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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

My Mother's Mother

When I was seven, my parents and I moved from the apartment building where I had lived all my life to a house a mile away. My best friend was a girl whose mother had befriended my mother in the building laundry room; we had grown up running up and down the corridors together, in and out of each other's apartments. We had had many sleepovers together, but when she came to spend the night at our new house, she grew upset at bedtime and said that she missed her mother.

"My mother lives half a world away," said my mother. "Don't you think I miss her?"

I was startled. My mother's mother was the only grandparent I ever knew; all the others had died long before I was born. She lived in Korea and would visit us once a year. I knew this, and yet I had never put together that my mother might feel about her mother the way that I felt about her.

Halmoni, as she was called in Korean, had long hair that she braided, then wound around her head. She spoke only a few words of English. I believe I can still remember the careful, formal way she spoke them, more beautiful than the way we used the language ourselves: Good morning. Thank you.

Halmoni came once to the new house. We had some dill plants out back, and she made dill pickles. I'm still not sure why she chose this; Koreans make pickles, but not typically with dill. Did she learn of this American-style preserve, or just decide to work with what was on hand? It is strange, but I associate my Korean grandmother with dill pickles.

After that year, the balance of visits shifted; my mother would return to Korea alone, once a year, to visit her family. The last time I saw Halmoni was my freshman year in college; she came to accompany my uncle, her son-in-law, who was having eye surgery at an American hospital. Her own vision seemed just fine. I took them to a Korean restaurant for dinner, which in retrospect I believe was not very good.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes. I tried to hug my grandmother, but she avoided this too-public gesture of affection. Instead, she grasped my hands and held them firmly, shaking them slightly and looking me intensely in the eyes, a look that felt like it lasted a long time. She may have been saying something with that look, but as with Korean, I didn't understand it.

Olive Drab