News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

March 6, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: Never mind the wheelchair. You want to buy some cards?

TERRE HAUTE — If you happen upon Pam Grimes selling her handmade greeting cards this coming week, do her a favor: Don’t tell her what an inspiration she is or how courageous you find her to be. Sift through the packets of pretty cards, find some you like and buy them for the benefit of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

You will save yourself and Grimes all the time it takes for her to instinctively deflect anything that looks or sounds like praise.

Yes, she’s been dealing with multiple sclerosis for two decades. Yes, yes, she spends much of her time in a wheelchair. Yes, yes, yes, MS is a progressive disease that can only be slowed down not cured.

Next topic?

“I could complain about all that, but it’s not going to make me feel any better or you, either,” said Grimes. “I’d rather just keep doing what I do.”

Throughout this week — MS Awareness Week — Grimes will be making and selling her dry embossed greeting cards, at Clabber Girl and at Baesler’s Market. The Clabber Girl gig is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Saturday; the Baesler’s sales are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Every penny Grimes takes in goes to the National MS Society.

“I have a kind and generous husband who foots the bill for this habit I have,” Grimes said of her spouse, Dave Grimes.

The Grimeses pay for all the card-stock paper, brass stencils and envelopes that Pam uses to make her packets of 10 greeting cards. Needless to say, all labor is donated — mostly by Pam, who reckons she has hand embossed, folded and stamped “thousands and thousands” of cards over the last 10 years.

The past couple of years, the nuns at the Carmelite monastery in Terre Haute also have donated some of the labor.

“I was hand cutting every single card with a little Fisker cutter, and I just happened to send a Christmas card to Sister Rosemary at the monastery,” Grimes said. “She asked me, ‘How do you do this?’ I told her, and she said, ‘We’ve got a big paper cutter out here for our cards. Let us cut yours.’ They fill huge boxes for me.”

Grimes’ goal for MS Awareness Week was to have 1,000 cards ready for sale. A packet, tied with twine, costs $5 and includes 10 different designs and colors. With five separate light tables in her home and a kind of traveling studio that enables her to fold and stencil the thick paper even when she’s riding in a car, Grimes can pretty much make cards whenever she’s of mind to do so.

“I can do over 100 a day without breaking my neck,” she said.

She swears she doesn’t make cards in her sleep or when she drives her own vehicle, which is specially outfitted with hand-controlled accelerator and brakes.

“I can’t talk on the cell phone, either, when I drive,” she said. “I need my hands.”

In answer to the next question, Grimes said, “Yes, I can make cards and talk at the same time.” Then, poking fun at her own loquaciousness, she added, “I can talk while I’m doing anything.”

Grimes said she got the idea of making dry embossed cards many years ago from her sister, who used the process to make gift tags. For most of a decade, Grimes confined her craft to cards for family and friends. After attending a meeting of MS Society supporters who discussed creative ways of fund raising, Grimes said she wondered aloud what she could do. Her daughter, Rebecca, one of three Grimes children, said the answer was obvious.

“She said, ‘Mom, make your cards and sell them,’” Grimes said.

And so she has for the past three years, taking time to teach others how to do dry embossing.

“I’ve got oodles and oodles of brass stencils,” she said, “and I’ve become a real paper hound” for card-stock paper with a weight of 65 to 100 pounds. (The weight of ordinary white office paper is about 20 pounds.) “I’ve purchased enough paper, if I get snowed in for 10 years, my supply will last.”

She buys many supplies locally, travels to Indianapolis for special scrapbooking fairs, and gets most of her stencils online. Some of her favorite brass stencils are an angel, a dove entwined with the word, “Peace,” and several varieties of flowers.

“I’ve got everything from ‘baby’ to ‘wedding,’” she said, “so I can customize cards — and I do take special orders.”

Grimes’ entire extended family is seriously into fund raising for the MS Society. Each autumn, during the Walk for MS event at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Team Grimes leads all others in raising money. Pam Grimes is known throughout the community as a go-to person for ensuring that MS awareness is a year-round activity.

This week, for example, along with the card sales, Grimes is collaborating with Bob Evans restaurant, which will donate 15 percent of every meal check upon request to the MS Society. Request forms are at the cash register of the restaurant.

All the activism allows Grimes to assert some control over a disease that has shaped much of her adult life, to manage the MS rather than be managed by it. The process of creating cards not only makes her head and heart feel better, “it actually helps strengthen my hands,” she said. That is no small benefit given the debilitating nature of multiple sclerosis. Anything that helps Grimes stay strong enough to load her own wheelchair into her car is a big plus in her book.

So, keep that in mind if you buy some cards from her this week, especially if you find yourself focusing on the “permanent callouses” Grimes has on her right index finger and pinkie. All that stenciling and folding takes its toll on the skin, but you will not be hearing any complaints from the card maker.

“I turned 50 in July, and it’s pretty wild to think I’ve had MS 20 of those 50 years,” she said. “But I am not going to just sit here and roll over to it. I’ve got things to do.”

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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