Tomorrow in Jacksonville, Florida friends and relatives of Nickson Bruce Lewis will gather to memorialize and commemorate his life as they say goodbye to him. After battling a debilitating brain tumor for almost four years Nick left us Wednesday February 12. The eight years between the passing of his lovely wife Marsha Lynette Lewis and the time Nick’s brain tumor was discovered now seem so incredibly brief. Nick and Marsha had endured her fight with cancer for over fourteen years before she passed away.
But the time I want to strive to remember is the time of our youth. The time when we were growing up in Albany, Georgia.
The first time I ever saw Nicky Lewis it was a shock to my little self-centered red-necked existence. It was 1956 at Albany Junior High School. I was from the east side of the river and I think life was much
slower than it was for the cool cats on the west side and if there really was such a thing as a cool cat, his name was Nicky Lewis.
My memory is very dim at times but I believe the only Hispanics and Latinos we ever saw were in the movies. Nick Lewis looked exactly like a Pachuco and a Pachuco to us back then was a Hispanic gang member. They had a small tattoo in the webbed area between their thumb and forefingers that, as I recall, looked like a spider or a spider web. We only knew one guy like that and he was a phony because the biggest wus in our class whipped the Pachuco’s fanny one night after we got to high school. Shortly after the whupping the Pachuco left town.
Anyhow that’s how Nicky Lewis looked. He looked exactly like a banana knife wielding Hispanic killer. He had coal black hair combed into a neat, chiseled duck tail. There was not a Vaseline covered hair out of place. He was a fearsome looking dude. I always gave him a wide berth until one day in the restroom I missed the urinal and wet down one of his black engineer boots. You know, the boot with the single strap and the silver buckle across the top of the instep.
I thought then, “Oh my precious Lord, please do not let this greaser cut off my head with a banana knife.” I looked down at his shoe and then up at him and he was laughing so hard he almost fell into his urinal. I didn’t know what to think but he helped me out by saying, “You can’t see very well, can you?” I answered, “I can’t see at all on odd days of the week.” It was a Wednesday. He said, If you would step over to that sink and wash all of that crap out of your eyes, you might be able to catch an occasional glimmer of light.”
We were steadfast friends from that moment on and I can tell you a nicer, more gentlemanly and kinder Pachuco never lived.
I never really asked him why he had adopted the persona of a really bad Hispanic hoodlum but I will always believe that he was basically such a good person that the way he dressed and looked afforded him protection and grief from older, bigger guys because they were more afraid of him than we were.
These were the James Dean, “Rebel Without a Cause ” years. Everybody wore a red jacket like Dean wore in the movie or they got as close as they could get to that shade of red. The black engineer boots were hard to find because so many teen-agers were buying them. White T-shirts were hot items in department stores for years after the movie was released.
Just prior to the movie hitting the theaters, kids were shod mostly with black and white saddle oxford shoes. Everybody wore combinations of pink and black. The girls wore those ankle length black a-line skirts with a big pink poodle appliqué stuck on it. Even Elvis loved pink and black. His managers got him to hug a girl or two while he was wearing pink and black just so we would all know he was straight.
So it was a squeaky clean Pat Boone kind of world until James Dean and company topped our horizon driving a 1949 black, blocked, chopped, and dropped Mercury.
After that it was a Nick Lewis kind of world and he sauntered and moseyed into it dressed exactly like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.”
He was one of a kind and totally the opposite from the image he conveyed at your first sight of him.
I keep hearing that old adage, “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” and it’s not Bo Diddley I hear singing it. It’s the voice of Montine Martin my favorite teacher at Albany Junior High School who taught me so much about people in such a short time.
She told me that after I had told her Nicky Lewis was a super-good person and lots of people had pegged him wrong because of the way he dressed. I failed to mention to her that I had become his friend by peeing on his foot in the restroom. I didn’t feel it appropriate to share that with her.
Goodbye Nick. I wish I could be there for the memorial service. You were always much loved my man and the memory will not die while we still live. I keep hearing the Mills Brothers singing, “The Song Has Ended But the Melody Lingers On.” And that it will my old friend; The memory and the melody will go on and on and on.