birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Memaw was the first dead person I ever saw. According to Mom, the most important thing about her is she was half Irish and half Croatan Indian. Actually the half Irish part was irrelevant. The only important thing about her is that she was half Croatan Indian. That made Mom quarter Croatan Indian. I won’t say the only important thing about me is that I am one eighth Croatan Indian, but Mom might disagree.

Memaw was born in North Carolina, but I’m not sure where. She and Papaw moved to Fort Myers, Florida, soon after my family moved to Fort Lauderdale. I was disappointed that they didn’t move to Ft. Lauderdale, too. My friend Darla’s grandparents lived down the street from her and I felt cheated. Still, Memaw was only a couple of hours away and we went on weekend visits fairly frequently. During the summer when we visited I begged to remain while they rest of the family returned home Sunday afternoon. Memaw begged, too, and the two of us wore down Mom and Dad’s reasonable protests that I had only one change of clothes. For two weeks I was spoiled, eating my favorite foods and staying up late playing Spades and Rummy. It came at a cost, though: I had to go to church on Sundays AND Wednesdays. My family was Lutheran, but Memaw and Papaw were Southern Baptists. For Two weeks every summer I got a healthy dose of that ol’ time religion. I don’t know if it did me any good, but it didn’t do me any harm. At the end of the two weeks, Memaw put me on a Greyhound bus for home. My brother and sister were terribly jealous, which was always a bonus.

When I was sixteen, Memaw and Papaw were driving to church Thanksgiving Eve when Papaw turned left across a highway. It was dusk. The oncoming car didn’t have its headlights on and Papaw didn’t see it. It slammed into the passenger side of the car, killing Memaw instantly. I was at work at McDonald’s when it happened. Only managers were supposed to answer the phone but I was next to it when it rang and picked it up. It was Dad. Instead of talking to me, he asked to speak to my boss. I knew something was wrong, but Hugh (the manager) would only say, “It’ll be okay, Bob. It’ll be okay” over and over. I had mom’s car with me but Dad drove to work to pick me up. Why didn’t Hugh just say, “You need to go home,” and let me drive home?

Dad told me about the accident and when I got home I packed a bag and we drove to Fort Myers. Papaw was in the hospital. An ambulance took him to the funeral home three days later. The morticians did what they could with Memaw, considering how badly she’d been injured in the accident, but she looked like she was made of wax. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to touch her. I looked around, making sure no one was looking and place my hand on top of hers. It was cold. It wasn’t her. When I was little and her father, the Irishman, died I stayed home when the adults went to the funeral home. Memaw later said he looked like he was asleep. I’d pictured a giant room with king sized beds against the walls, army barracks style, with sleeping corpses in them, not wax dummies in a fancy polished wooden box on a cloth covered table that smelled of gardenias and Renuzit.

A couple of months ago I did one of those Ancestry dot com DNA tests. Not one drop of Native American blood runs in my veins. I haven’t told Mom. I wonder if Memaw knew. Or cared.