As she prepares to take to the stage at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura for the world premiere of Open Secrets, I thought your readers may be interested to learn how Berkeley’s famous daughter Karen Grassle saved my life almost 30 years ago when she was at the height of her fame, playing Caroline Ingalls in “Little House on the Prairie.”
It was the mid ’70s and I was a troubled teenager living in a home where my father mentally and physically abused my mother on an almost daily basis and mentally tortured me. At that time domestic violence was not as openly discussed as it is today and as my friends were more into boys and make-up, I had no one to talk to and was pretty desperate. I was a big fan of “Little House on the Prairie” which at that time was the number one show in the U.S. It was the one hour every week when I could briefly escape from what was going on at home and how I wished I could have been part of a loving family like the Ingalls.
As things got worse at home I found myself writing down all that was happening, how it was affecting me and how I was feeling. For some reason—I don’t really know why—I mailed the letter to Karen and to be honest I didn’t expect to hear anything back because, as I said, “Little House” was at the peak of its popularity. But I under estimated the care and compassion of this very special lady, because two weeks later not only did I receive a personal reply but her home address and a plea to keep in touch. How many “stars” of today would take the time and trouble to help out a fan in need?
We exchanged letters for almost a year and then one day came the one which was to literally save my life. Karen sent me the address of Erin Pizzey’s office in London and pleaded with me to get in touch with it. Erin was one of the first people here in the UK to set up safe homes for battered women, a cause which I later learned was very close to Karen’s heart. She co-wrote and starred in the movie Battered about the effects of domestic violence between three couples. I eventually contacted the office and they put me in touch with a local group here in Northern Ireland set up to help kids like me and although the journey was long, slow and sometimes very painful, I survived. In the meantime though I lost touch with Karen when she moved but life went on and the years passed.
I met and married a wonderful man who restored my faith in the males of this world, and we have two beautiful children. Last September, my daughter, who is 13, was learning in school about the different types of abuse we humans inflict on each other and it was while chatting to her about this that I was suddenly struck by the vast realisation that but for the grace of Karen Grassle I would not be here today to tell my story. Of that I have no doubt. That special letter arrived when I was truly considering suicide and I’ll never be able to thank this wonderful lady enough for saving me. I started what was to be a seven-month search for Karen after the discussion with my daughter. I felt the urge to get in touch with her again to see if she remembered me but more importantly, to thank her from the bottom of my heart for how her very kind actions which enabled me to turn my life around.
You will be pleased to know I finally caught up with her as she was appearing on stage in Winnipeg. I wrote to her at the theatre and a few weeks later I received a personal reply. She did indeed remember me, was glad my life had turned out so well and thanked me for reminding her that sometimes she’s made a difference. Well that difference to me was my life and for that I will always be indebted to her.
This lady is a star in the true sense of the word. If the world were full of Karen Grassle’s it would be a wonderful place.
God Bless you, Karen. You’re one in a million and Berkeley should be very proud of you.
Maureen McAlorum lives in Northern Ireland.