to 2021, were different from summers in a Michigan tourist region. In a small rental cabin in a ghost town in the mountains of southeast Arizona we lived, as he described it to friends, “joined at the hip,” or, “in each other’s pockets.” Each of us had a corner of the cabin for reading and writing and thinking. Beyond that, the kitchen area was pretty much mine to arrange and reign over, while he was guardian and ruler of the television (with an antenna on the roof, several stations came in clearly) and DVD player, their remote controls a complete mystery to me, but we were within physical reach of each other more often than not. 

Early days in Arizona ...

... when our spaces were yet spare.

Summers, we drove separate cars to work. Having me on hand next door to answer questions of visitors to his gallery, he was free to take leave whenever the spirit moved him – to visit artist friends in their studios; to take the slow “county cruises” he loved, soaking in the landscape for future work; to attend to little jobs that needed doing back at home. My summer days were spent on Waukazoo Street; his were there and elsewhere. 

Out on the town -- Willcox, AZ

Again, Arizona winters were different. With a single car between us, it was a rare day when one left the cabin without the other. Instead, almost always, after I returned from a long morning ramble on foot with one dog or the other (we only ever had one at a time, but two figured in those years of cabin life), he and I, usually with dog, would set out on the road, armed with water and snacks, books and notebooks and sketchpads. We might have a destination in mind when we left home base, but those days were always revisable, each one an improvisation. There were forays up to Tucson or into Santa Cruz County to see friends, as well as expeditions north to Safford on a favorite mountain road; the majority of our explorations, however, took place in Cochise County, our home base. The second year I worried that it would be old hat for the Artist, no longer an adventure, that he--not in love with Cochise County as I was--would find our surroundings boring. One winter after another went by, though, and we never exhausted the possibilities. Never got to Ramsey Canyon or King Ranch, for instance. Besides revisiting favorite places more than once (Faraway Ranch, for instance, in the Chiricahua National Monument; Turkey Creek Road; Whitewater Draw), we kept discovering unfamiliar and exciting places easily reached on day trips: a shortcut across the Sulphur Springs Valley or a back road to Bisbee, a new coffee house or junk shop or shady stretches of the San Pedro River that held running water.

Of course, our life together had not always been divided between Michigan and Arizona. Years earlier, before and following a spate of Florida winters (Weeki Wachee first, then Aripeka), we had stayed put, first in Leland, later in our old farmhouse between Leland and Northport. One year, snowed in for a week in Leland, we would walk “downtown” every day: Main Street, only two blocks from our house, had everything we needed--post office, bank, the Early Bird for coffee, the Merc for groceries, and the library on the other side of the bridge. Earlier still had been the Kalamazoo years. After we moved to the Leelanau Township farmhouse in 2001, winter was more challenging, but we still managed even when the power was out – once for four days. Our stove and fireplace worked on propane, and we had candles and oil lamps. “This is how old Joe and his wife lived,” he observed one of those cold, snowy evenings. Winters meant adventure at home.


But life with the Artist had always been an adventure. Short on money in Kalamazoo (“I’m tired of being poor,” my son complained, and my husband told him, “We’re not poor, we’re just broke”), we visited flea markets and thrift shops and had wonderful, far-ranging conversations over endless cups of coffee, our untethered imaginations reaching far beyond our physical surroundings. For every day of life constrained by finances, we had years of dream lives in which we created a combination tea shop and bookstore in Kalamazoo; raised shallots and rabbits in Leelanau County; lived part-time in Montreal; and furnished a pied-à-terre in Paris with finds from the Marché aux Puces de St.-Ouen. We never stayed in the cheapest U.P. or Wisconsin motel room without redesigning and refurnishing it in our combined imaginations, in case we were ever “on the lam” (don’t ask me for what!) and had to live in that one room. We “wrote” screenplays during car trips or, again, over coffee – that is, talked our way through the films as we invented them, committing nothing to paper but having a wonderful time envisioning the development of our stories on the big screen.


