STAR-STRUCK, SOUTHERN STYLE
I was chatting with a friend of mine online today, and we were having a conversation about celebrities. She asked me if there had ever been a time that I had met a celebrity and had been really star-struck.
I had to think about it for a while. For one, I don't meet a lot of celebrities, and for another, I'm usually pretty cool about it when I do. I mean, I met the guys from the band Sister Hazel and it was more or less a "what's up" sort of thing. I shook hands with the Vice President, and I was just matter-of-fact about it. I had President Carter sign my book a couple of months ago, and I conversed with him just like I would any other person. I didn't even break a sweat when the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry spoke to me and signed my football.
Then one instance stuck out in my mind.
Back in high school, I worked at the town library, and it was there that I was introduced to the work of a great Southern writer. Lewis Grizzard was his name. He published a column every week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I read it religiously, along with his colorful books. He was a humorist of the highest order, and I would while away the hours after homework with one or another of his books, driving my parents crazy with my random laughter and causing them to wonder what was so funny.
Lewis could write such down-home, country-spun humor and make you feel like he was your next door neighbor. He wrote about the things that we Georgia boys understood, from the first kiss from the girl down the road to the passion of UGA football. He wrote about his mama's old brown hymnal, the death of his father, his black Labrador retriever named Catfish, and growing up in the South. He did it with such flavor and such wit that to this day when I pick up one of his books, I can't put it down until the end.
His books were worth the titles alone. I found Shoot Low, Boys, They're Riding Shetland Ponies to be inspirational, Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night to be knee-slappingly hilarious, Don't Bend Over in the Garden Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes to be just the least bit naughty, and My Daddy Was a Pistol and I'm a Son of a Gun to be tearfully nostalgic. He had so many different sides, and I just loved to read them all.
When it came time for me to do my junior year project for literature class about an author of our choice, I figured it would be natural to work up some things on Lewis's work. I breezed through several book reports, a couple of essays, and even part of the final project before the teacher dropped the bombshell on us: we each had to personally interview the authors we had chosen.
Now I love Mrs. Cowne, and I still say she's the teacher that gave me the necessary tools I need to make it in this writing business, some of which earned me 100s in my college lit classes, but in this instance, I could've just screamed at her. How was I, a little high school junior, supposed to get a personal interview with one of the most in-demand (to say nothing of highly paid) author/journalists in the South? I tried explaining this to her, but she would hear nothing of it, and the challenge stayed on the table.
I tried contacting the Atlanta Constitution and quickly got nowhere with them. No way were they about to give out information on one of their most famous columnist, much less the phone number. Dejected, I slogged through the rest of the project without much hope of being able to complete it, comforted only by the fact that I knew two other of my classmates weren't going to be successful in trying to contact Lewis either.
My dear mother, on the other hand, wasn't willing to give up quite so easily. As I was in school, she was on the phone with the Constitution until finally she had wrung the name of Lewis's agent out of the staff there. Then she spent quite a bit of time on the phone with him. Fortunately, the agent agreed with my mother that my lit teacher had to be out of her mind to expect the students to do such a monumental task, and after speaking with Lewis, he gave my mother his home phone number to call, on the condition that I not share it with any of my classmates and that I tear the number up as soon as the phone call was done.
When I came home and found that my mom had gotten through, it was almost more excitement than I could bear. I, one of Lewis Grizzard's most ardent--and possibly youngest--fans, was going to not only get my interview questions answered, but they were going to be answered by him through a personal phone call to his personal residence. It was to be my first interview ever with anyone of any sort of celebrity status.
I honestly can't remember much of the phone call. I remember what he sounded like and how gracious he was to answer what must have been some really juvenile questions. Still he never let it bother him, and he patiently waited while my small voice quivered out the questions. After I was done, he thanked me for my interest and I thanked him for saving my grade and for talking with me.
I was the only one who got the interview. The other two classmates hated me for it.
That was my first time being star-struck. I will never forget Lewis for that one moment in his not-always-perfect life when he had compassion on a young student and aspiring writer and gave an hour of his busy life to help me get my grade. I hope that if I ever become a famous writer that I'll do the same.
Lewis died not long after that. His ashes were scattered over Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA, and the world lost one of its best writers. But he's not gone. Every now and then he comes out a little bit in my writing, and I must believe he appears every now and then in the writing of others who enjoyed his work.
Okay. So I'm still a little star-struck...