Dear Grace Paley Has Died
Grace's Uncle Grisha was a radical in Russia. He was arrested. Grace said that this is a picture of when he got his leg irons taken off. The blacksmith had to do it. Grisha came to the United States, where he was active with the workers' movements. Grace talks about it in a story called "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age":
"Heart, heart, do you remember my brother Grisha, how he made work for you that day when he came to the store and he said, Your boss's money, Zenya, right now? He put a gun in my face and I said, Grisha, are you crazy? Why don't you ask me at home? I would give you. We were in this America not more than two years. He was only a kid. And he said, he said, Who needs your worker's money? For the movement--only from your boss. ... These days I think often, especially after telling you the story...about my brother Grisha. I want to know what happened to him. I guess we know he was deported around 1922, right? Yes, yes, but why did they go after him? The last ten years before that, he calmed down quite a bit, had a nice job, I think. But that's what they did--did you know? Even after the Palmer raids--that was maybe 1919-- they kept deporting people. They picked them up at home, at the Russian Artists' Club, at meetings...They thought that these kids had in mind a big revolution--like in Russia. Some joke. Ignorance. Grisha and his friends didn't like Lenin from the beginning. More Bakunin. Emma Goldman, her boyfriend, I forgot his name.
Right. They were shipped, I believe, to Vladivostok. There must be a file somewhere. Archives salted away. Why did they go after him? Maybe they were mostly Jews. Anti Semitism in the American blood from Europe--a little thinner, I suppose. But why didn't we talk? All the years not talking. Me seeing sick people day and night. Strangers. And not talking to my brother till all of a sudden he's on a ship. Gone...
A very interesting thing, would be to find out what happened to our Grisha. You're smart. You can do it. Also, you'll see, you'll be lucky in this life to have something you must do to take your mind off all the things you didn't do.
Then he said, I suppose that is something like a joke. But, my dear girl, very serious.
(Excerpted from HERE AND SOMEWHERE ELSE: Stories and Poems by Grace Paley and Robert Nichols, Feminist Press, 2007.
Grace Paley was the original inspiration for the Washerwomen Cantata, a Bread and Puppet show from the 1980s. Peter Schumann was inspired by the organizing against war that women were doing in those years. Grace was one of the leaders of the Women's Pentagon Action `Bread and Puppet was there with the Birds.From the War Resisters' Web Site: Women's Pentagon Action
(November 16, 1981) Connecting the oppression of women with the violence of militarism, more than 3,500 women marched from Washington across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and past the national cemetery to the River Entrance of the Pentagon. The action proceeded in four stages—mourning, rage, empowerment (when the Pentagon was encircled), and defiance (when affinity groups began blocking entrances and weaving brightly colored yarn across the doorways)—each signaled by the appearance of a larger-than-life puppet. Sixty-five women were arrested, mostly for obstruction of entrances (although three were charged with defacement for throwing blood). Refusing to post bail, 43 women were sent to the Arlington County Jail to serve 10 days. The rest, who posted bail and returned for trial, were sentenced to 10 or 30 days.This is the giant washerwoman puppet at Lincoln Center last week.This is the display of the IUWW (The International Union of Washer Women) in the Museum/Barn at Bread and Puppet in Glover, Vermont.
I always wanted to do a regular TV show with Grace-- early in the scheming and dreaming about starting alternative TV networks, I had said that any alternative network needed a morning show (beyond Democracy Now--like what comes AFTER DN-- in the 9am slot?) and I thought it would be great to do Pancake Breakfast with Grace Paley once a week--like on Mondays. (Then it could be Oatmeal with Tuli Kupferberg on Tuesdays, Huevos Rancheros with Guillermo Gomez Peña on Wednesdays, and Croisants on Thursdays with Diana Johnstone, Grits and Greens with Amiri Baraka on Fridays-- just chatty home cooking and morning talk with smart, funny people.) At the time, the schemers liked the idea but I never got it together to do a pilot. The TV version of Democracy Now! took up all my time and energy. But thank God for Democracy Now! One of the best things Amy does is give appreciation and honor to our fallen comrades. Here is what she did today for Grace. http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/24/1322211
Over the years I have read EB White's Charlotte's Web to my four children, step daughter and at least three grandchildren. When I would come to the last lines of that book I would always think of Grace: "She was in a class by herself. It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." Grace was so brave and did so much in her life and was also so committed to her family. And she was a great writer.Four years ago I saw these flowers in Grace's garden and when I said they were beautiful she went and got a shovel and dug a clump up for me. I planted them at this corner of our house and every summer the patch gets bigger.