The artist’s life is not an easy one, nor is the bookseller’s life a road to riches, but the two of us were never in it for the money. For years I carried in my purse a tiny strip of paper from a fortune cookie (opened in spring of 1987) that read, “Your path is arduous but will be amply rewarded.” A forecast fulfilled: My path has been amply rewarded. (And yes, there were also arduous times.) My love and I made a rich life together, and my life alone continues to be enriched by what he brought to it, as chance encounters reveal more and more memorable stories people share with me about conversations they remember having with David. He had a gift for making memorable moments and hours.


Harlan Hubbard wrote of his life with Anna that they lived “on the fringe of society.” While Grath life cannot be compared to Hubbard life, in many ways ours also was lived on the fringes. Michigan, after all, is not either Coast. (“By the time an idea gets here from one of the Coasts, it’s worn so thin you can see right through it.” Someone I know quoted that to me. I have no idea who said it first.) My artist husband was not shy about saying that he wanted to create beautiful work. (To make art that shocked was never his aim.) I have written no books but have been faithful to this modest blog since fall of 2007. Far from the world’s power centers of art and commerce, we pursued work that felt valuable to us.


Well, now comes an unexpected postscript to the Artist’s life: The French translator of Jim Harrison’s work has unearthed two screenplay treatments, written in 1977, by David Grath & Jim Harrison, and the English pages have been translated and will appear in a new “omnibus” edition of Jim’s work from an imprint of Éditions Gallimard in Paris, the tentative release date November 2024. How thrilled the Artist would be! He had such a good time writing those treatments with Jim (neither ever sold, let alone produced), and to think they will be in a book published in Paris – he would be over the moon!


So that’s my news from Northport today. – No, one more piece of news, this one very local: Not only on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but every Saturday in December, from 3 to 6 p.m., there will be horse-drawn wagon rides through the village. The horses are Clydesdales, the wagon bright red and festively decorated, so December Saturdays in Northport will be wonderful days for residents and visitors alike.


And yet one more (last?) note. I’ve been writing Books in Northport since September 2007. If you enjoyed this post and have friends who might appreciate it, also, please share a link. Comments here are always welcome, too. Thank you for your support – for my blog and for my bookstore!


And Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Window on Waukazoo Street


Anonymous said...

I love this post, following along your life together and with your dogs. What a wonderful life you had together, and also wonderful that it continues to make you smile. And how exciting that his work is being published!

Deborah said...

I can just imagine David's quiet joy at having these works published in Paris. I can hear his voice as he tells friends about this and while not bragging, the friend will know that David was quite pleased. This is a wonderful blog post and I'm so glad to be 'along for the ride!'

Maggie said...

I so enjoyed learning about your life. I have so many fond memories of you from my childhood. You being the big sister of my best friend. I know more times than not we were a pest . Happy Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

So beautiful and bittersweet. I’m so glad he lives so vividly in our hearts.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely reflection, Pamela. 🥰 Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...


Karen Casebeer said...

What a beautiful reminiscence about your life with David! And how exciting that his work with Harrison will be published. Happy Thanksgiving, Pamela. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for much, and all your comments are going on my gratitude list1 Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

Pamela, I've been thinking about you for ages. Want to see how your doing. Just reading this brought back memories of you, David and your puppies... I was just trying to recall their names the other day. When I read them, I said, oh ya..
I just had to put down my last one a couple of weeks ago. Course you know how that is. I can't go through that ever again. Too much.
To you with my love and heart, Pamela ok neighbor, Shelly

P. J. Grath said...

Shelly, I hope you had a good Thanksgiving. I remember your dog, Jake!!! It certainly IS hard to let them go, but I wouldn't want to be without a dog in my life.

Anonymous said...

Pamela, how sweet this post is as you recall so vividly your peripatetic, imaginative, rich and loving life with David. I love his wisdom: “We’re not poor, we’re just broke." And I love you both so much.

P. J. Grath said...

Anonymous! I'm sure I love you, too, whoever you are.