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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


My first paying job was at my dad's store on weekends and, when I got old enough to drive, after school. The store started out as a feed mill in the early 1900s, and was built by my great-great or great-great-great grandfather. When my grandfather inherited it, his dream was to build a general store onto the original building. He did so in the 50s, and my father added a small warehouse onto that to store feed, salt, and landscaping materials. My dad also sold hunting and fishing licenses and supplies.

My favorite job when I was little was probably fishing minnows out of the tank to put into plastic bags as bait. There was a little green net that you could catch them with. I don't know if I realized that I was sending them off to a certain death as I poured them from the net into their new plastic home. Once in a while one would get a head start and you'd open the tank to find it belly up, white, and floating on the top.

I also enjoyed packaging earthworms. My dad would get a big box full of rich earth and wriggling with nightcrawlers, which had to be placed into different-sized containers. Even though it was a little creepy, I liked the smell of the fresh, rich soil and the texture as I grabbed handfuls of it. Even the worms had sort of a nice texture, if you ignored the sliminess.

At the main cash register area, there was an old truck scale. I used to slide the different weights across the bars they sat on. I only ever saw it get used a couple of times. By the door there were pictures of hunters and fishermen with their catch. The men were smiling, but the deer and fish had cold, dead eyes. There were always fun things to play with, like the arrows with different colored feathers on the end, or the duck calls. I couldn't understand why my dad would stock deer urine. He said that it attracted deer to wherever the scent was laid down so that hunters could get a good shot at them.

The thing about working with my dad was that he was a loose canon. My dad carries around this dark, angry energy that you just can't miss. If anything bad happened, even minor things, he would completely lose his temper and scream. I was used to it, but the customers weren't. I remember a couple of times when he was so rude to customers that they walked out. I say I was used to it, but I guess what I mean by that is that I could predict it. It still terrified me every time. I get a lump in my throat thinking about it now.

When he was calm, I liked watching him do things like bag grass seed onto an old rusty scale, and methodically repair screen doors with a metal-wheeled tool.

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