We buried Lewis Grizzard 20 years ago. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? That it has been that long?
A lot of people accuse me of trying to be another Grizzard. Those people are wrong, for a number of reasons. For one, although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and although I admire Lewis’s work immensely, he was one of a kind and always will be. They broke the mold when they made Lewis and anyone who would make the mistake of trying to emulate his writing style would be doomed to professional suicide — death by comparison.
And though our subject matter will forever enjoin us, I am my own person as Lewis was his. But man, did he ever make me laugh.
I will never forget the last time I saw Lewis alive. It was the day of the Tech-Georgia football game and my daughter, Jamie Leigh, and I were making our way to the stadium, walking the same path we still take on Gameday in Athens. Jamie was 7 at the time and the night before she and I had watched Lewis on a taped episode of Nashville Now on a now-defunct country television station. Lewis wasn’t looking so good on the tube and I commented on it. I said something memorable like, “Lewis looks awful.”
See how great I have always been with words?
Jamie and I encountered Lewis sitting at a tailgate party on Sanford Drive, just before reaching the bridge in front of the stadium — right where you can still walk down those steps to the backside of the Dawg Walk. I walked over and said hello. Jamie, never one to be bashful, spoke right up and said, “I saw you on television last night!”
Lewis asked the wrong question. He said,” How did I look, Sugar?”
Jamie replied, “You looked awful!”
Everybody laughed, none as loud as Lewis, but the truth was, he did look awful.
The next time I saw him he would be wearing a red suede blazer and laid out in a casket for visitation at McKoon Funeral Home in Newnan when my buddy and I drove down to pay our respects.
Yes, that was 20 years ago and yet, to those of us who read his columns and laughed at his stories and repeated his punch lines, Lewis Grizzard is as alive today as he was back then. You know them.
“That’s dog will bite chew!”
“The next time I get the urge to get married I think I’ll just find a woman I hate and buy her a house.”
“All of my wives had the same first name. Plaintiff!”
“Elvis is dead, and I don’t feel so good myself.”
To Yankees disenchanted with the Southern way of life, “Delta is ready when you are.”
For more than 20 years Lewis Grizzard was the lone voice of the Southern male, crying in the wilderness. He stood up for our beliefs, our points of view and our political incorrectness and said what so many of us would have said, if we could only have thought of it. Or if we had the nerve.
Every day for 15 years I woke up, turned on my coffee maker, and walked up my 150-yard-long driveway to retrieve the Atlanta Constitution. On the way back down the driveway I would read Lewis’s column. Then I would pour my coffee and sit at the breakfast table, and read it again.
It’s been a long time since I’ve found anything in the Atlanta Constitution worth reading twice.
Twenty years ago, I was with my lovely wife Lisa, shopping at Southlake Mall, of all places, when I came across a group of people standing in front of an appliance store, staring at the television sets that were all turned to WSB. They were announcing that Lewis’s heart surgery wasn’t going well. They said he was in “grave” condition and wasn’t expected to survive. He didn’t.
When I finally learned of his inevitable demise I made my weekly telephone call to former Gov. Lester Maddox, and lamented the fact that Lewis was gone. I will never forget his words. He said, “Don’t grieve for Lewis, schoolteacher. He lived more in 47 years than most folks will live in 80.”
I also remember my answer. I said, “I’m not grieving for Lewis, Governor. I’m grieving for us, because there will never be anyone else like him.”
Truer words were never spoken. Rest in peace, Lewis. The American South has never been the same.