Audio ©2010 Alabama Public Radio
NewSouth Books Montgomery, AL, 2010 Unbelievably, it seems to me, it has been 16 years since Lewis Grizzard died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 47. It was not his first heart attack. He had had several. Grizzard suffered from a congenital heart defect, a faulty aortic valve, which was replaced for the first time with a pig's valve as described in this volume about his first heart surgery. He later had two other heart surgeries which he wrote up in I Took a Lickin' and Kept on Tickin': And Now I Believe in Miracles, both in 1993.
As familiar as heart trouble and heart surgery came to be to Grizzard, however, like first love, there is no heart surgery like the first surgery.
In this volume, which was a New York Times best-seller and sold 100,000 copies when published in 1982, when Grizzard was only 37, he tells of how he had earlier learned he had a problem, the up side of which, he says, was being given "a reprieve from the mud and blood of Vietnam," and describes the then-revolutionary procedures which would prolong his life.
Readers of Grizzard will guess he was not the ideal patient. On the night before admission to Emory Hospital, he called his doctor to ask if it would be OK to have a couple of draft beers. Reluctantly, the doctor agreed and Grizzard drank two GALLON jugs of draft beer. He reasoned that it was important for the doctors not to be suffering from a hangover, less important whether he was.
The surgery was a success. The doctors told Grizzard to "wait two weeks before I had sex and six weeks before I drove a car. Or was it the other way around? I was still a little foggy … so I just promised him that I wouldn't drive and have sex at the same time and let it go at that." Eight days later, Grizzard was back at work writing his column. Of column writing, that position on the newspaper so much envied by those not actually doing it, Grizzard has said: "It's like being married to a nymphomaniac. The first two weeks it's fun."
Fun or not, Grizzard felt he had little choice: "It's what I do for a living. I hate it. I curse it. But without it I'm somebody else."
As in all Grizzard's writing there is a strand of the autobiographical interwoven into this story. His mother, a teacher, was a patient, selfless saint. His father, an Army officer who had fought in WWII and Korea, had become an alcoholic and left the family. Grizzard might have been wary of that alcoholic gene, but instead seems to have embraced it.
And of course this book is, as is often the case with Grizzard, about the romantic heart as well as the perpetual pump. We learn a few humorous bits about his adolescent romantic adventures and on the last page are told, "a couple of months after my surgery, my third attempt at being married fell hard and quick, for reasons I'll probably be years trying to figure out."
It's obvious that women didn't last very long being married to Lewis Grizzard. And I'm not sure myself if, had I known him, we would have been friends. Obviously, none of that matters much now. He was a funny man, a hard-working writer with thousands of columns and 25 books, 4 of them posthumous, and was that great rarity, the consistently funny writer who gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure. We should be grateful to New South for making this little book available, so we can again hear Grizzard's sardonic and insightful voice.
This review was originally broadcast on Alabama Public Radio on August 16, 2010. Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m.