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pigeon Drop a Pebble in the Waterpigeons
By Cliff Ball

Published in NBRC Bulletin Nov/Dec 2010

Drop a pebble in the water:

Just a splash, and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water:
in a minute you forget,
But there's little waves a-flowing,
and there's ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing
to a great big wave have grown;
You've disturbed a mighty river
just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading
from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them,
once you've started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute you forget;
But there's little waves a-flowing,
and there's ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart
a mighty wave of tears you've stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy
ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
just a flash and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort
on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn't believe the volume
of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
in a minute you forget;
But there's gladness still a-swelling,
and there's joy circling yet,
And you've rolled a wave of comfort
whose sweet music can be heard
Over miles and miles of water
just by dropping one kind word.

~By James W. Foley~

During our lifetime we drop many pebbles into the preverbal pond of life. The roller fancy is but a microcosm of life as we each interact with others who share our love of the sport and sharing with the people that comprise the roller fancy. This is a story about a young 12 year-old boy of Laotian heritage, his love for rollers, and pebbles dropped by men in the roller hobby. Let it remind you of all the things you do and the impact they have, not just on you, but on those around you.

No one really knows where, when or and how Toulee Moua developed a passion for roller pigeons. He lived in Schofield, Wisconsin with his mother and father, both born in America to Laotian parents who immigrated to the US. Like most of us in this hobby, boys like Tou, at this age, often become fascinated with the aerial dynamics displayed by rollers during flight. We do know that he was very active on the internet where he researched and read everything he could find about training and flying rollers, feeding them, kit box design and construction, etc. He collected quotes from roller men and bought Pensom’s book, “The Birmingham Roller” to add to his collection of roller memorabilia. As luck would have it, when he was 10 years old, Tou came across an article that I wrote in 2005 entitled “James Turner; the Man Who Put Color Into Spin”, which happened to be posted on a roller site on the internet. The article touched a cord with Tou, somehow fired him up, and he began to pursue the opportunity to meet and talk with the two great roller men that he had come to idolize-both of whom were mentioned in the article; James Turner and William H Pensom. When Tou was telling his uncle about the article, the uncle asked, “Who wrote this article? How do you know it is true?” Tou responded, “The man who wrote this is the NBRC National Fly Director and the World Cup Southeast Regional Director, and has won his region several times with Mr. Turner’s family of rollers”.

Tou’s research soon led him to videos on a variety of internet sites that showed rollers in the act of spinning. “He couldn’t wait to see them for real”, recalls Touhoua Yang, Tou’s 26 year-old uncle. Mr. Yang is a school teacher who (last March) married Tou’s mother’s sister, who is from Hickory, North Carolina, and attended college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Showing his uncle the videos, Tou told him, “Someday I’m going to have some of those pigeons!”

Tou also obtained a video from Hank Zimich of Des Moines, Iowa; a video of a 1995 NBRC Convention held in South Carolina that highlighted their fliers; Don Greene, Tony Roberts, Don Simpson, and John Castro, and many others. Watching this video over and over, the performance of these birds, really excited Tou and he became, somehow, drawn to the Carolina roller men who he had never met. He could name many of them and knew that Don Simpson was the only original South Carolina roller man who was still actively judging and competing. “Tou knew that Mr. Simpson had judged the NBRC National Championship. He seemed to know all about these men,” recalls Mr. Yang.

While most kids have pictures of teen idols, like Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers; or sports idols, like Jerry Rice, hanging in their bedrooms, Tou’s prized possession was a picture that he proudly displayed on the wall of his room; a picture of James Turner and Joe Bob Stuka together. He had read that Joe Bob had said good things about Turner. “Mr. Stuka is from North Carolina and has won the World Cup!” Tou confidently informed his uncle. Tou’s uncle said that Tou had researched and knew the NBRC and World Cup systems of competitions well, and explained the breakdown of the regional structure and qualifiers to his uncle in great detail. He even knew, somehow, and was excited that Don Simpson, from South Carolina, would be judging their region’s competitions this fall.

After pleading with his parents for a couple years, during the spring of 2010, Tou’s father and uncle relented and built a small kit box to Tou’s specifications that he had found on the internet. Searching the internet, he found, on Craig’s List, an advertisement for rollers for sale in a small town near Green Bay. The asking price was $30 for a pair of two-year old rollers, quite a stretch for a 12-year-old, but Tou saved his allowance and proudly made his first purchase with his own money. After settling them, he was absolutely committed to feeding them and flying them regularly. The only problem was that they never rolled. Determined to see them roll, Tou had learned that the way rollers were fed could influence their performance, so he asked his father and uncle to buy him the various grains he needed; barley, milo, and wheat so that he could follow the recommendations that he had been reading about to get the most performance out of his rollers. Still, they didn’t roll. Though they didn’t roll, Tou never gave up on them. Tou’s uncle shared his frustration that the pigeons failed to perform. “He couldn’t kill them, though”, recalls Mr. Yang. So the uncle decided to try to find this boy some rollers that would roll. He contacted a well-known flyer that Tou had read about, who had created his own family of rollers and had done well with them; Rick Mee. Mr. Yang called Rick, but they just couldn’t afford his asking price of $100 for a pair of good rollers.

