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The Zoo Keeper

Ricky Bobby - The Legend Lives On

Layla Watkins

It started one afternoon just before Labor Day. I looked out the door to our bedroom balcony and there, perched elegantly on the railing, was the biggest, whitest, most beautiful dove I had ever seen.

I moved closer to the door, slowly and quietly so as not to spook him, to get a better look. He turned and looked at me, but did not fly away. I inched closer, still he stayed. I moved closer still until I was right at the door, less than three feet away. He just watched me. I decided that this must be a sign from God.

We stayed there, both of us completely immobile, just watching each other. Then I decided to talk to him, somehow expecting him to answer and reveal the mysterious and holy message he had clearly been sent to bring. "Hi beautiful," I said. "What are you doing here?" He didn't answer. "Are you here for a reason?" Still no answer. "Well, I hope you stay around," I told him. With that, he cocked his head, turned and flew away.

I watched him fly, completely mesmerized by the gracefulness of his flight. Saddened by his premature departure, I was left to contemplate the significance of his visit. I hoped he would return and make clear the reason.

The next day I got my wish. He appeared again on the balcony. "Wow," I thought, "this is definitely a sign from heaven." As I made my way to the door, my mind was flooded with a myriad of divine possibilities. He watched my approach with a cautious but calm eye, never threatening to leave. I was almost to the door when he made his first move.

He didn't fly away this time, but instead began walking along the balcony rail. As I watched him walk, I was struck by the oddly familiar way in which he moved. There was a forward and back motion to his head that had none of the grace I had been so awed by the day before. Back and forth along the rail he walked, back and forth went his head. Then it hit me. "Oh man! This isn't a dove, it's a pigeon!" So much for the holy message!

When I finished laughing, I felt obliged to explain myself to him. "Well, you sure look like a dove. But even though you aren't, you are still really pretty and it's nice to have you here," I told him. I could tell by the look on his face he was thinking, "Thanks, I am pretty cool, aren't I?"

It was then that I noticed the bands on his legs. I realized that that he must belong to someone, which explained his being comfortable with my close proximity. But how in the world would I find his owner? They must be worried sick about him! The only plan I could come up with was to call Animal Control but as it was a holiday weekend, I wouldn't be able to reach anyone until Tuesday. I just hoped he would be ok until then. So I said a little prayer, "Dear God. I get that he wasn't sent by You, but please keep him safe until his owners can come get him. Amen."

Tuesday morning, he was sitting on the balcony when I called Animal Control. To my surprise, the officer knew exactly where he had come from. "He's a racing pigeon on his way to Ohio," I was informed. "A race went off last week and he is probably just stopping for a rest. You can put out some water for him, but he'll be on his way in a day or so." Great! Mystery solved! I kind of liked having him around, but was glad to know he was not "lost."

A few days went by and he was still hanging around the balcony. But very quickly the days turned into weeks, so I called Animal Control back. "He's still here," I said. "What should I do? Is there any way to get in touch with his owner?"

"No,not really. He may have gotten off course and just decided to stay."

"Well, isn't someone waiting for him in Ohio? Won't they be worried when he doesn't finish the race?"

"No, if they don't finish, the handlers figure they weren't very good and don't want them anyway."

"That's awful!"

"No ma'am. That's just the nature of the sport."

Well, I certainly cared more about him than that, so I decided he could just live with us. I got him some fresh water and put out some bird seed for him. Then, of course, I needed to give him a good name.

At the time, there was a movie out, "The Legend of Ricky Bobby," about a washed-up, wanna-be superstar racecar driver who just couldn't cut it in the racing world. He was the perfect namesake for our new little friend.

Ricky Bobby took up residence on our balcony. While I loved seeing him sitting out there, my husband, Wayne, was not so thrilled about the accompanying pigeon poop. Needless to say, when Ricky Bobby found a girlfriend and invited her to live with him, the mess multiplied. Very soon after that, the girlfriend brought her mother to live with them too.

So we now had three pigeons living on our balcony, which prior to Ricky Bobby and family, had been my favorite spot for morning coffee. But alas, I relinquished my balcony privileges and bought more bird seed.

One day in late October, I noticed that the mother hadn't been around as much. Shortly thereafter, Ricky Bobby and his girlfriend started disappearing for a few days at a time. They always came back, but each time they left it seemed they were gone longer.

It was that way until around Thanksgiving. One morning I looked out to find them gone and somehow knew they weren't coming back. Instead of seeing two fat, happy, pigeons, I saw one pristine white feather left behind.

There is an old superstition that says finding a feather is a "hello" from heaven. You never know, maybe Ricky Bobby was sent here after all…

Read other article by Layla Watkins