Another one of the fascinating people I’ve gotten to meet since the publication of Blood, Bone and Marrow is Don Lewis, one of Harry’s closest friends (and roommate) from his college days at the University of Florida, and a man Harry nicknamed “The Buddha” for his penchant for surveying his surroundings and then dispensing great wisdom. Don generously filled in details about Harry’s UF days, put me in touch with other people from Harry’s life, and, as you might expect, shared some great stories.
After he left University of Florida in the late ‘50s, Don went into academia, teaching literature at Auburn and later Saint Leo University,from where he retired at age 65. He was in the classroom as an adjunct professor after that until age 80. Today he lives in Brevard County and supports all Tampa area sports teams. "I am now officially an octogenarian — 88 years old, and I currently live with my daughter in Titusville, Florida. For the record, I have PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) a form of Parkinson's —I have almost no balance, so I am confined to a walker & wheelchair," he said recently. He’s also working on his memoir – he recently sent me a few pages, and I’m anxious to read more. Here’s one story that I’m sure will make the book – I wish it made it into mine (maybe I can work it into the paperback edition that comes out in May 2017!).
At the University of Florida, Don, Harry and a few other military-veterans-turned-wannabe-writers lived together in the house, which they had sarcastically nicknamed the Twelve Oaks Bath and Tennis Club (a name clearly nodding to the Twelve Oaks plantation home in Gone With the Wind). The group studied literature by day, and at night was partial to wine, whiskey, and women. One such night drew the ire of a neighbor on the street. When Don told me this story, he preceded it by informing me that it contains a little-known Georgia pronunciation. Apparently, in some parts of Georgia, “Mrs.” is pronounced “Miz-riz.” Though I could not independently verify this, he assures me this is the case. Now, on with the story!
The boys of Twelve Oaks had hosted a party that had gotten slightly out of hand. Can't imagine how that could happen with Harry Crews involved. One of their neighbors on the block was a Georgia native named Mrs. Jones. She was annoyed enough to call the University of Florida authorities and file a report. And one more complaint from her might lead to suspensions, or worse. So Don called a house meeting. “Boys,” he said, “we’re gonna kill her with kindness.” He instructed everybody to stop by the neighbor's house and say something nice to Mrs. Jones whenever possible.
Sure enough, the next day, Don saw Mrs. Jones in the yard. According to Don, Harry could lay on the BS better than anyone in the house, so Don asked Harry to come along. In the front yard, Harry smiled, introduced himself, and started up a conversation with his apprehensive neighbor in the thickest Georgia drawl he could summon.
“Miz-riz Jones, I hear it be you’re from Georgia. Well, ma’am, I come from up yonder myself. When did you move down to Gainesville?” he cooed.
To hear Don tell it, Mrs. Jones told the boys that she had moved down around the time “the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.” As she talked, the boys noticed she was working on some tobacco. In fact, it was easy to tell this because she was shooting brown spit from her teeth, taking aim at the lizards on the lawn as she spoke.
“That’d be Bruton Tobacco,” Mrs. Jones told him.
“Why, I thought so,” Harry said excitedly. “That’s the same kind of snuff my mama likes. I thought I recognized that smell. Brings me right back to the farm, it does. I’d bet you and my mama would get along just fine.”
Now Harry knew he had her. One more play to seal the deal.
“Miz-riz Jones, I’m not much of a dippin’ man myself, but if it isn’t too much to ask, do you think I could trouble you for a pinch of that there Bruton tobacco?”
Mrs. Jones pulled the tin out from her bosom, opened it, and presented it to Harry.
“Go ahead young feller, grab you-self a nice healthy pinch,” she blushed. “I got a bunch more tins inside.”
Harry reached out, took his pinch, put it in his mouth, looked Miz-riz Jones in the eye, and spat a line of tobacco juice directly on the nearest lizard.
And that, Don Lewis says, was the last time Miz-riz Jones was ever a problem to the boys of the Twelve Oaks Bath and Tennis Club.
Guess you could say they were now up to snuff.