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On The Radio, Billy Records for StoryCorps

16 Mar

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 either dropped from a spoon, or rolled in your hand and placed 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 Love signaled 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 so I skipped to another question. He wanted to talk more about his education, how he got his education “out behind the barn.”

We needed more time. I don’t think StoryCorps allows re-dos.

In the weeks that follow, our interview will be edited. If the editors believe our story is interesting, they will air it 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. People need to know about Billy Albertson.

During the ride home, we laughed about our radio time. Billy and I 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

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