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

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Egg

Every time I visit my mother in Wichita, she wants me to tell her which of her things I'd like to have. She'll soon turn 90 and she would rather give us family keepsakes than buy something new. Laudable, and perhaps even thoughtful. But with my mother, nothing is ever as it appears on the surface.

The first go around on this subject, prompted me to look around her little house. A signed print of a LeRoy Neiman painting of speed skaters at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics she bought as an investment and is still waiting to appreciate? No. The 2' by 3' minutely detailed three-dimensional cooper replica of the house I grew up in hanging next to it? Again, no.

Everything she owns means something to her and, in truth, she's tossed most of the trash. I don't want her to think I don't appreciate her treasured things, my past, our relationship. I tread carefully. The trip wires are everywhere.

Finally, I pointed to the two spoon racks on the kitchen wall with the multi-generation collection of spoons, some silver, some tacky utensils picked up at state fairs and tourist gift shops. I would use them, not display them. Practical, yet amusing.

Nope. She's not ready to give those up. Nor was she ready to give up the next three things I suggested, the tension between us growing with each fail.

My mother took the lead, suggesting old cookie tins from the 1920s produced by a long-gone company my dad's family once owned? A figurine of an Arab carpet seller? A cut-glass vase that required three dozen roses to fill appropriately? No. No. No.

You don't want anything to do with me, do you, she said, giving voice to a truth that always hangs between us. I pointed to the potbellied pewter coffee pot she'd bought 60 years ago at the Williamsburg gift shop and now sits on her living room coffee table. "Remember when I dropped the hard boiled egg in there?" We both laughed. I was, maybe, four and had been left alone at the breakfast table with orders to eat an egg I didn't want. Hiding it seemed the best solution. So I padded into the dining room and dropped it into the coffee pot. Out of sight, out of mind.

It was a week before the smell of the rotting egg demanded attention. My mother sniffed it back to the coffee pot. I must have been punished, but the incident evolved into a rare, funny family story. The egg left a mark in the bottom of the pot that couldn't be removed.

The tension broken, we left the house to have lunch and run errands. The subject changed and I was off the hook.

That Christmas, a large box arrived for me from my mother. Ugh. I was certain she'd sent the old cookie tins. When I realized it was the coffee pot, I was stunned. I hadn't bothered to ask for that prized possession. I opened the pot to remove the packing materials and sitting inside was a hard boiled egg, this one neatly wrapped in plastic.

I keep the pot in my dining room now. It didn't prove to be a magic talisman able to mend a tattered relationship. But it makes me smile. And I think it always made her smile as well. All is not lost between us.

Tattoo

DNA