Rock Doves and Hammers

August 22nd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

European diners are fond of squab and the Brits call them rock doves, but Americans seem to dislike pigeons almost as much as Canada geese. None were as hostile as my Grandmother Mabel.

While Romney was the county seat and the largest town around that part of West Virginia, it had under 2,000 folk. So, pigeons like we see befouling benches and picking lunch leavings from trashcans weren’t a serious problem. Yet, to Mabel they were monsters.

My grandfather literally built their compact three-bedroom house. The backyard had a guard of a gigantic maple that was host every seven years to cicadas who’d leave spectral, fragile molted shells on the bark. The magnificent tree oversaw more regularly the swarm of neighbor and relative women who arrived when Granddad brought bushels of Lima beans, tomatoes, string peas and such, that required processing and sharing both of the goods and the gossip.


The pigeon trouble came about half way up the maple. They would spend the night either in the adjacent limbs or directly on the roof. Then come dawn or even before, they’d coo and COO outside her bedroom window. Mabel was deeply insulted and took this as a personal affront. She spoke of pigeons with the disdain and anger country preachers reserve for the Devil and his minions.

So it came to pass in those days when I was a gentle, curious and naive lad of perhaps six that I had both pigeon shame and triumph.

For the shame, unlike many children, I loved hearing adults such as the six sets of great-aunts and great-uncles spinning their webs of memories and stretched truths. One of those recurring tales was metaphorical, but I took literally. I didn’t understand the science, but I heard many times that if you sprinkled salt on a bird’s tale, you could pick it up, catch it.

Well, to the ridiculing delight of the family, I very stealthily came behind a pigeon on the picnic table and dumped a fair amount of table salt on its tale. For a long moment, it looked curiously and then took off. My mother explained there was no science, that if you were close enough to salt the feathers, you could grab the bird. Ha ha, you literal-minded child.

That did not cause me to hide in my room for the rest of the summer. Instead, I plotted other ways to capture a bird. Lo, these many years later, I’m not sure why I wanted to do so, but it must simply have been the challenge, plus the plethora of robins and pigeons in the yard.

Eventually, I succeeded. I stalked and walked a youngish pigeon into thick ivy on the building beyond the goldfish pond. It tried to fly away from me and was caught in the vines. I sprung and had it in my hands. I was proud.

My grandmother was ready. She had observed this from the kitchen. As so many of us, she loved to see others fail at small tasks, but seemed to have gotten over this disappointment quickly. She likewise sprang, from the house to the tool locker on the back porch. She loped toward me with a ball peen hammer. She exclaimed that she would finally have some revenge and would crush the pigeon skull in small retribution for the many too-early awakenings.

I immediately opened my hands and tossed the bird up, where it beat away. Mabel was both angry and confused. When she told the tale at dinner, my grandfather was not at all surprised. He had a son and other grandsons who loved shooting deer, rabbits and birds, but knew I was not interested. Nature might well be as the cliché goes red of tooth and claw, but I was not.

License note: The pic is, of course, Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with it. Just give Mike Ball credit once.


One Response

  1. Uncle says:

    Even up country, when I was a tot, we had pigeons. They usually stayed over in the city, but an errant flock or two sometimes strayed into our village. Alas, we were ungentle.

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