Tou was given an assignment in school at about this time, in which he was to write a paper about the person that he would most like to meet. The man he wrote about was James Turner. Tou’s paper read as follows:

Mr. James Turner
By: Toulee Moua

Most kids my age want to meet the Jonas brothers, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, or a movie star. I know someone who wants to meet the president. The one person I want to meet the most is Mr. James Turner of South Carolina. Most kids my age don’t know him and most teachers don’t know him either but I know a lot about him and I will tell you why I want to meet him.

James Turner is a respected roller man in the sport of flying rollers and the kind of rollers I am talking about are pigeons. Mr. Turner has raised these special pigeons for over 30 years and won all sorts of roller competitions in the US and a lot in the South Carolina and North Carolina area. Most roller men are very competitive and keep a lot of secrets but Mr. Turner is not that way. Everyone who has ever meet him say he is a good man who always helps out everyone who wants to learn about roller pigeons and that’s why I like him.

Roller pigeons also have lots of different colors and Mr. Turner is very different from the other roller guys because he thinks that these pigeons should also be pretty to look at. I agree. The rollers roll in the air but when they are in their kit boxes, they are also nice to look at and that is another reason I want to meet him. To see a roller roll is just the coolest thing ever and then to see a yellow or white or even a stencil color roller roll just makes it even cooler.

Mr. Turner is about 70 years old and has so much knowledge and that is why I want to meet him. I wish he would share his information to me so when I have rollers one day, mine will roll in kits together. I just want to have some roller pigeons more than anything else in the whole wide world but if I don’t know how to keep them, there is no point. And that is why the person I want to meet the most is Mr. James Turner of South Carolina.

Touhoua Yang supported and encouraged his nephew’s interest in pigeons, as best he could. At first Mr. Yang didn’t understand why these were any different from the pigeons on the street downtown, but Tou was quick to educate him as to the distinct differences, and corrected his uncle’s reference to them as rolling pigeons. “ No, they are called roller pigeons,” Tou would remind him, confidently. During the next couple of years, Tou continued to bug his parents relentlessly for permission to contact and talk with Turner. But his parents were reluctant to call a perfect stranger, themselves, or to allow Tou to do so; because of cultural mores, as well as concern for their son’s safety, so they asked Tou’s uncle, Mr. Yang, to contact Turner. Mr. Yang and Turner finally had a friendly conversation in the spring of 2010. James explained that he did not raise large numbers of rollers, but invited Tou’s uncle to visit him at some point. Mr. Yang’s wife attended college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and has relatives who live in Charlotte, North Carolina, whom they visit from time to time. Mr. Yang was very pleased with Turner’s friendly manner, considered him a gracious man who was more concerned about promoting the roller hobby than about making a buck selling pigeons. Mr. Yang asked James if it would be all right if Tou wrote a letter to him, reporting to Tou’s parents that it would be appropriate for him to do so, based on the conversations that they had. Tou found Turner’s address on line and even though his parents doubted that he has the right man and the correct address, Tou wrote James a letter which read as follows:

Hello Mr. Turner,

My name is Toulee (Tou) Yang. I am 12 years old and I live in Schofield, WI. I am your biggest fan because I think you have some of the most beautiful rollers in the world and your rollers can still roll. They are beautiful and they roll and I think that is totally awesome.

I will tell you a little more about myself and I hope you don’t mind me sending you a letter only because my parents won’t allow me to call and talk to you. I have been bothering my parents for 2 years now to get me some rollers and earlier this spring, my dad finally allowed me to have my pigeons. I found a blueprint for a kit box online and my dad helped me build my kit box. I currently have 2 rollers in my kit box that my dad and I bought for $30 which is a lot since it was paid out of my allowance money that I saved. The guy at the farm said they were rollers but it’s been over 2 months now and the birds still don’t roll and they are supposedly 2 years old.

Since I was 10, it has been my goal to get some birds from you but it’s so hard for a kid to get in contact with someone like you. I have read so much about you. I have a bunch of books with quotes from you and other great roller pigeon men too. My favorite article written about you was called “James Turner: The Man Who Put Color into Spin” by Cliff Ball. I read that article when I was 10 and you instantly became my hero. That’s when I really started to do my research on how to raise and train rollers.

Anyhow my uncle, Tou (same name because Tou means boy/son in our culture), said he actually called and talked to you about 2 weeks ago. I was bugging my parents to call you but my parents don’t like talking to “strangers” so my mom told my uncle about the situation and my uncle said he gave you a call. He said that you guys talked for 30 minutes on the phone. He said you were a really nice and gracious man. He also said that you don’t have too many rollers anymore. My auntie is from Charlotte, North Carolina and my uncle said that if they go to Charlotte this summer, they might stop by and visit you. My uncle Tou said that you invited him to visit you. I am so jealous. I want to be able to come and see you and ACTUALLY TALK with you. I know I am just a kid but I have read so much about you that it would be cool to actually meet you and your birds.

