My Terry Gross is young, has long straight blonde hair, looks a little like the actress Laura Linney, and doesn’t wear glasses.
This Terry Gross – the real one who produces and hosts National Public Radio’s interview talk show “Fresh Air” – is petite to the point of looking like Mary Martin playing the role of Peter Pan. She has short cropped hair, wears glasses, and is in her late 50s.
I had been invited to go down to Roanoke with a group from Floyd’s Jacksonville Center for the Arts to hear Terry Gross speak at The Jefferson Center. We were in the VIP room before the show dipping our plantain chips into lemon pistachio ricotta when Terry walked in.
Once we convinced ourselves it was really Terry Gross and we got over our initial feelings of being star-struck, we made our way over to meet her.
I was introduced to her as a writer. In perfect interview fashion, she turned to me and said, “What do you write?’
“Funny enough, right now (besides blogging), WVTF Public Radio essays,” I blurted out.
“What are your essays about?” she continued her line of questions.
“My last one was about my mother for Mother’s Day,” I answered and then went on to tell her the essay about my father’s WWII military service, which aired on Memorial Day last year, and how after that my mother asked if I would write one for her.
That was the extent of my two question "interview" conducted by Terry Gross before it was my turn to ask questions.
“Where did you grow up?” I asked, already detecting that she was from the northeast.
“Brooklyn,” she answered.
I asked her about a recent exceptionally good interview I heard her do with Paul Riechoff, author of a book on Iraq from an Iraq veteran’s perspective, before her attention turned to others. Some were waiting for her to sign her book, “All I Did Was Ask.”
Terry knew that most of us had a different idea of how she looked. She opened her show by saying how in one instant she had answered the question on most people’s minds: What does Terry Gross look like?
Letting us get a better look, she did a pirouette as she laughed, saying, “…I know what you’re thinking.”
At first, the only thing recognizable about her was her voice, and throughout the show I would occasionally close my eyes and listen, bringing “my Terry Gross” back to mind. But as the show went on, her familiar wit, calm, and enthusiasm came through. She was engaging, revealing, and seemed to enjoy making us laugh by playing recorded outtakes of past shows that some might consider to be bloopers.
She took questions, and was complimented (or hit on) by one gay woman who expressed her disappointment that Terry was straight, before closing the show by playing a haunting rendition of the classic song “Walk On” by Richard Thomas of Fairport Convention. The song seemed to be Terry’s way to bid us a farewell while also encouraging us to remain hopeful. We sat in meditative silence together, letting the words sink in.
When you walk through a storm …Hold your head up high …And don't be afraid of the dark …At the end of the storm…There's a golden sky…And the sweet silver song of a lark…
Post Notes: The first Photo is of Terry Gross signing Cindy’s book. Cindy is one of the Jacksonville Center’s board of directors. In the second photo, John, Jacksonville's business manager, and Jayn, another board member, are talking with Terry.
~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on May 23, 2006.