How to Win a Long Distance Pigeon Race


From Patrick Porter, the best  writer you haven’t  read:

How To Win a Long Distance Pigeon Race

  It helps if your Dad kept pigeons in his youth because his father dabbled with them along the Saugus River in Lynn, Massachusetts.  They also kept ducks and a few chickens but Dad spent most of his time with the pigeons.


     It was the end of the Great Depression when my grandfather took a fancy to the babysitter and ran off with her to northern Maine where he wouldn’t get caught….a place to live and hunt and forget about whatever miseries stalked him.  Unfortunately, my Dad was left behind.  Life crept in along with poverty, then divorce, and the next thing Dad knew he was trundled up to New Bedford with his brothers and mother into a house with no river and no yard.  Everyone had to work then…from age 13 until forever.


     It helps that my father found a tiny bit of footing and built a small pigeon coop from other people’s trash behind a part of the tenement they rented.  The structure held 6 birds only.  Dad trained and released them every day just to see the birds fly away and return home.  He kept those pigeons through high school until they shipped him off to Notre Dame and then the U.S. Army.


     He told me those 6 pigeons were his favorite memory from difficult times.


     It helps that he met my Mom during college and they bought a house and settled down as best they could while the Vietnam War was raging.  He was known for parking his tank along the jungle rivers and firing until he was told to stop after everything was dead.  He is also known for bringing every one of his men back to the United States alive.


     About the time I was five, a beaten and hungry pigeon landed on the roof of our garage and would fly no more.  It’s eyes were half closed and it’s feathers were puffed up while it clung there after deciding to die.


     I caught the creature using old bird seed, a box a long length of string.  I remember waiting very late that day for my Dad to come home.  Once he did, the first thing he needed was dinner and a conversation with Mom.


     I waited, not because I was afraid of my Dad….ever….but because the man worked hard after the war and of course he was hungry.  When he came out afterwards and sat on our back porch for a moment of peace, I went into the garage and then brought the box to him.


     “Be careful when you open it, Dad.”


     He opened the box, then looked past me and far beyond.


     “Jesus….it’s got a racing band on it’s leg.  It’s a lost homing pigeon.”


     We were broke but not broken.  Within two weeks, my father built a makeshift pigeon loft around an old garden shed that was stuck next to our garage.


     In fact, he created a magnificent fortress of shingles and hinges and perches using discarded lumber pulled from the New Bedford dump.  He assembled an aviary from two rolls of chicken wire that had been tossed behind his station at Fort Rodman.


     It helps that my father was very friendly with the Portuguese, the Azoreans and the Cape Verdeans in our town because a lot of them kept pigeons.  Every Friday, he’s drop off a new pair of birds and then return to his duties.  I didn’t know where he got them and I didn’t care because I was smitten with the damn things.  I’d clean the coop and let the young birds out to watch them fly away and then return home.


     The only thing he ever bought for the loft were two plastic chairs.  He placed them next to the aviary and we’d sit together and watch our birds if he was home…..but that wasn’t very often.  Usually, I’d feed the pigeons and wish he was in the chair next to me.


     On some Saturdays, we’d drive our homing pigeons into Dartmouth or Westport or Providence and release them, then speed home and try to get back before the birds.


     Eventually, like him, I got shipped off into forever.


     Those pigeons are my favorite memory from difficult years.


     It helps if you eventually find a girl that decides a condemned old barn is where her future children will live, even though it took awhile to find a contractor who would take on the renovation job.


    “I can get started on your house in three weeks…I’ll make it nice.”


     Before he showed up, I came to the overgrown and rotting structure we had put our money on.  I brought old boards and a Skilsaw and a hammer and nails.  I bought wire and shingles.  I bought two plastic chairs.


     Jill came down a couple evenings later and found me out back with lights and plywood.


     “What the hell are you doing out here?  We haven’t even moved in.”


     I looked past her and far beyond.


     “I’m building a pigeon coop honey. I can’t help it.”


     God keep you, Dad.  I was proud of you long before I was born.

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2 thoughts on “How to Win a Long Distance Pigeon Race”

  1. Every time I read one of Porters stories, I have to will myself to wake and return to my own to do list.
    His writing carries me into another realm where I’d prefer to remain.


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