Here in the south, fall is the perfect time to plant what we call a “salad garden.” Turnip, collard, and mustard greens all thrive in addition to lettuce, radishes and onions. Billy and I especially needed something green in his garden, because during the past year, in addition to helping my seventy-eight-year old farmer friend, I’ve also been writing a book about him.
On October 23, 2010, Little Creek Books released, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes.
When searching for the ideal venue to launch the book, I looked no further than the “Little Strip of Land” where our remarkable friendship began.
I can’t give away the plot, but I can say that In the Garden with Billy is not a “How-To” gardening book. Yes, there are a few tips, like how to make homemade wine; however, the most beneficial “How-To” is “How To See People.” I had traveled past Billy’s home for almost ten years and never “saw” him. Simply put, I was too busy. However, a tiny sign with the words “Baby Goats 4 Sale” was a beacon for my daughter. Her insistence that I allow her to see the baby goats provided the catalyst for our meeting. Billy’s outstretched hand coupled with a bountiful crop of “tow-maders” lead to us returning to his garden as volunteers.
At this point I should mention that the backdrop for In the Garden with Billy is Atlanta Georgia. Billy Albertson operates the last remaining working farm in what used to be farm country. Today, it’s prime real estate. But ya’ll can find that out when you read the book.
As the book launch approached, the local newspaper paid a visit. The field was full of crinkly corn which, I thought, would make a great photo-op. Billy, however, decided the garden needed “cleaning up” and cut down every stalk of corn moments before the photographer arrived. The newspaper managed to capture a couple shots of Billy on the tractor so that tragedy was avoided.
It seemed like every time I visited Billy was “cleaning” the farm. I finally explained that readers were going to think I was a terrible writer if he didn’t stop! I encouraged him to focus his energy on the “salad garden” that was beginning to take shape.
October 23rd arrived, and we were blessed with glorious weather. I had painted the dilapidated garage door that hides his Cub Tractor. My plan was to encourage visitors to sign their name and jot down personal messages.
That way, he would be able to see how much he’s loved every morning on his way to feed the “critters.”
With the books displayed, we set up a jelly booth and popped some popcorn. We even had sweet potatoes and gourds for sale and refreshments for visitors. The only thing we needed were readers. We hung the “Special Events” sign (on his truck of course) and waited for friends to arrive.
What happened next still has Billy and I shaking our heads.
Soon Billy’s “little strip of land,” was transformed into something resembling a family reunion, fall festival, with a little splash of the Holy Spirit sprinkled in for good measure. Family he hadn’t seen in years arrived. Strangers who-like me-had passed his home for years finally paid him a visit. In a word, the day was magical.
Children, who had never seen a chicken or a goat, had the opportunity to experience both up close and personal. There were hayrides (on the lawnmower no less), and old-timers swapped stories.
Smiles were everywhere, and on more than one occassion, Billy and I cried tears of pure joy. Is there truly anything more fun that a fall day on the farm? The book launch celebrated a life dedicated to farming, and a friendship made when two strangers reached out and found each other.
I invite you to read this story of hope, especially now when many of us are so stressed.
I challenge you today, stop at the road-side stand. Reach out to a stranger in the grocery store. Give someone a little bit of your time, because when you do I know ... I know, something magical will happen.
In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes is available through my website, and in bookstores everywhere. They can order the book with the ISBN number (ISBN 978-0-9843192-5-1). As always, I love to hear from you, please visit my website at www.reneawinchester.com and drop me an email.
Happy Gardening, and remember, get those hands dirty!
Renea Winchester is a two-time winner of the Appalachan Writer’s Award for Essay. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Georgia Backroads, Smoky Mountain Living and Long Leaf Style as well as Georgia Public Radio 90.1 FM. She is a frequent contributor to http://Southernauthors.blogspot.com. Her memoir, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love and Tomatoes, was released by Little Creek Books in October 2010.