My dad keeps pigeons.  Keeps is an accurate term because that’s about all he does with them. 

To train his half-witted spaniel to hunt birds, my father found a company that dealt with nuisance animals and purchased 10 wild pigeons.  The kind Bert is infatuated with on Sesame Street. 

He brought them home and stuffed them into two bunny-sized cages—barely large enough for them to stand, let alone move around.  The tight quarters drove them to peck each other’s heads until most of them were bald.

Meanwhile, my father learned that he really needed homing pigeons to train the dog—the wild ones he purchased will just fly away.  But, as luck would have it, he met a homing pigeon breeder at the feed store who was dying to get rid of some.  Never one to pass up a bargain, my dad came home with a cageful of homing pigeons and a promise that he was going to build a coop for them.  You see, for a homing pigeon to return, they need to actually create a home—meaning that they need to successfully hatch and raise two eggs to adulthood.  Easier said than done.

It took one-and-a-half years to build the pigeon coop.  Meanwhile, their numbers dwindled and I threatened to free them every time I went home.  The white homing pigeons were unknowingly raising the colored offspring of the wild ones because their own eggs were duds.  And the dog was getting too old to train.

I can’t blame my dad—we are a family of collectors.  I am a 22 year old woman with three cats and boxes full of mangled clothes, unused blankets, knickknacks I bought when I was 14, books I have never and will never read, and broken pieces of appliances that are no longer in my life. My crowded little basement looks like my father’s three car garage—full of junk we can’t part with because—who knows?—someday we may need it.

Last summer I visited my parent’s house with the five children I nanny.  The youngest ran into the house, exclaiming, “Miss Lenae, you have to come see this!  I think there’s a dead bird!  Come.  Look!”

My mother sighed and jumped up to grab a garbage bag.  Sure enough—all five kids plus my younger sister were gathered around the cage staring at a pigeon that appeared to have been pecked in the head one too many times. 

“Come on, guys, go play.  You don’t need to look at a dead old bird all day,” I ordered.  As the kids ran down to the trampoline, I kept the two living pigeons inside their cage as my mother grabbed the dead one with a plastic covered hand.  “How many have died?” I ask.

“Oh, only a few.”  They were down to four.

“Did they all die like this?”

“No.  We lost one of the homing dads—we don’t know why he died.  Another one was mauled through the cage by some kind of critter.  And then there was the one that was scared to death by a squirrel.”  We walked over to the freezer in the garage as she crammed the bird in between a box of corn dogs and what must have been two other pigeons.

“Why freeze them?”

She paused to shut the door and admitted, “Oh . . . well . . . you see, your father says he can still use them to train Belle even when they’re dead.”

Well, maybe.  Someday.

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© 2011 Lenae Day