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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,
It's late and I should have written you before now. By late, I mean it's 12:35 am but I've had company from Australia, and I've tried to show her the side of Alabama that people don't see from a little place called Gee's Bend (where they make famous quilts) to Studio by the Tracks (where autistic adults create the most beautiful art) to Monroeville, Alabama - Nelle Harper Lee's stomping ground.

I never got to show you Monroeville, though I did show you Birmingham.

Anyway, it means I'm exhausted now and trying to write you a letter.

Sometimes I think of you driving on these same back country roads in the 1960s and 1970s for Wake Forest or Morehead State or Mississippi State trying to recruit the latest running back or fullback.

Sometimes, I think of those football recruits who came to dinner when we were kids. Who was the one who put his hands on his lap after eating ribs and Clancy, our beautiful black lab, slipped under the table and licked the football player's fingers under the dining room table?

The recruit leapt into air, horrified, never seeing Clancy.

We all laughed and said it was "just Clancy."

You worked so hard to get the football player to come to Pitt and I don't think he did.

What was his name? I used to know.

Clancy was like our brother in a way even though he was a black lab. I loved him so much. Mom loved him and talked in a voice for Clancy that made hime feel like my brother.

I remember thinking --- how can Clancy ever die?

He's our brother.

He let me dress him up with much more patience than my own real brothers, Duffy and Casey.

Do your remember when I dressed little Casey up? He was four-years-old and I dressed him up like the one of the Morrison kids down the street?

This was for your benefit.

You had not met the Morrison kids yet.

They were a family of 14 adopted children living a few doors down, but you had Kansas State football games to win.

You only knew that fourteen adopted children had moved in, so I dressed up Casey in one of Keely's dresses and a hat, and I had him ring the doorbell and pretend to be a Morrison kid.

You answered it and Casey had made up a name - What was it? Maybe it was Cathy.

He said, "I'm Cathy. Can Keely play?"

You said, "Well, hello Cathy. How old are you?"

Casey said, "Frweeeee" even though he knew how to say "three," but he said it in a way to trick you and he smiled, thrilled to get away with it.

You invited "Cathy" inside, but I heard you say to mom, "Man, that kid looks like Casey."

But you actually didn't know. You were busy. Distracted. You had football games to win.

"Man that kid looks like Keely."

We all laughed later.

Mom knew - maybe she was in on it with us.

Anyway, I've been wanting to write to you for a year or more just to tell you thank you and that I love you.

How do I tell you that you've been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's?

I doubt I ever will. Why would I?

I don't think you'd believe it.

You called it a pile of horse shit the first time you heard the words of "severely impaired."

I did tell Flannery in hopes that it would jar him back to us sooner rather than later - and maybe it will - he wants very much to talk to you again.

I wish I could make that happen.

I wish I knew how to make that happen.

Thank you for being such a good grandfather to him. You taught him to throw a football at a kid. You laughed at his stories in all the right places. You went to all his shows and concerts and saw him run cross country. You went to his graduations.

Thank you for that.

Thank you for coming to the Betty Ford Family Clinic that week when he ran away and for taking such copious notes.

Thank you for ringing the desert chimes like an old school bell yelling like a coach, "LET'S GO FOLKS!"

Thank you making dinners so special all the times we came to San Diego.

Thank you for making me laugh when I didn't think I could laugh.

Thank you for teaching me how to get on with it.

Back when I was a kid when I was scared of going blind like Helen Keller, thank you for saying, "NOBODY IS GOING BLIND IN THIS HOUSE AND YOU KNOW WHY?

I have so much more to tell you, so I'll write you more tomorrow. You're 82. You were born in 1935. We went to Rome together last summer, all nine of us!

I don't want to believe that Alzheimer's could really take you from us. You were the one who took care of Papa Jerry, Mom's dad, when he was sick. I wrote a story about it. I called it, "I am not John Madden's Daughter" because so many assumed I was. It was all about you taking care of Mom's father when he moved in with us.

Papa Jerry said this about you - "He gives the best showers. Clean as a whistle."

I love you, Dad.

Remember your nickname for me?

It was both "Aunt Gertrude" or "Gertrude Marble Cake" because I was a serious, somber kid.

Duffy was Sammy Junkyard.
Casey was Dickie Dust Mop.
Keely was Fannie Fat Buckets.

I will write more tomorrow after I get my company, dear Eleanor, on the plane to visit her Aunt Pearl in Oregon.

We saw an Alabama psychic last night.

You would call that a pile of horse shit.

I love you, Dad.

Aunt Gertrude

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