I did a video interview about Georgia Bred, the book, the other night. This was not New York or Los Angeles calling. This was not some beat reporter from the AJC who accidentally discovered the best hidden secret on the backroads of Georgia. There were no lights, camera, or makeup.
This was my buddy David, who lives over around Fort Rucker, Alabama. The heart of the Dothan, Enterprise, and Ozark tri-cities area. He got wind of the book on social media. He spent his hard-earned lunch money to buy a copy, and he got this idea to do a video to help promote the book. This is the kind of stuff David does. He roles with the waves of the universe. He leans into what he calls “God-inspired” moments.
I’m not sure why I agreed to do this. I used the oldest line in the world on him over the phone. “I’ve got a face made for radio.” I suggested an audio podcast instead of a video. Not that I know anything about casting pods. I didn’t mind talking about the book. I just wasn’t sure I liked the idea of what I might look like on YouTube.
I have never looked like my pictures. I swear I look a lot more like Keanu Reeves than my photographs will ever reveal. I’m the guy who passes by the mirror in the department store and wonders who that is looking back. I see myself in group pictures taken as some place like a church picnic and it makes me question my own self-awareness.
Anyway, I got out the old laptop. I had an invite via email. I clicked the link and, behold, there was David on my screen. He was looking all Director of Cinematography like. Fiddling with something below the screen on his desk.
“Can we try a different room? The light is not that great, and you look all grainy.”
I took this as a bad sign. “I told you that this face doesn’t work on video.”
I tried the library. No good. I tried my music room. Bad wireless connection. I’m walking around the house with my laptop in front of me. “Can you see me now?”
We finally settled on the bedroom with a bookshelf in the background. I moved the rocking chair over, placed the laptop on a TV tray stand, adjusted the tilt of the screen and sat back. “How’s that?” He smiled, “Perfect. I can work with that.”
I know nothing about interviews. I’m sure there were a lot of “uhs” and long drawn out well-let-me-think-about-its which made for stimulating sleep. They have a newborn in the house and there were a few crying noises in the background.
David was reassuring. “Don’t worry about this stuff. I can edit it where no one will ever know.” Thank God for editing. “Can you do anything about this face?” It didn’t hurt to ask.
We interviewed for nearly two hours. I put a few yawns on the screen that’ll need to be touched up. David asked a lot a great questions about the book. What fascinated me the most was how much he personally got out of the book. He’s probably thirty years younger than me, raised in a different era, and had almost no way to identify with the experiences of my growing up years. Yet he was captivated.
It was his closing question that got me the most.
“What advice would you have for people of my generation?”
Partly because of the context in which that question was asked, and partly because of some of the stories I’ve written, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
I would tell any generation, “Get to know the old folks around you.” And what I mean by that is that we tend to live among our peers. We tend to operate within the framework of people near our own age. And if we’re not careful, we can see old people as being unimportant and downright irrelevant.
Some of the most inspirational and rewarding conversations I’ve ever had have been with people I’ve met who are 85 and older. Take Vernon. Vernon has been coming to the tree farm a half dozen times a year for the last 15 years. He collects our used nursery pots, cleans them up, and then sells them to other nurseries.
Vernon is 91. He still drives. His thick white hair always looks like he just got out of bed 10 minutes ago. He’s maybe 5 foot six inches tall. Hunched over. And he talks loud enough to be heard over a jet engine.
“Mr. Vernon, you’ve had a long life.” I’m just a 65-year-old kid to him. So, I call him Mister.
“Yes sur, I sho’ have.” His drawl is thick.
“How much longer you gonna be driving?” I notice that the passenger side of his van has a few dings in it.
“My license is good ‘til I’m 95. I plan on driving ‘til I’m a hundred.”
He fought on the front lines in Korea when he was 22. He never met MacArthur, but he saw him in camp a few times. Nearly got killed three times but made it home.
“You live by yourself these days?” I’m nosey, I know.
“Oh no. I got me a young wife. She’s 86. And two of my children still live with me.” Help him Jesus, I thought. “We all get along real good.”
He sat on the edge of the floorboard inside the open van door. “I still love to work. I just can’t do like I used to. I get tired and have to sit for a spell.”
Yeah, I know. Help me, Jesus, if I make it to 91.
We chat like this most every time he comes by the farm. I’m always intrigued by his stories. A round of gun fire that would have killed him if he hadn’t bent down to tie his shoe. A buddy who yawned one time and had a bullet go right through both cheeks. “You know that bullet didn’t hit not one tooth. Went clean through.”
He talks about the old nursery days when he got home from the war. He talks about growing up near Roanoke, Alabama. He talks about enjoying life when they didn’t have much of anything as kids.
I thought about my interview question. “Mr. Vernon. You got any advice? How’d you get to be doing so well at 91?”
He chuckled. “Well, I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. And I eat a lot of blueberries every day. ‘Dem blueberries is how come I pass the eye test for my driver’s license. You know the Royal Air Force pilots ate blueberry sandwiches before they flew at night. Says it made them see in the dark like cats.”
Didn’t know that. But this goes to my point. The older generation is rich in history, deep in common sense, and incredibly worth getting to know. Their stories are full of life. They appreciate life. We should talk to them every chance we get.
Besides, they know better than anyone what the younger generation needs.
Interview over and out.