Lewis Grizzard at Athens Daily News
Grizzard reunion to feature lots of memorabilia, and even more stories
MORELAND - Lewis Grizzard, in the event of his death, wanted his ashes sprinkled on the 50-yard line of the University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium.
Dedra Grizzard was Lewis' fourth wife and has provided memorabilia to help fill a new exhibit at the Old Moreland Mill dedicated to her late husband. Volunteers worked last week to set up the exhibit that officially will open during Moreland's Lewis Grizzard Hometown Reunion this Friday and Saturday.
For people across the country, Lewis brought Southern wit and quirkiness to life, but Moreland residents lived it and his connection to the place was a reoccurring theme in his 24 books and syndicated column published in more than 400 newspapers.
When Grizzard died after heart surgery in 1994, his wife had his body cremated and then set out to honor his wishes in the spring of the next year, she said. His friend, Steve Enoch, joined Dedra in her quest.
But the two didn't count on the construction workers building new skyboxes on the stadium when they broke in, Dedra Grizzard said.
"So we're out on the field - we're in the middle of the field - and I'm like, 'Steve the markers are gone. What are we going to do?' she said.
They loitered on the field long enough to attract the attention of the nearby workers, she said.
Steve called for immediate action as the workers started to come down from the skyboxes to challenge the uninvited guests standing on the unmarked field.
"He said 'Dedra, just throw the ashes ... Lewis will find the 50.' "
At the reunion, Dedra Grizzard is one of several people scheduled to tell stories about - or as Lewis would say, tell stories on - a man who came from a town populated with 400 people, covered sports for the Athens Daily News and wrote popular columns about his observations of life.
From the shock of Elvis' heart attack, to former Gov. Zell Miller's spending habits, to his fondness for alcohol, almost every thing was column fodder for Grizzard.
"He had a way to really get to the bottom of something, of really what most common people are thinking. He had a way to say it and get it in print that the average person on the street can't do without getting in trouble," said Mary Ann Cauthen, a cousin of Lewis' who grew up with him.
The hometown celebration is the first official reunion of Grizzard friends and family, although the town southwest of Atlanta has celebrated its witty native son before.
The first few years after Grizzard's death the town held a yearly barbecue feast in his honor and a small part-time Lewis memorabilia museum opened, said reunion organizer Carol Chancey, of Cloudland Canyon Entertainment LLC.
But the museum isn't staffed on a regular basis and sometimes was locked when people wanted to get in, Chancey said.
"I've heard about the ebb and flow of the efforts to really secure Lewis' legacy in his hometown," she said.
Chancey, who lived near one of Lewis' childhood friends for a time, marketed to Moreland residents the idea of a bigger museum at the Old Moreland Mill as well as a full weekend of Lewis stories.
This weekend's events include a grit-cooking contest, a parade and a re-release of Grizzard's "They Tore My Heart Out & Stomped That Sucker Flat."
"It's great because his writings and everything put us on the map," said Moreland Mayor Josh Evans. "It might inspire some other famous writers."
Writer Erskine Caldwell also was born in Moreland and the mill houses relics of Caldwell's life.
Chancey hopes to one day have enough space in the old mill to integrate objects and stories from both writers, along with a host of multimedia options for Moreland residents and visitors to enjoy, she said.
Much of the items on display now come from family members, Chancey said. Some objects, like a quilt made with patches of his baby pajamas, connect directly to Grizzard's childhood.
As a youngster, Lewis would tease his cousins and pined for the a baseball field, Cauthen said.
"Lewis would always have a stick and he would be knocking rocks," she said. "He was going to be a famous ball player, and that's what he'd do (to practice)."
His high school English teacher encouraged him to work on his writing and Lewis' talent started to blossom under her guidance, Cauthen said.
Grizzard wrote his first news story at age 10 for the Newnan Times-Herald, a newspaper near Moreland, and covered his own baseball team's victory, according to his book "If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I'm Going to Nail My Feet to the Ground."
"Brilliant Moreland right-hander Lewis Grizzard, in his first start in organized baseball, baffled the visiting Macedonia Baptist nine Saturday afternoon with a no-hitter. Dudley Stamps, in a lesser role, had three home runs in the 14-0 romp."
Grizzard went on the write for the Daily News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Chicago Sun-Times.
But even with his success, Lewis' personal life was bumpy and he alienated some people with his views on topics like homosexuality and feminism.
He divorced three times and never had any children - something he started missing after meeting Dedra's 18-month old daughter, Jordan.
"Lewis and Jordan fell in love," Dedra Grizzard said.
He adopted Jordan and married Dedra after more than four years of courtship.
Grizzard died four days later in the spring of 1994.
Moreland still is a small town and populated with the kinds of characters who - even now - will stop their horse-drawn buggies in the middle of the street to gossip.
But people today, including some in Moreland, don't remember Lewis Grizzard, Cauthen said.
"Everything was more together. Everything was more local," she said.
Although the volunteers who are setting up the museum want to draw in tourist dollars, several said they want back that feeling of community.
That feeling was one of the things Grizzard documented and cherished, Cauthen said.
"Lewis always knew that he could come back," she said. "The door was always open."
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, October 10, 2010