It was the one thing that kept him alive, otherwise my grandmother would have chopped his head off yesterday. He was a smart turkey. He had discovered a hiding place, under the kitchen, in a space that was never dug out when the basement was excavated. It was now a crawl space littered with turkey droppings, barely enough space for an escaped turkey, not enough for a grown man to slither into to trap a turkey. The gobbler my grandmother had been raising, unbeknownst to her grandson, had fled the coop. He was evading capture in the basement. How he had gotten there, I never learned.
As I tell this tale, you might be tempted to hope the bird will become a folk hero or befriend some spider with a bizarre talent and perfect spelling.
But, no. This won’t end well for the turkey. Today is the third Wednesday in November.
We all know that by some magical and fragrant means, a delicious celebratory feast is due tomorrow and the centerpiece is a golden brown, roasted turkey. Even little kids connect Thanksgiving with turkeys, giblets, and all the other stuff. At school songs are sung about the old bird and decorations are crafted from paper plates and strips of brown construction paper.
It is a joyous celebration of thanks. It is a feast to give thanks for the bounty of our great harvest. I knew all about Thanksgiving. I was a first grader.
Grandma had called and asked my dad to come over. I asked to come along, only knowing that I was going to grandma’s house, a home filled with love and freshly baked cookies.
This was a bonus, since tomorrow we would have dinner with grandma. I could smell the pies and bread. She started preparing early.
What I was trying to figure out, as dad shoved a flashlight in my hand and lifted me toward a hole in the basement wall, was what the turkey might be doing in grandma’s basement?
“Shine the light in and tell me what you see.”
I saw nothing. It was too dark. The light of the flashlight was swallowed whole by the blackness. “I can’t see the turkey”.
I was looking for a large platter and a golden brown, roasted turkey. It was nowhere in sight.
My father told me to lean in a little and toss a handful of dried corn as far as I could. I now know he had intended, from the start, to shove me into that tiny, filthy, dusty, crawl space, and wouldn’t let me out until I had captured that old gobbler. Had I leaned in a tiny bit further my father might have pushed me the rest of the way. But at that moment, a monster of some sort bristled and shot past me in the darkness, dislodging the flashlight from my grip, while at the same time motivating me to back peddle out of the hole, while wetting myself. I ran up the stairs screaming for grandma about the monster in her basement.
I do not know by what means they extracted the bird from his sanctuary. You may picture the turkey’s end and what fate held for him. My grandmother was from a different world. She baked breads and pies and cakes, most of which she sold to the nearby inn. In the summer she gardened and canned her surplus. I saw the chickens as pets. I never saw her twist their necks or pluck their feathers. I would have called you a liar had you said they were food. The real turkey, which she had raised for that special feast, didn’t exist, in the mind of a first grader. I had never known she had a big bird she was fattening up.
But, now it was Thanksgiving and when we returned to grandma’s house, there, plump in the center of the long mahogany table was a golden brown, roast turkey. It looked exactly like the turkey I was looking for through a hole with that flashlight.
You can imagine a small, puzzled boy who hadn’t seen a golden roasted turkey on a platter, when according to my father, it was there all along.
“Guarded by that monster?”, I asked.
No doubt. No doubt.
In modern times no monsters protect the thanksgiving centerpiece. Any boy or girl can see flocks of turkeys sleeping in frozen food aisles at the grocery store.The Turkey in the Basement