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The Ex-Debutante and the Cowboy : How a Southern Belle Rediscovered Herself in Montana

February 11, 1988|ART HARRIS | The Washington Post

ATLANTA — She was a 39-year-old, twice-divorced ex-debutante, a working mother who bolted for the arms of a cowboy and a double-wide trailer in Montana.

Left in her dust were the country club, fellow Junior Leaguers, who considered her loco, and ex-husband No. 2--newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard, the primordial good old boy who has made it big, very big, bashing his ex-wives in his syndicated columns and best-selling books.

'Marry a Moose?'

"Is it true you're going out West to marry a moose?" he demanded. Then, she recalls, he began "cursing," and spreading lies. With a straight face, Grizzard regaled bar mates at the Creekside Cafe here with a bittersweet tale that he'd paid for plastic surgery to upgrade her figure and that now some stranger named Fred was reaping the rewards.

"People were calling me and asking, 'Is it true about the surgery?' and I'd have to tell them that Lewis was just a little upset even though we'd been divorced awhile," she said. "I'm sorry he had to hear it on the street."

Then Kathy Grizzard (Mrs. Fred) Schmook exacted a sort of double-barreled revenge: She debuted on the literary trail last year with her first book, "How to Tame a Wild Bore," a smooch-and-tell about her life as the third Mrs. Grizzard.

Issued by Peachtree Publishers, it sold about 37,000 copies (mostly down South) to Grizzard fans curious about the inside scoop on her marriage. Among other things, she tattled that he allowed his toenails to grow longer than Howard Hughes', wore the same underwear for weeks, hated kids, snored, snarfed white bread, wore a fake gold chain on their first date that left a green ring around his neck, suffered such chronic hypochondria that a feared tumor on his gum turned out to be a popcorn kernel.

She told how she bought him his first pair of Guccis, took him to lunch at the 21 Club for the first time and cultivated her uncultivated Pygmalion.

Grizzard said it made him feel like Carl Bernstein after "Heartburn," and called it "possibly the best book any of my ex-wives has ever written about me."

A Second Effort

Now she's written another, "From Debutante to Doublewide," also published by Peachtree, about her mid-life resolve to abandon her Southern roots for snowshoes and the cruel winds that sweep across Montana and launch her sheets off the clothesline like kites.

Move over, Erma Bombeck. Beware, Ellen Goodman. Here comes Kathy, ex-WASP princess born again in the Wild West.

"I never thought I'd have the courage to give up my cultured nails, Neiman-Marcus and my revolving charge cards," she said, gazing out her window at the cobalt blue sky, snow-covered peaks and her gaggle of geese as she chats via long distance from Pray, Mont. The nearest grocery store is 25 miles away. As for malls and hairdressers, forget it.

"Now I can't ever imagine living anywhere else," she said.

To hear her tell it, she faced the crisis of every divorced belle who ever dreamed of bolting her back yard and did--a Scarlett for the '80s. Things were not going well. She had to pay private school tuition on her salary as a travel agent. She disliked the values her children were growing up on.

"They were incensed that we were not in Kitzbuhel skiing over Christmas like everybody else," she said, "and didn't buy my story that a trip to Grandpapa's farm was just as exciting as the Virgin Islands over spring break or picking up a new Mercedes in Stuttgart during summer vacation."

Raised by a housekeeper while she worked, her son Bruce, 10, was rambunctious and bringing home bad grades. Lisa, 12, was a mall cruiser hooked on chic.

A Business Trip

She needed a break, headed West to scout a Montana dude ranch outside Yellowstone National Park for her travel clients, fell in love with the horses, the outdoors and a "balding romantic"--former corporate executive Fred Schmook, who helped run the ranch.

"Actually," she said, "I fell in love with the place long before I fell in love with him. He was divorced with two grown sons and I was the only single woman there. We went for long walks. One day I said, 'Golly, I wish I could move here.' He said, 'Why don't you?' And I said, 'I could never leave the South. I can't leave everything I've ever known.' "

He invited her back to visit, to "see another season" out West. She brought the kids. They skied nearby at Big Sky, raved. After two years of flying back and forth, she decided to break it off.

"I felt it was dishonest to lead him on anymore," she said. "I knew I had roots I couldn't break." He asked her to marry him, saying, she recalled, " 'I can't give you what you've been used to, but if you marry me, I'll try to make you and your children the happiest people west of the Mississippi.' "

Lacked the Courage

She said no. Schmook, 43, reminded her of her dreams of raising her children differently and of her new writing career. But she told him she didn't have the courage to start over in an alien culture.

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