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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Protector of My Heart

I knew two grandmothers, but only one made much of an impression upon me. My dad’s mom, Carrie, was nice enough, but because he’d run away from home at age 16 and spent the rest of his life forcing his relationship with her, we 2 grandkids felt coerced too on the rare times we visited her. We didn’t know her, it was hard to understand her speaking (not sure why—she didn’t have an accent per se) and we just didn’t—care. And always felt a bit guilty about it.

In the end the Grandma who was everything to us was my mother’s mother. She was an only child (though had a still-born little brother, whose death caused my normally unflappable grandmother great grief at the time). Grandma was from Switzerland. She was semi-orphaned as a child and made her way picking crops, until her bossy big sister got her an au-pair/housekeeper job in Montana when she was around 20. “Colder than Switzerland there!” she liked to say. So she made her way to Los Angeles, and met her husband Walter, a baker, and had my mom.

Grandma was our friend, our champion, our protector, our teacher of the ways of the Old Country. I loved spending time with her. We’d eat exotic foods like blood sausage, bake Swiss cookies like Meilanderli, go to Swiss Club where the aging residents spoke in their sing-song dialect. When my father’s drinking got too severe we took refuge from time to time in her apartment which, ironically, my father built in his one fully rendered construction project. Bertha Heyer was patient, did not suffer bad behavior, but had a delightful sense of play and would engage in streams of Yahtzee games with us. We had her in her full faculties 81 years, until she had a devastating stroke. Though she lived on, she was mostly mute. My mom cared for her for 10 more years. I, to my shame, didn’t visit nearly as much as I should. I let my hurt at her weak state get in the way of compassion, love, and spelling my mom occasionally. I was childish. I was selfish. How I loved my grandmother.

Julia

Me and Mine