If your path has ever crossed with mine, if we have ever spent more than 10 minutes in conversation or your mama ever stopped me in the grocery store, there is an excellent chance that you’re in a story.
A stranger pulled up beside me on a sidewalk the other day. She didn’t begin with “Hello” or “Are you who I think you are?” She just plunged in.
“I’m halfway through the book about your mama and I can tell you this: She’s just like my mama.”
She then dug deeper into the story. “One time, my mama was called to be on a jury. We lived in a small town where it was hard to put a jury together because everybody knew each other. And, most of us was kin in some way or the other.”
The attorneys began questioning the prospective jurors. “Do you know the defendant?” asked one to the woman’s mother.
“Well, I know him but I don’t know him. Not good. When he got married, I bought them a weddin’ gift. I don’t know if he’s still married to her or not. But last I heard, he was.”
Since the pickings were slim, the woman was selected for the jury. “From then on, every time Mama saw him she would say, ‘I remember when I was on the jury and they drove us by the place where the crime was committed.’”
Some stories aren’t worth the telling or the hearing. Sometimes, when I’ve finished a speaking engagement and am at my book table signing books, someone will burst into the front, slam their hands down on the table and announce, “I’ve got a story I have to tell you.”
If the story is more than 10 seconds long — and it always is — I will say, “Would you mind waitin’ until I finish here?” Sometimes, the story is hardly worth the trouble.
Once, a man had accompanied his wife through the line to get her books signed. It was an event to celebrate cancer survivors. As I signed her books and talked, he waited for an opportunity then said quietly, “Lewis Grizzard was a good friend of mine. We worked together.”
Now, that caught my ear. I looked at the line of people, at least an hour long then, and asked, hopefully, “Would you mind waiting until I finish? I would love to hear anything you have about Grizzard.”
Kindly, the gentleman stayed, talking to Tink until I was available. I peppered him with questions and he patiently answered.
It is a sadness to say that the years are quickly dwindling down the number of people who remember humorist Lewis Grizzard. He was a pioneer in the art of Southern storytelling in newspapers. He made it look so easy. Sometimes it is. Usually, it isn’t.
I discovered Grizzard when I was 16 and he published a book called “Don’t Sit Under the Grits Tree With Anyone Else but Me.” A boy in my Sunday School class gave it to me for Christmas and it turned out to be the gift that would last a lifetime. I became a devoted reader of Grizzard’s columns in the Atlanta Constitution and he, unbeknownst to him, became my mentor.
Grizzard had a nose for a story, an instinct for the tale’s moral and equal doses of cynicism and humor to decorate it entertainingly.
Plagued with lifelong heart woes (both physical and emotional), Grizzard died at age 47 in 1994 during an open-heart surgery he had been warned he was unlikely to survive. I cried for two days, but my grieving has never ceased.
It’s getting increasingly hard to find folks who knew Grizzard or can share insights with me. But if you’re one, don’t hesitate to step in front of the line or stop me on the street.
I’m always looking for a good Grizzard story.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.