Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Taking a stroll down Memory Lane is often bittersweet. Inexplicably, you might find yourself one day reading or hearing about something and one thought leads to another until you recall memories and events that you had pushed out of your head. Sometimes, these recollections are pleasant; other times, they can be heartbreaking.
A couple of weeks ago, I was reading some comments to an article posted at ESPN.com about a hilarious headline Lewis Grizzard once got past his drunken editor when he was a student at the University of Georgia and was a reporter for the student paper there. It was about 40 years ago and the UGA Bulldogs were about to play the University of South Carolina Gamecocks when Grizzard learned that star UGA linebacker Happy Dicks would miss the game due to injury. That night, I believe it was a Thursday night according to the story, Grizzard penned the headline that UGA Coach Vince Dooley considered to be the best ever written about his team. It said this:
Dawgs to Play Cocks with Dicks Out
That reminded me of my adolescence. Growing up just outside Nashville, Tennessee, I was a newspaper reader since grade school. Since my father was (and still is) a head football coach, he subscribed to the two local papers of the time, the Nashville Banner (evening paper) and The Tennessean (the morning paper). Although the Banner's circulation was dropping and it was in danger of closing (which it did when I was in high school), I remember the highlight of that paper (later carried over to The Tennessean after its folding) would be the weekly columns that Grizzard would have syndicated.
Anyone who grew up in the South, as well as anyone who has ever had problems dealing with women, alcoholics, changing political and cultural climates, to name a few topics, would find something in Grizzard's columns that would either infuriate them or make them bust open laughin'. Sometimes this would occur in the same article or even in the same sentence. Grizzard had an edge to his writing that I have not seen replicated in any op-ed or humorous sketch writing ever since. Reading stories about his dogs Catfish and Cornbread and how Catfish had an annual Day that was celebrated in a small Alabama town - those made me smile. Reading his tribute to Catfish when he died was devastating. Grizzard could make a funereal person laugh and then turn around and make everyone around burst out in tears.
He went through so much in his relatively brief life. He had four major heart operations and just as many wives. He survived the first three, then chuckled and laughed as the fourth ultimately killed him. It's been 15 years since his death and I thought I had put it behind me. Then I decided to order his last book, published posthumously in 1994: It Wasn't Always Easy, but I Sure Had Fun, which was a best of collection of columns from his final 10 years of writing. In reading these stories (and I am only 1/3 through them, as I only received my copy this morning), I find myself laughing, smiling, and missing that sumbitch. For those who've never read or heard Grizzard speak, here are a few YouTube clips. Perhaps you'll understand better why I think he's perhaps the best humor columnist of the past fifty years.