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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


My father's mother died when I was 5. From complications of gangrene. The offending leg had to be amputated, and so the sight of that oddity had me innocently curious about her. I wanted to know more. She was from the old country. By way of Russia to Yugoslavia to Ellis Island to Sacramento California. She spoke in broken English and with a heavy dialect. I had to listen especially hard to translate in my child's mind.

When the Aunties would gather around, their dialects lapsed; harmonized into a sing-song-y chorus that was their bond of heritage and home. What I remember most clearly is her kitchen. The air was moist and warm with aromas of cabbage and dumplings. I hadn't realized the significance of this memory until I walked into a Russian deli in San Francisco. I swooned and remembered Nana. I purchased dumplings that day.

In the heat of summer, she cooked outside and down below in the basement, with door open. She canned tomatoes there. Jams! Apricot jam on bread with real butter. When she turned her attention toward me it was an encounter with The Crone. Perhaps a much milder version of a Babushka'd Baba Yaga? There was a cut through clarity and a sense of loving harshness in a woman who had seen enough of life--and what it can do to a family that had come so far from the immigrant dream.

Tough Cookie

Gullible Grandmother