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 in Montana.
Left eating 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 bestselling books.
"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 sighs. "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, cultivated her redneck 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."
Now she's written another, "From Debutante to Doublewide," also published by Peachtree, about her midlife 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 says, 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 says.
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 says, "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.
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 says, "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 says. "I knew I had roots I couldn't break." He asked her to marry him, saying, she recalls, " '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.' "
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.
She remembers the scene: Fred's eyes filled with tears, and he said, "If you change your mind, you and your children will always have a home with me." No man had ever put it that way before. "It was so" -- she's hunting for the word -- "mature."
She flew home to contemplate her friends clinging to corporate ladders, their wives in hot pursuit of charity balls. An acquaintance committed suicide, another went belly-up in business. "Weird things were happening to people I'd known a long time," she says.
She phoned Fred. Two weeks had gone by since his proposal. "Forget all those stupid things I said, I didn't mean them, I want to marry you," she said.
She sold it all: Cordon Bleu cookbooks, a sofa of Haitian cotton, acrylic tables, sterling silver (tarnished gifts from her first marriage to the son of a famous cardiologist), white bamboo chairs, tweed skirts, Louis Vuitton bags and high-heel shoes ("couldn't wear them in the snow"). "I was going cowgirl all the way," she says.
She made $3,200 from the garage sale and Fred drove out to move them west.
She grew up off Peachtree Street, the oldest of four sisters, in a neighborhood that now boasts half-million-dollar homes. Her father was an engineer with his own firm, her mother a housewife. "We were taught from an early age the woman's place was in the kitchen," she says.
She attended private school, enrolled in Virginia's Stratford College. Then came her debut. "It was meant to be the most important event in your life," she says, "to get introduced to 'society,' meet eligible young men and learn how to entertain so you'd have a skill when you got married. It never occurred to me to have a career."
There were rounds of parties. "I remember thinking, 'Hey, this is all right, I'll grow up to party and shop.'
But she'd always wanted to write and decided to break the belle mode, transferring to the University of Georgia to pursue journalism. Quickly abandoning the dream she has recently retrieved, she dropped out to get married in the summer of '67, and never wrote again -- until her books. That marriage lasted almost 10 years. She had two children. Then she met Grizzard, back home as a columnist after a miserable stint as sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times.
"He was a starving little sportswriter, a slob," she once said. "We'd sit and talk in his little bachelor apartment, argue about who had the better command of the English language. Of course, I did, always. We hung out for 3 1/2 years, dating and fighting. I decided we'd fight better if we were married."
So it happened. She tried. "He had to learn which knives and forks to use," she says, "and finally he put down his Mason jars and learned to pick up a wine glass."
Still, it didn't work. A wife was not among his "top 10 priorities," as she puts it. "Number 1 was football, then Braves baseball, country music, drinking and his own jokes. No woman ever made the top five."
In 1983, after 2 1/2 years -- which seemed like "2 1/2 decades" -- came The Divorce, shortly after Grizzard had open-heart surgery. She says marriage cramped his style. "I wanted a family and he wanted a career." Soon she found solace on the dude ranch.
Meanwhile, Grizzard's career was taking off, with humor books on The New York Times' best-seller lists and his column in almost 400 papers. It was only after a neighbor in Montana asked her if she'd heard of some Atlanta comedian named Grizzard that, fuming for humorous revenge, she hit the typewriter. Bingo, book number one, then book number two.
"He was making millions of dollars on my misery," she says. "It's time the other side spoke up. He goes on the Johnny Carson show and Larry King and berates his ex-wives. I'm not the twit and airhead everybody thinks he was married to. Actually, I was a normal person until I met Lewis."
She married Fred Schmook here on July 4, 1985, and their honeymoon night was spent in a Holiday Inn room with her two children. Fred, she says, "took a cold shower." The last time she'd allowed the kids a room of their own, she'd returned after a brief run to find a banquet table laden with prime rib and champagne, the TV tuned to "Flesh Gordon" and a room service bill for $75. So the kids bunked with the honeymooners. Every night before Fred's cold shower, she invoked the room service nightmare.
Then it was back on the road again. But when at last they arrived at Fred's modest ponderosa, the house was missing. It was supposed to be moved, but the movers were drunk and it had fallen off their flatbed. A neighbor offered dinner and bunked the honeymooners in their double-wide trailer, where the ex-debutante spent her first night in the wilds with her cowboy.
She worried how she'd fit in. "Out here it doesn't matter how much money you have or who you were," soothed Fred, "just what kind of neighbor you are."
There aren't many people, but it's no cultural wasteland. Actor Dennis Quaid is a neighbor. Novelist Thomas McGuane lives just up the road.
She tried to play good buddy to her new husband, who had since abandoned the dude ranch to work for the National Park Service and make cabinets in his spare time. But he gave her a reprieve after a hunting trip. She was so unnerved by the prospect of killing a deer that she ejected four live shells from her rifle and never pulled the trigger. "Did I hit him?" she yelled.
"If you really want to make me happy," said Fred, "don't ever go hunting with me again."
Nor does he urge camping anymore, not after the bear gobbled her lipstick and blush in the tent as she huddled in the pickup with Fred and her children. And not after they melted the soles of their Reeboks by the campfire.
Her children adjusted fast, though. After enrolling in a one-room school, grades shot up. There was little to do except play outdoors, and her son took right to it, hunting, fishing, camping, ice skating, tending his flock of sheep. Each child has a horse.
"They are completely different children," she says. There are no baby sitters. "Where would we go? Out here, you don't do anything without your children. I genuinely enjoy them. Our interests are the same."
Neither has mentioned the unbought Mercedes. "No one cares who has the neatest clothes or jewelry," she says. "Kids here still like cars, but they're pickup trucks or battered heaps, whatever they can scrape up the money to go buy."
On visits home, "they last about a day at the country club before they get bored," she says. "It was a real turnaround."
How has Grizzard handled it? Like a Southern gentleman.
"She's good. Damn good," he wrote in a column last month after digesting her latest. "I howled as I read the book, I cried and I missed her ... Few of us are fortunate enough to find heaven on earth as you obviously have. And I don't know anyone who deserves it more."