We, Janice and I along with Philip and Mary Hart Wilheit, were at Dink and Pam NeSmith’s place on the Pacific in Costa Rica when I spied it in the bookshelf. It was Lewis Grizzard’s book, If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground. I’d read it before, so I thought, but decided to thumb back through it, when I finished the one I was reading, Southern Cross The Dog, by Bill Cheng.
And so, I did and I did – I finished Southern Cross The Dog and picked up the Grizzard book, which was copyrighted in 1990, and started reading – barely putting it down except to eat and sleep until I finished it on our flight back to Atlanta. What a talent! What a writer! And, an added bonus, for me, was that I had never read this classic before.
This book by Grizzard made me laugh, out loud, several times, not to count the constant chuckles and several times that I wanted to say: “Amen, brother, amen.”
Basically, I think there are three kinds of writers: There are those who have a way with words, a way of describing things that paints a word picture, that is unique and yet totally understandable, and you want to say, out loud, “yes, yes”; Next, are those that have a gift at story-telling and know how to attract your attention, and keep it as you follow on the paper and in your mind what is happening; and, then there are those unique, few, that can both tell the story and have a rare ability with words and language.
Lewis Grizzard was a unique and outstanding talent with his usage of the English language and with his ability to tell the story. Others that come to my mind are Rick Bragg, perhaps the ‘best of the best’, Larry Brown, a blue-collar Rick Bragg, John Grisham, Willie Morris, Terry Kay and Pat Conroy. But, Grizzard was different and had the rare ability to keep your attention and strike many emotional chords with his work.
Grizzard could and did make me laugh out loud and laugh, more often, ‘on the inside.’ He could also make me sad and did. And, I think Grizzard, the talented genuis, was basically a sad person. I’ll bet those who hung out with him at Harrison’s on Peachtree would agree.
For years, when I was in the State House and when the legislature was in session, I would go back to Atlanta from Perry on Sunday, late, and often several of us would go to Longhorns on Peachtree (the original Longhorn’s, now gone) for dinner. Many times, Grizzard was at the bar, alone, and seemingly unapproachable. Other than speaking, we never had a conversation. He was probably divorced (he did that three times), Harrison’s was closed and he was adrift and lonely.
If you’ve never read If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground, you should do so. It’s a classic. Jim Minter, former editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who hired Grizzard three times (and, incidentally comes off really good in Grizzard’s book) says that every first year journalism student (do they still call them that?), should be required to read this book.
The title of this Lewis Grizzard book refers to his leaving Georgia and working for a period of time (November, 1975 through April, 1977) at the Sun-Times in Chicago. However, interestingly, only the last chapter, 16, deals with this part of his life. The book is really about Grizzard’s writing career up to and through his miserable experiences in Chicago.
Costa Rica was wonderful. There are no finer hosts than the NeSmiths and no better friends than the Wilheits. The accommodations and the hospitality were first class. Good food. Horseback riding. Wetting our feet in the Pacific. Monkeys. Parrots. Iguanas. Roadrunners. Warm friendly people. I could go on and on. But let me close by saying how great it was to re-visit in Costa Rica a man who loved Georgia (the State and the University) and a writing genius, Lewis Grizzard.