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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Moving Pictures

I learned about my grandmother from a cardboard box. And a giant steamer trunk, the kind seen in stacked on docks in flickering black and white History channel movies, where the passengers—prim ladies in full-length dresses and hats, and suited men with stiff cuffs and stiffer mustaches—wave to the camera, moving around in jerky speed. I also learned about my grandmother from the crinkles that form at the corners of eyes when a person slowly smiles, seeing their own historical film projected from memory. Ask anyone in my hometown about Catherine M——- and be prepared for quiet smiles or gushing stories about what a sweet woman, a kind teacher, or the Sunday School class that outgrew its walls since no couple would ever progress to the next age group and dare leave hers.

Hundred-year-old photographs peppered with mildew show a shy but shimmering May queen, gilded and glowing among hundreds of ladies of the court, dancing around decorated poles on a Southern lawn. Another curled, blurred photo shows a spirit not yet dampened by decades of farm and farmer wife life, sporting men’s jodhpurs and a tie, laughing with her head thrown back and her arm around her sisters. There were parties and beach trips, ships sailed to New York, stoic poses by stately, columned buildings and silly ones in her mother’s glorious garden. Prim curls and pearls shine at dinner parties, the camera lens catching another gleam I hadn’t seen in the later family portraits: the twinkle in her eye that captured the spark in her life.

She must have been daring—-and brilliant. There are rolls of university diplomas dated in an age where it was rare and deemed useless. She seemed adventurous-—but not too much. Always respectful of her mother’s dedication to proprietary, allowing denial of dates and beaus promising betrothal. In these photos, she looked like the 1920s would launch her into a life meant for a memoir.

Instead, what I know of my grandmother, who died when I was three, is what I glean from formal family albums, travel logs, and stories told wistfully, sadly by others. Luckily for me, I found this treasure chest of a trunk under piles of furniture and years of dust, revealing her historian habits. She liked to write. She loved to read. She was a devoted genealogist, capturing bread crumbs and big details to leave a trail of those who walked before me. I hope to do the same for her, for me, adding color to the black and white words and images, painting her portrait for those after me.

Daddy Built Houses

Green, White, YELLOW