Uncle Tou did tell me not to get my hopes up about possibly getting some real “James Turner” birds because you don’t have too many rollers anymore. I understand too because must take a lot of time to breed rollers so they roll the way you want while still keeping them colorful. So if I never get any rollers from you, that’s ok too since I know I don’t have the money to pay for them but I hope you will talk to me and teach me more about rollers.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read a 12 year old boy’s letter. If it’s not too much to ask, could you write me back sometime since I am not allowed to talk to you. By the way, I will be turning 13 on September 2nd…I will be a teenager.

God bless you,
Toulee Moua

Of course, Tou did have the right roller man and the right address. After receiving the letter, James and Tou spoke on the phone several times during the spring and struck up a friendship. “I’m so proud to have you talk to me. Sir!” proclaimed Tou to his mentor. James replied, “Well I’m just as proud to talk to you as you are to talk to me.” James was struck by the young man’s manners. “He always called me sir”, he recalled. During one of their conversations, Tou inquired as to the whereabouts of William Pensom and whether he might also have the opportunity to talk with him, as well. James kindly informed Tou, “That will not be possible because Mr. Pensom died over forty years ago.” James was so impressed with how well-read Tou was regarding all aspects of the roller hobby and with the knowledge that Tou has acquired. “This kid was the real deal!” James fondly recalls. Impressed by the young man’s commitment to the hobby and by his interest in genetics, James sent Tou a book on pigeon genetics and a dvd that was developed by Danny Joe Humphries in Kinston, North Carolina, who had video-recorded James’s discussion of various aspects of genetics and the inheritance of color and pattern. At one point during these conversations, Tou asked James, “Have you ever become friends with someone that you never met, by just talking to them on the phone?” “Why, yes,” replied James. “I consider you and me to be friends, Tou.” Mr. Yang revealed that he would talk excitedly about his conversations with Turner for hours after they spoke on the phone together.

Tou eagerly looked forward to the opportunity to visit with James in August, when he and his uncle planned to visit their relatives in Charlotte. James was making plans to make sure the youngster took home pigeons that could really roll. Though James was planning to donate the rollers without any charge, Tou’s uncle indicated that it is the custom in their culture not to accept animals as gifts. Some money has to exchange hands to compensate the owner for the time and trouble of raising and feeding the animal…or birds in this case. That visit would never take place, however. James had not heard from Tou for several weeks, which was not like him. The calls from Tou stopped and the meeting never took place. James told himself that he was unduly concerned. Perhaps the strict parents had become concerned about the relationship and had intervened. Perhaps they were concerned that he was encouraging Tou’s passion for roller pigeons instead of school, James thought. But, no such luck.

Tou’s other love was football, and this was his first year for him to try out for the middle school team. On August 15, Tou’s father picked him up from football practice at 6:00 PM, as usual. On the way home, at an intersection, a drunk driver went through the red light and t-boned their vehicle in the intersection killing Tou’s father instantly. Tou was seriously injured and lay in a coma for over a month. His birthday, September 2nd, came and went without his ever knowing it. On the Tuesday after Labor Day, Tou regained consciousness a little, and opened his eyes. The doctors believed that perhaps he was out of the woods and would begin to improve. But the next day, Tou lapsed back into a coma and died on September 18.

Since the tragedy, Tou’s enthusiasm for rollers has rubbed off on his uncle, and Mr. Yang has found in Wisconsin, through Craig’s List again, a Jeff Roberts who has Tony Roberts’ line of rollers from Doug Trotter in Colorado; birds that were banded by James Turner and Tony Roberts. He intends to raise and fly them in his nephew’s honor in the hope that Tou can look down on them from above and finally get to see Birmingham Rollers that actually roll. If Tou had known that some day the NBRC Bulletin would publish an article about his passion for the sport with his photograph on the front, he would not have been able to contain himself with excitement. “He would have loved to be associated with anything to do with the roller hobby”, says his uncle.

The tragedy of this young roller man’s life being taken from him has impacted many of us in a most significant way, especially Turner, of course, who lost his young friend. It is so difficult for mortal man to understand why the Good Lord calls the young home so early. How can their work on earth be done so soon? We may never know the answers to such questions. For me, the story of Tou was not only one of great tragedy, though I grant the wisdom of the creation and taking of life to a much higher authority and wisdom than that of my own mortal being. But Tou’s story touched my heart. It reminded me of the pebbles dropped into a pond. There were many pebbles dropped into the pond of life and the roller world for which he had such passion during Tou’s short life; pebbles that took the form of articles written, videos recorded, website postings, telephone conversations, and pigeons that were sold; events that occurred over a span of several years and over many miles. The ripple effect of these actions, touched lives in ways that we could never have predicted or even known about. But these events remind us that it is worth considering and remembering the impact that we have on the lives of others with our words, our actions, and our deeds on our journey through this life.

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