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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Heluva Good Guy

“Thanks for coming with me. It means a lot,” I say, looking through the windshield, looking at nothing. 

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it,” says David, stealing a glance at me from the driver’s seat. 

“I wish you could have met him earlier,” I plead, for the umpteenth time. 

“Me too.”

“I can picture you guys together, with all of us women, distracted, looking at bridges or barges—whatever fascinating manmade structure was nearby during an after-dinner stroll. I know I tell you this a lot, but you have so much in common. You both love to mentally take things apart, imagining how machines and construction work. I guess it’s because of his training as a civil engineer, or maybe just from decades of owning the lumber yard.”

“We could definitely talk for hours about that!” David grins, his eyes twinkling with the same excitement I’d seen many times before—but with Bob. Like the times when I was little, tagging along to the water’s edge, he’d excitedly point out how tugboats commandeered much larger ships, how suspension bridges defied gravity, or how locks worked to get giant boats through tiny canals. 

“You guys love the same kinds of books. All how-to, and history, and how things are made or came to be. He once read a 500-page book on salt. In fact, I think it was called Salt. We should look that up,” I rambled. “I think it was about the historical evolution of mankind and how salt played a role in food supply and survival, or maybe even caused wars between countries. I don’t know. I just remember he was fascinated by it. Maybe it’s still at the house.”

“We should look that up.”

“We should have his favorite martinis with olives and a little happy hour tonight. You know how I’m always chattering about how this part of my family is so good at celebrating every day together.”

“Maybe you guys will finally let me try those special olives you say are Bob’s favorite.”

“Yes! Good idea. And a cheese plate. We always have a cheese plate,” as I go on to describe the cubes speared with toothpick-handles. “I think his favorite to share with company is this one called Heluva Good cheese. Ha.”

“I can’t wait to finally see this kitchen,” says David. 

“I know! I’m excited for you to see it, too. Bob and Mary Agnes worked so hard on it. Drinking all those bottles of wine was a tough job,” I laugh. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I wonder where they got the idea. Sticking up wine labels one by one for wall-to-wall wallpaper is pretty cool. And to think, they used to only collect matchbooks and corks.”


“Yeah, you know, from restaurants. My family loves to eat out, always trying new things. And when they’d travel, they’d collect a matchbook as a souvenir. And they traveled a LOT,” I explain. “The glass jar is in the dining room, full to the rim. Actually, I don’t think it’s a jar. I think it’s a giant brandy snifter, like this tall,” gesturing about a foot high from my lap. 

“That’s cool. Your cousins sound like such neat people. I wish I’d had family like that growing up.”

“Yeah....” I say, wandering off in my thoughts. I see the old brick-paved street appearing up ahead. It means we’re getting close, the historic district a small haven of stately homes and storefronts flanking the road to the marina. 

“I just always introduce them as my chosen grandparents. It takes too long to explain second cousins, or whatever.”

“That works,” says David, his mind wandering elsewhere, letting the steering wheel slide back through his hand as we make a right turn. I look at him from the side, noting the calluses and scars on his thick fingers, the swollen knuckles, the nails grooved and bumpy from years of haphazard use as tools, all telltale signs of hard work. Just like Bob’s, I think. I think about the notepad list in his pocket, filled with random daily to-do’s. Though digital and on his phone, it’s just like Bob’s, who always had a little lined notepad bulging in his shirt pocket, penciled to the brim with honeydo details. I look at the suit I picked out for him that morning, having pulled the shirt that needed to be worn with that blue tie. Just like Bob, I smile to myself, as he always deferred to whatever the rest of us women wanted him to do, putting on the chosen clothes and escorting us all on his elbow, whether to a night at the local theater or a walk to the ice cream shop. 

We find a sliver of a parking space under a giant live oak, it’s huge limbs welcoming with wide open arms, ushering us underneath her shading canopy. There are more cars than I thought there would be at this hour. 

“We’re early, but look at all these people,” David says.

We cross the sandy lot, me awkwardly hopscotching in heels to avoid the heel-sucking, sandiest patches. We walk up the wide green steps of the white clapboard house, pausing to weave and wobble through the crowd, navigating elbows and shuffling feet. Finally making it to the double doors, I see a clear spot opening up and ease that way. David squeezes my hand as we squeeze through the people. 

“There are so many people here,” he says. 

“Of course. Probably the whole island. They wouldn’t miss it,” I reply. 

We pause at the pair of wooden doors propped open, decades of white paint glossing over the next, and the next, until the finer details of woodwork are lost, now rounded and filled. Entering the large hall, I immediately see Bob’s face at the front of the room, smiling that megawatt smile, pillowy white curls brushed submissively into one smooth wave. I can’t see his eyes, the lens of his glasses blocking the view, slightly smoky with that sunlight-sensing protective tint. It’s a great photo, I think to myself. Good choice. 

Someone near the door pushes a folded paper program into my hands. I look down to see the cover but the text is blurry, tears suddenly filling my eyes and distorting everything. Blinking, I look up at the ceiling, though I’m not sure if it’s to encourage the tears to discreetly roll back inside my head, or ask the heavens for courage to keep moving forward. I look back at the program crumpling in my hand:

“Robert M. ‘Bob’ White, 1921-2006 - A Celebration of Life.”

“I wish you could’ve known him,” I whisper, not able to look at David. 

He squeezes my hand, two times quickly, and keeps holding it, pulling me forward.

Visiting Dad