Avatar Review
Issue 13

Prose: Carroll Yoder

Pigeon Catchers

Darrell and Melvin Ray were watching pigeons again. When Mama dumped two buckets of pea pods over the barnyard fence, three pigeons flew down from the granary roof. They walked through the pods looking for peas, their heads bobbing up and down.

“Don’t hang on the fence,” Mama said. “It’s in a bad enough shape already.” She took off her sun bonnet and wiped her forehead. “You can sit on these buckets, if you bring them back to the house.”

Another pigeon landed, not a two-tone gray, a special one, dark with white speckles. It was shady under the forechute beside the fence, shady, but there were flies, lots of them, covering the cat dish beside the milk house.

“I wish,” Melvin Ray said.

“Me too.”

It was always the same wish when they were watching pigeons. Papa and Lloyd said no climbing in the barn, especially not in summer when the haymow is empty. Too dangerous for five-year-olds.

They wanted to hold the pigeons, pet them, feel their feathers, look at their feet, see what bulged on each side of their beaks and then let them fly away and come back. The pigeons flew down to the ground when the boys threw them some shelled corn, but they never came close enough.

“Baby chicks are cuter,” Mama said. “You can hold one when I go to the brooder house to give them water and feed. You can hold one if you don’t squeeze it.” It was fun to hold baby chicks, but they weren’t pigeons. They were penned up; they couldn’t fly.

“Papa said it’s easy to catch pigeons.”

“If you’re a pigeon catcher,” Melvin Ray agreed. One night the boys got to follow the pigeon catchers to the barn. Three young men laughed and yelled and joked as they flashed their lights every which way in the haymow and grabbed pigeons that were flying back and forth. They threw them in a wooden crate, counted them. The pigeons didn’t make any noise except for their wings.

“A good haul,” one of the men said when they were finished and standing by their pickup under the yard light.

“Good riddance,” Papa said. “I get so tired of pigeon droppings over everything in the barn.

“Here’s a quarter for you, buddy.” The man with cowboy boots gave 25 cents to Darrell. “And you, too.” He didn’t forget Melvin Ray.

“You’ll spoil them,” Papa said. “They didn’t do any work.”

“And they didn’t make any trouble. They deserve something for being good boys.”

The taillight winked good-bye at the driveway and then they heard some gravel fly as the pickup turned east. Their next stop was the Christner farm.

“What happens to the pigeons?” Melvin Ray asked.

“A place up in Cedar Rapids buys them for target practice.”

“And if a guy misses?”

“Lucky pigeon. Fly away home.”

But Darrell wasn’t thinking about the night of the pigeon catchers. Last week at dinner Papa said that there was an easy way to catch pigeons. Just put salt on their tails. And then pick them up. Nothing to it. He was joking, but maybe he was serious. Melvin Ray thought it might be worth a try so Darrell went in to the house. He put four big spoonfuls in a cup and when he came back to the barn Melvin Ray and the pigeons were still there.

“Just sprinkle it on their tails,” Papa had said.

The boys crawled over the gate beside the livestock tank, crept towards the pigeons and stopped when they were even with the edge of the granary. “If we get any closer, they’ll fly,” Darrell said. They were lucky that the wind wasn’t blowing.

When they threw the salt the three pigeons flew high into the air, heading for the Christner barn.