One of the birds I’ve missed most this past year has been the brown-headed cowbird. Last year we got two separate mated pairs to visit our feeders on a regular basis, but this winter, nothing.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Steph Critchfield mentioned a new storytelling site called Cowbird and I just knew I had to get an invite. A short story site (and you know how much I enjoyed ficly and, before it, ficlets) plus a bird reference? I’m in.

Or, at least, I applied to be in. Today I actually got in and I wrote my first story about my Grampa Miller.

Grampa passed a year ago yesterday so the picture and story are a little bit poignant. I’ll re-post the whole thing here, but check out the site as it’s really slick and very unique. Photos, audio & text all presented together.

It’s also very different (for me) to write a real-life first-person narrative instead of narrative fiction. Maybe some more of these will help me with my writing about my running.

Anyhow, here’s my story:

We don’t often get snow in Georgia, let alone an ice storm, but that’s exactly what rolled in to the Atlanta area on the night of January 9, 2011. It started with some snow and some rain and it just kept coming, shutting down an entire city for the whole week.

I hardly noticed the bad weather, because I was in the car on the way to Niles, Michigan with my mother, father, middle brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law.
My paternal Grandfather, Norm Miller, had passed in the early hours of that morning at the age of 89.

He had been sick recently.
He’d had surgery just a few weeks prior.
He had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for a while.

So there I was, leaving my pregnant wife and 3 kids, to drive nearly 800 miles up I-75 to be with my family and mourn the passing of my dad’s father. It was a cold, wet, long slog that I wouldn’t call enjoyable (at least not the car ride portion).
We stayed with my maternal grandmother and visited my paternal grandmother every day. We helped her prepare for the funeral services; we helped move my grandfather’s personal items from his room at the retirement community back to the family home.

We helped out, most of all, because we came.

My grandmother initially told us she hadn’t expected us all to come. That made me happy at first and then a bit melancholy. How (or why) wouldn’t I come, despite the hardship of leaving my own family at home.

At the service my middle brother spoke eloquently, I got choked up speaking, my dad got more choked up saying his peace and my youngest brother couldn’t speak through his tears. A good showing by all the Miller men, I think.

Much like my grandfather, my uncle didn’t have much to say.

He was a man of few words, my Grampa Miller, but he had a generous, sincere laugh and loved to garden and watch birds and just be outdoors. I got my love of bird-watching from him. My youngest brother spent all his youth on a tractor with him and my middle brother went into the service (and, later, the restaurant business [I believe]) because of him.

My maternal grampa was the one who hugged and kissed and who still makes me cry when I miss him, but my Grampa Miller he’s the one that makes my heart ache. I miss him when the wind whistles on my runs or when the sun shines through the clouds. I miss him when I’m quiet and contemplative and I can imagine myself as the reserved extension of his lineage.
We spent nearly a week in small-town Michigan amidst the snow and ice and it didn’t stop us a bit; only time seemed to have stopped. Comparing my week to all the home-bound, icy fun my own family had without me back in Georgia made me feel like I missed a month with them. I hugged them all as tightly as I could when I got home.

The best moment of this saga? Hearing my dad tell stories of his own reckless youth at the reception in the church basement following the service. I had no idea my Grampa once took my dad & uncle out in the truck to hurl pumpkins at mailboxes, but that’s another story for a different time.

I love you, Grampa Miller and I miss you.

I hope you enjoyed the story & the site. Not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s out there now. Comments are welcome (& encouraged).

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