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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Thank You for Your Service

My fiercely independent father has been in the hospital for three weeks now and doesn’t seem to be headed home anytime soon. He arrived there a very sick man, bounced back to be well enough to go to the hospital’s nursing rehab floor, then fell ill again all of a sudden last weekend. And now it seems there’s always some new problem cropping up to keep him down.

He is 91. He is suffering from what the doctors call “the birthday disease”: too many birthdays result in a variety of health problems. But up until now Dad has eluded that disease. He’s lived alone, continued to run two small businesses, and has an astounding mind and memory. He drinks sour mash whiskey every night served best with a side of good conversation. He’s also a Yellow Dog Democrat who hates Donald Trump but loves to rant about him and all of his party. In fact when an admission nurse at the hospital asked Dad if he was allergic to anything, his response was “Republicans.”

Despite his politics, Dad has received great care from almost everyone at the hospital. Even those nurses, doctors, and staff members who have diametrically opposing political views to Dad’s have been kind and patient with him, but in a sweetly condescending way, which is not lost on Dad. But despite the good care, Dad is depressed. Too many days of hospital food and walls will do that to anyone, and feeling mortal compounds it further.

Today, though, he got a new nurse. A 40-something man named Brian who, in addition to being an RN, is also in the Air National Guard. Ever since Brian found out that Dad had been a Lt. Col. in the Guard some 40 years ago he’s been especially attentive, but his attention is not condescending. It’s reverent and as an equal.

Dad is not a hawk. He’s a pacifist who rolls his eyes at veterans who wear their service on their sleeve and at the people who say to him “thank you for your service” when they find out he is a veteran. But Brian has found ways to salute my father by simply engaging him as a person who happens to also be a fellow serviceman. And today, though Dad was in the doldrums, it was Brian who lifted him out simply by carrying on a lively conversation.

All I can say is “Brian, thank YOU for your service.”

Taking Wing

All in the Family