Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Death By Dove

Judy Lee Green


Old 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 with it.

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 fire.

“I’ll not go,” she threatened. “I’ll not go alone. If I have to go, I’ll 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 woman’s 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 sight.

“She’ll come back,” neighbors and family members forewarned. "There ain’t nothing you can do about it. She’ll 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 anyone’s 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 Year’s, 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 daddy’s 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. “Ain’t 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 you’re thinking,” my mama insisted, “but this don’t mean nothing.” Over and over she said, “This don’t 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 February first.

***

Judy 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

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012