The Girl Who Raised Pigeons

Anjuelle D. Floyd

Life for Betsy Ann Morgan, “…the girl who raised pigeons,” is difficult without a mother. Betsy Ann’s mother, Clara, died of a brain tumor “…her [Betsy Ann’s] father… came to believe …had been growing …all those times he had made love to her...” (p. 5) Betsy Ann’s mother, “…Clara spent most of the first months of her pregnancy in bed, propped up, and reading…the last month or so she spent…on the third floor at Gallinger Hospital. One morning, toward four o’clock, they cut open her stomach and pulled out the child…moments after Clara died…mother and daughter passing each other as if along a corridor, one into death, the other into life…” (p. 6)

This is the premise upon which Betsy Ann lives her life in relationship with her father, Robert Morgan, who “…came to believe…the tumor that would consume his wife’s brain had been growing…all those times he made love to her…[felt] he had somehow used her, taken from her …as she was moving toward death…” (p. 5-6)

These adroit characterizations establish the framework wherein pigeons become the symbol and metaphor for transformation, both in Betsy Ann as she moves approaches and enters adolescence during the years of 1957-1960, a time when the familiar surroundings of her life carefully constructed by her father, Robert, and that of the United States begins to change.

In the “…first weeks…after Miles, the barber, gave Betsy Ann two pigeons…the pigeons took to the air and returned to Miles…when [Betsy Ann] had dutifully gone to fill the
9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Anjuelle D. Floyd

feed dish and replace the water…The forlorn sound of their flapping wings echoed in her head as she stood watching them disappear into the colors of the morning...in those first weeks [Betsy Ann] went…to Miles’ after school to retrieve the pigeons…” (p. 9)

“…That was the fall of 1957 [when] Myrtle Street [on which Betsy lived] was …one block long, running east to west…”(p. 11) During “…late spring…Betsy Ann first noticed the nest...two feet up from the [pigeon] coop’s floor…The pigeons had not flown back to Miles’ in a long time…three weeks later she saw two eggs…two small and perfect wonders along in that wonderless nest without any hallelujah’s from the world…Betsy Ann got a chair…and continued watching the male bird and the nest…[and] said…‘Tell me about this.’…Robert [her father] discovered the hatched squabs when he went to look for dead birds before going to work…” (pp. 12-13)

“…The first pigeon to die was a stranger.” It was “…a year or so after Miles gave her the yearlings.” Betsy Ann “…had eight birds of various ages, resulting from her hatches in her coop and from trades with the barber…and with a family in Anacostia…” (p. 13)

When her cousin Ralph asks, “Whatcha gonna do with him?” Betsy Ann replies, “Bury him. What else stupid?...You don’t think any a them gonna do it, do you?...They dumped the dead bird in a pillowcase and dropped the sack …in a [hole Betsy Ann] dug two feet or so into the earth…near the Esso filling station… across 1st Street…” (p. 13-14)

9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Betsy Ann “…turned ten…eleven…”

“…In the summer of 1960 there began a rumor…that the railroad people were planning to take all the land around Myrtle Street, perhaps up to L and down to H Street. This rumor unlike the rumor that Richard Nixon, if elected president, would make all children go to school on Saturday…and cut their summer vacations in half…had a long life…” (p. 15)

During that time “…as more people moved out of Myrtle Street…Darlene Greenley… got Betsy Ann to steal candy bars from Peoples Drug, candy she didn’t even like…” When her father found out “…Robert Morgan…only knew…his daughter had been somewhere doing bad while he was out doing the best he could…” (p. 18)

Robert tanned her hide…and…withheld her fifty-cents-a-week allowance for two months…For some three weeks he said very little to her…and, when he did it was always the same…’You should be here, taking care a them birds…not out robbin somebody’s… store…The candy episode killed something between them…He began taking his daughter with him in the cab on most Saturdays…[Betsy Ann] enjoyed riding with him at first…the more she realized …being with him was just his way of keeping and eye on her…the travels began losing something for her…Before the autumn of 1961…settled in…she wanted to be left at home…the incident at Peoples far behind them, he allowed it…” (pp. 20-21)

9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Anjuelle D. Floyd

“…that spring and summer of 1961…Myrtle Street emptied of…families who had known no other place in their lives…Robert dreaded coming home each evening and seeing signs of …another abandoned house free to be picked clean by rogues…[His landlady] did not plant her garden that year…for the first time since he had been knowing her…the tall patch of ground, with alien growth tall as a man, reverted to the wild…He vowed that until he could find a good place for himself and [Betsy Ann,] he would try to make like as normal as possible for her…He had never stopped rising each morning before Betsy Ann and going out to the coop to see what pigeons might have died in the night. And that was what he did that last morning in midautumn…” (p. 21)

“…When he saw the tracks, he realized immediately that they had been made by rats… some logical piece of his mind was surprised that there was a kind of orderliness to the trail with its ragged bits of pigeon life, a fragment of a feather here, a spot of blood there…” (p. 22)

“…‘Go back to bed!’ Robert shouted at [Betsy Ann]… [She] had…bounded downstairs… Betsy Ann made her way…to the window…Her father shouted at her to go back to her room…she [went] to the roof…When Robert told he to go back inside, she gave him the only ‘no’ of their lives…” “…He looked but once at her and then began to wring the necks of the birds injured beyond all hope…strangely…the pigeons did not resist…when all was done…he placed all the bodies in the sacks…covered in blood and viscera and feathers, he began to cry…” (p. 23)
9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Anjuelle D. Floyd

“She missed them more than she thought she ever would…In school…she would doodle so many pigeons on the backs of her hands and along her arms that teachers called her Nasty, nasty girl…she would cry to have to wash them off…in the bathtub at night…she roamed the city at will…Robert said nothing…”

“…well into winter, one of the birds that had not been harmed…would come to the ledge of a back window of an abandoned house that faced K Street…After a few days…[Betsy Ann] began to call to him…beseech him to come to her…When the bird would not…she cursed him…On… a very cold morning in February [Betsy Ann] stepped out onto the roof to drink the last of her cocoa. She sipped…and in the time it took to raise her cup… [for] one final swallow…the pigeon had taken a step and dropped from the ledge. He caught and upwind that took him nearly as high as the tops of the empty K Street houses. He flew farther into…the colors and sounds of the city’s morning. Betsy Ann did nothing, aside from following him, with her eyes…her heart, as far as she could.” (pp. 24-25)

9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Anjuelle D. Floyd

9/25/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’, Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-X)

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