On The Radio, By Renea Winchester
I count it all joy to know Billy Albertson. While this 77-year-old farmer still owns the first truck he ever bought, he agreed to “go modern” and allow me a radio interview for StoryCorps-Atlanta.
At first, interviewing Billy seemed easy. We answered the sound-check question, “what did you have for breakfast?”
My answer: Chocolate covered edamame and hot tea.
Billy: Bacon, eggs, banana, coffee, juice, a chunk of cheese and a cathead biscuit.
In hindsight, I should have begun the interview by having Billy repeat the sound-check response. I suspect there are countless “folk” who have no idea what a cathead biscuit is; (it’s a biscuit formed by pinching a large amount of dough, instead of using a biscuit cutter. The dough is rolled in your hand and cooked in a cast-iron skillet. When baked the biscuit has knotty peaks and expands to the size of a cat’s head, hence the name). No cats are harmed during the process. As the interview began I imagined we’d sit around the mic, our words overlapping, like we do when I pile up on his living room couch.
When Lily pointed that she was ready to begin recording, I kept an eye on the timer and asked the first question written on my index card. Billy was a natural. He even corrected a crucial mistake I made when I assumed he was the baby of the family.
That was the moment I remembered why we were there. This was Billy’s chance to speak. My words weren’t important. In my effort to share Billy with the world, I overlooked the obvious…the man himself.
Billy sat at table within arms reach, a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He was having a ball. Lily had explained he could best project his voice by looking directly at me, an act that I found unnerving. At one point I looked at him and realized how lucky I am.
Of course, I began to cry. I quickly shuffled my cards and wiped my eyes, thankful that Billy was filling the airtime. You see, he really didn’t need me to ask questions; he only needed me to listen.
When our time was up, we were provided an unedited copy of the interview. Billy and I immediately discussed what we “should have said.” I had wanted to talk to him about his wife’s Alzheimer’s, but he’d gotten teary eyed when talking about how they met. He wanted to talk more about his education. We needed more time. I don’t think StoryCorps allows re-dos.
In the weeks that follow, our interview will be edited. The story will appear on Atlanta’s WABE 90.1 FM; if the story appeals to a wider audience, it could be broadcast on National Public Radio. I hope so.
During the ride home, we laughed about our radio time. We’ve decided if we could pick up a couple sponsors we might approach Radio Sandy Springs and bring Billy to the people of the ATL on a more full-time basis; you know, to cover all the things we should have said, like how to make cathead biscuits and how he got his all-important education behind the barn.
Renea Winchester is the winner of the Appalachian Heritage Award. Her first book In The Garden With Billy: Lessons on Life, Love, and Tomatoes will be published in 2010. She welcomes your comments at www.reneawinchester.com