Join me "In The Garden" As I travel to Billy Albertson's "Little Strip of Land" in Roswell Georgia. His farm is the setting for my non-fiction book titled, In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love and Tomatoes.
This isn't a "how-to" garden book. Instead, it's a book that teachers readers "how-to-see" people.
George Ellison describes the book as follows:
In the Garden with Billy is both charming and thought provoking. Upon befriending Billy Albertson—a vigorous Zen-like 77-year-old urban farmer, who becomes her “replacement Grandpa”—the authoress is caught up in whirlwind of ongoing activities involving not only tomatoes but also beans (how to pick, process, and market), goats (in all of their glory), manure (an essential), the rituals of knife sharpening. Along the way, she is not at all reluctant to speak her mind about social issues.
Billy’s garden is situated in greater Atlanta, Georgia, but this memoir is in equal part about Bryson City, North Carolina, Winchester's hometown. Located on the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Renea has rendered aspects of contemporary social and family life in a small mountain community with fidelity.
Ultimately, In the Garden with Billy is a book about love and remembrance. Of love, there is enough to go around, especially for Billy (in Atlanta) and Renea’s mother (in Bryson City) as they confront life-threatening diseases—and for her father as he copes with the inevitable stresses. Of remembrance, she writes in measured cadences:
Everyone I know, friends, family, even the casual acquaintance, breathes life into who I am. When one of these precious creations leaves me I feel a loss most people can’t understand. I gather experiences. I capture memories of time, snapshots of moments that escape and dance across my mind without warning or explanation. Most people will admit they want to be remembered after they die. A legacy, if you will, that their life mattered to someone. We want our name mentioned years after we exhale our last breath. If I have known you, even casually, part of you is inside of me. I will worry when you become ill. I will send cards of encouragement. I will pray. I will mourn when I read your obituary and hurt when you depart this earth. That is my gift, and my curse. I don’t forget people placed in my path. I will remember things about you at odd, unexplained times. A moment I have gathered will replay. In my mind, I will recall what you wore, how you looked, and possibly, even what you said. If remembering is what you want, of that I can promise.
Many are remembered in this book, but none more so than Renea’s deceased “real Grandpa” as she observes her “replacement Grandpa” testing a knife he has just sharpened:
I still haven’t done In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes justice. I didn’t even mention the part about the fig trees and the Fig Newton’s or the parts about many other things in the garden and elsewhere worth experiencing and remembering.