The llama competition at the Berrien County Youth Fair.


Interviewing is the best part of my job. Combing through those interviews to create a story is the worst part. Someone once told me that reporters are like museums; ninety percent of their inventory never sees the light of day.

Here are some highlights of what’s been said on-the-record, off-color.

“It popped like a tomato.”

The exhibitors of the Berrien County Youth Fair are a talented bunch, ready to relay the exact weights and ages of their livestock. Well acquainted with the circle of life, they know what awaits Ol’ Bess after the auction block. 

That being said, I was taken aback by this quote. I had asked the exhibitor what his least favorite part of raising rabbits was. He had accidentally stepped on a baby rabbit. The ‘it’ in this sentence refers to Bugs Jr.

“I do it right.”

No one person has said this, but everyone says this.

Dozens of farmers, contractors, business owners, local politicians, etc. let me in on this little secret. Every other Joe/Jane Schmo in their field is a schmuck; their method, their work ethic, their special something is the rare, real deal.

I don’t know the first thing about farming, contracting, small business, politicking, etc. But they can’t all be right.

“Insulin’s expensive, even with insurance.”

The man worked two jobs, one of which was a joint venture with his wife, the other of which provided insurance. Said unsolicited and sheepishly, the quote was meant as an explanation. The story didn’t need it, so it never made the first draft. 

“Stay blessed.”

Kids are notoriously difficult to interview. Their answers are often only one or two words long and meandering. Learning to ask those under the age of fourteen the right questions has been a process.

I made the mistake of ending this interview with a question reserved for the fourteen-plus crowd: “Anything you want people to know?” 

“This country was founded on blowing sh*t up!”

My editor cut this line, and I’m glad he did. My interviewee was a woman who used fireworks as a way to heal from her PTSD. She had thoughtful responses to the annual Facebook firework culture war, as someone who was actually a victim of violence.

This quote was said in good fun. After years of being paralyzed by loud noise, she was basking in her ability not only to tolerate booms and bangs but also to enjoy them. To her detractors on the other side of that small-town culture war, it would have given them license to stereotype.


See: kids don’t give great interviews; deploy yes-or-no questions with caution.

1 Comment

  1. Debra Rienstra

    First of all: llamas! And second: so glad that you are becoming a keeper of these small stories, small quotes, small glimpses into regular peoples’ lives. It’s a beautiful thing, and I know you do it with enormous grace.


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