“This one here is sick,” Uncle Johnny said, picking up one of the birds and stroking it. “He don’t feel so good, and he’s not getting any better.” He stepped outside the door of the coop, still holding the pigeon, and I heard a thump. He returned empty-handed. “Can’t have a sick bird in here,” he explained. “They’ll all get sick and die.”
He gently placed three pigeons into a small cage and showed me how to latch the little door on it. We walked out into the yard, the fresh air a relief after the bird-smell. I noticed the sick bird now motionless on the trash pile, its neck bent at a funny angle. I looked away.
He opened up the door of the truck we called “Red.” I climbed up into the cab and he placed the pigeon cage on my lap. “We won’t go far,” he said. “These birds are just learning where their home is.” We went only a little ways down the road, past the gardens and the pasture, to the next house over. Uncle Johnny handed me down out of Red; I carefully carried the cage to the back yard and set it on the ground.
He unlatched the cage door and pulled out a pigeon. “Okay, now – I’m going to let you release him, and he’ll fly back home. You ready?”
He gave me the pigeon, showing me how to wrap my hands around it. “Now when I say ‘go,’ you throw him up in the air,” he instructed. “Go!”
I threw the pigeon up as hard as I could with both hands, as though it had been a beach ball. It tumbled and twirled in the air, caught its balance and flew back in the direction we’d come, only straight over the pasture. I turned to him proudly, ready for the next pigeon, and saw he was composing himself almost like the bird had.
“I didn’t quite mean like that,” he said quietly, and chuckled. He opened the cage and encouraged the remaining birds out. They flew off on their own.