The world lost a good man Sunday.
This old world is big and full to bulging, yet there are so few truly good men.
Don Grierson was one. Don loved the old cowboy movie “Shane” and Hank Williams songs, which he played on the same Gibson guitar he’d had since he was 16. He could sing “Cold, Cold Heart” and “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You” and knew the entire recitative of “Be Careful of Stones That You Throw.”
He spoke in a South Mississippi drawl so soft and low you sometimes had to lean in toward him to hear him. He didn’t talk much, but, when he did, he had something to say. People who didn’t know him well often underestimated him. Don thought we all should listen more and talk less.
He joked that he got his masters in English just so he could tell Yankees he had one. He was up in Knoxville finishing up on his doctorate when he got tired of the academic scene and came on home to enjoy another squirrel-hunting season.
Don Grierson was, to quote Kristofferson, a walking contradiction – a small man who loomed large, an academic whose passion was duck hunting, a voracious reader of poetry, periodicals and Shakespeare who also loved TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Don grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which changed dramatically after his boyhood. His stories of a Huck Finn childhood sounded too good to be true, and the names of his friends – Gator and Luray, Marvin Earl and Scooter – added fictional flair to his memories. He felt most at home in recent years in Southwest Louisiana, which Don frequently compared to the Mississippi of his youth. He liked the informality of the place, the fact that neighbors would stop by without phoning, and that Cajun cooks knew you are supposed to fry seafood.
He was the least materialistic person I’ve ever known, his one luxury being a convertible car he bought after retirement. Before that, he drove the same Dodge truck for 20 years. He had shirts in the closet that were 30 years old.
Don did not suffer fools, and he never mistook acquaintances for friends. But the friends he had – most of them for decades – were loyal to him in a way that makes most of us envious. One of his best buddies, for instance, was a former reporter Don fired while he was managing editor of The Natchez (Miss.) Democrat. Instead of hating Don, the discharged reporter took Don’s journalism course when he began his teaching career at Mississippi State. And they remained fast friends.
Nobody could hate Don.
Don had a bad year last year. He lost his older brother, Buba, whom he loved beyond reason. He lost his former wife, Pat, who was an accomplished poet and English teacher and, typically, remained good friends with Don. Don’s bad heart was taxed by these losses, but he also had much to live for.
We were planning to drive to Canada this summer, and to host friends from France. Don loved our dogs and me and proved it in a million quiet ways. Our life together the past 16 years was one of travel and reading and music on the porch. We had it made, and most days realized it. When I’d fret over something that couldn’t be helped or fixed, Don would gently say, “Let’s just try to have fun.”
Many of my friends I don’t know by name. You read this column and follow my meandering thoughts on the days when I write. You tolerate my politics.
Some days it’s tougher to write than others. I need for you to indulge me again, today, as I deal with the hardest loss I’ve ever been dealt.
Take this advice from your friend: Love your mate as well and as hard as you possibly can.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a nationally syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson