Living

Lewis Grizzard was my greatest influence, but I never actually met him

Before our dear friend, Ed Parks, died, he would invite us up to his house in Highlands on a Sunday and say, “We’ll have supper then we’ll go over to the Little Church in the Wildwoods and sing.”

It is a tiny church perched on a perilous hill where a hundred folks crowd into the benches, pull out the Methodist hymn book and sing for an hour or so. We are Baptists. This means we serve the same Jesus as the Methodists but carry a different songbook. One after another, they passed through the congregation with each member requesting a song. One woman stood up and named her song, one I did not know, and said, “This is my favorite hymn. And it was Lewis Grizzard’s favorite hymn, too.”

Across the congregation composed mostly of Atlantans and those from there abouts, a sweet mummer of sorts tickled across the room.

“Oh,” I whispered sentimentally, pressing hand to heart. Tink chuckled. He’s a Yankee but he knows who Lewis Grizzard is and he continues to be entertained by him, over 20 years after his death at a young age.

Behind us on one of the small benches, was Ed’s son, Doug, and his wife, Chris. Their daughter, Miranda, sat between them.

“Who’s Lewis Grizzard?” Someone whispered. I whipped my head around to see it was Miranda.

Her parents were aghast as if it was a parenting mistake on their part. Ed’s eyes widened and he shook his head so comically that his jowls jiggled. “It’s a good thing Randy’s not alive,” He lamented, referring to his late wife. “What would she say?”

“You don’t know who Lewis Grizzard is?” I asked, stunned even though she was probably born around the time he died.

Until that moment, I always thought that Grizzard, like Mark Twain and Will Rogers before him, would live on with his words, his humor and his uniqueness. He will with me, though.

Beginning in college when I was pursuing a journalism degree, I never missed a Lewis Grizzard column. He ran thrice weekly in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. His first book I bought was “Don’t Sit Under The Grits Tree With Anyone Else But Me.”

A writer, good or not, is never shaped by one view or one person. It’s always a host of people, experiences, storytellers, memories and emotions. Lewis Grizzard, history’s most noted Southern humorist columnist, influenced me more than the others. He was funny, straight spoken, black or white, never gray and he practiced America’s promise of free speech before it became smothered in political correctness.

His observations were often things that the rest of us missed or hadn’t considered but when he said them, we laughed or agreed. Or we got mad. No reader of Lewis Grizzard’s was ever on his side 100 percent of the time. But that’s the mark of a good writer. He makes everyone mad at one or the other.

When I was in college, I’d get a couple of friends to go with me down to Harrison’s, a bar in Buckhead, which was Grizzard’s hang out. I was too young to realize how sad it was but, while we sipped Cokes and ginger ales a few feet away, Grizzard sat at the bar, alone, and drank himself into a stupor. I remember one night that there were only six in the bar and we were three of them.

“This is silly,” said my friend, Jay, as I studied Grizzard, mesmerized. “Why don’t you go over and meet him instead of mooning over him.”

“No! I can’t,” I exclaimed. “It would ruin the magic.”

So, I never met Lewis Grizzard, one of the strongest influences of my writing career. But I have a library of his books which I re-read from time to time. I quote him occasionally and will remember him always.

And I have sung his favorite hymn.

Ronda Rich, author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should),” writes the Dixie Diva column that appears in several newspapers.

  Comments