folks say that if a white dove finds its way into the house, it
is a sign of death. When it leaves, they say, it takes someone
When my daddy was a little boy, a white dove in the house caused
panic among the adults. His granny, old but not sick, began to
moan and cry, anticipating her own demise. Her tears fell on Baby
Ernest, her favorite, strong and healthy, whom she rocked by the
Ill not go, she threatened. Ill
not go alone. If I have to go, Ill take this baby with me.
The frightened bird, its heart beating wildly, was chased throughout
the house by the terrified adults and shrieking children. They
jumped on the beds and upset the furniture in an attempt to capture
the white bird of ill omen. It was caught and put outside. My
great granny held onto Baby Ernest and declared that the warning
of the white dove was for her, but that she would not go without
her beloved grandson. Three days later, she died.
My grandmother was terrified of the old womans warning.
She held onto her youngest child, afraid to put him down until
after the funeral, and even then, would not let him out of her
Shell come back, neighbors and family members
forewarned. "There aint nothing you can do about it.
Shell come back.
And a few days later, she did. Baby Ernest, himself as innocent
as the rare bird, suddenly died. He had displayed no symptoms
of illness. There was no doubt in anyones mind. My great
granny had come back for her favorite grandchild. My daddy was
a little boy, but he never forgot the chaos and the fear that
the white dove brought to his house.
Sixty years later, my daddy had been battling cancer for five
years. He was in and out of hospitals during that time, and his
most recent confinement was at Erlanger in Chattanooga for a month.
Though he was very ill, as Christmas approached, my mama determined
to take him home to Alabama for the holidays.
The day after New Years, my parents were readying to return
to the hospital on a bitter cold morning. They lived in the country
atop Sand Mountain. As my mama packed their bags and completed
last minute chores, for she stayed around the clock with my daddy,
he opened the door to the screened-in porch which was only used
in the summertime. He stepped out onto the porch that earlier
he had nailed up from the inside and covered with sheets of heavy
plastic to keep the frigid winter wind from the cracks of their
little mountain shack. The twig furniture, ladderback chairs,
porch swing and flower pots were turned upside down. Daddy gazed
across the field, white with a heavy frost, at the frozen pond.
The wind was still. The morning was quieter than usual.
My daddy wondered when he would be back home again. Would he cut
the grass in the spring or bush hog the field? Would he roll up
the heavy plastic on the first warm day, upright the furniture
and hang up the swing? Would he repair the roof? Would he cut
down dead trees or saw up and burn limbs that had fallen over
the winter? Would he order gravel for their quarter-mile-long
driveway and fill in the potholes, plant a rose bush, build flowerboxes
or birdhouses for my mama, or take his rifle and go rabbit hunting?
My daddy was a carpenter and could do anything. He was not happy
unless he had a hammer in his hand. And my mama always had a list
of projects for him to complete.
A noise startled my daddy. In the corner of the screened-in porch,
on a nail keg that always held a big basket of pink verbena or
purple petunias in the summertime, sat a white dove. It cooed.
My daddys legs went weak. There was absolutely no way that
the dove could have gotten in. The porch was locked and nailed
from inside, then locked again from inside the house.
My mama hollered, Are you about ready to go? When
my daddy did not answer, she came through the house and stepped
out onto the porch. Daddy was white and trembling. Again the white
dove cooed. My mama knew that a white dove that found its way
into the house was a sign of death. She began to scream. She grabbed
a broom that was turned upside down beside the door and began
beating the terrified, helpless bird that now moaned and flailed
around the floor, behind the furniture, and against the walls.
My daddy, calm now, took the broom from her.
How did that thing get in here? my mama kept screaming.
Aint no way that thing could have gotten in here.
My daddy gently scooped the frightened bird into his hands. Mama
had gotten quiet as she watched him, but now felt compelled to
convince them both. I know what youre thinking,
my mama insisted, but this dont mean nothing.
Over and over she said, This dont mean nothing.
But my daddy knew it did. It was a sign.
Later that morning my daddy reentered Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.
He hardly spoke a word during the trip. My mama never stopped
talking. To keep her mind from the pain that felt worse than the
prospect of her own death, she recited all the things that they
were going to do when my daddy got well.
He never went home. Soon unconscious, he died a month later on
Lee Green is an award-winning writer who has received recognition
throughout the Southeast for her work in fiction, non-fiction,
poetry, and essay. Currently residing in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,
she is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, the Appalachian
Writers Association, and the Amen Southern Revelation Sisterhood,
a local writing group.
Judy Lee Green