With two Heritage Bronze turkey toms and a hen reaching maturity this fall, it didn’t take much thought deciding what we would eat for Christmas dinner. Instead of just strutting around and showing off, the toms had started fighting for dominance, and spring was still months away. The two would grab at each other’s necks and pull hard on the skin and feathers at the base, screaming as they turned in circles, not letting go until I came running up yelling and waving my arms. And, that was only when I caught them. It reminded me of school girls pulling hair.
I wasn’t ready by Thanksgiving to give a thumbs-down to one of the toms and bought a turkey from the market. Silly, really. But, of our animals raised for food, these birds have a way of winning my heart. They follow us around like dogs and are extremely curious, running up to see what we are doing, gobbling in approval, coming almost near enough to run a hand down the irridecent feathers on their backs. Their close sense of space is even a little alarming for visitors who aren’t used to large birds flocking around in a noisy group. One day, I found the Fedex man frozen in the middle of the lawn, package in hand, surrounded by turkeys. Not exactly like Hitchcock’s The Birds, but close.
They are also a noisy bunch, although Cisco has taken to exacerbating the level. I have found them face to face, the turkeys gobble and Cisco responds with barking. Back and forth they go. It isn’t really a stand-off, more a cacaphony on the farm. We all seem to speak to them in response to their “Gobble, gobble, gobble.” I have heard Allen and Mike, even myself, call back, “Oh, turkeys!” They turn their beady eyes in response,fluff up some more. “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” These are the reasons it made it hard to catch up one of the toms for eating. I mean, who eats funny animals?
I had already decided to hand off the killing and dressing to a Mexican woman in our community because she had grown up wringing chicken’s necks for dinner. I didn’t want to be so close to my turkey’s end of life. I’m not that true a farmer. And then, the saddest part: the smaller of the toms just let me pick him up. No struggling, no flapping of feathers, no striking out with his talons. He looked nervously at me as if to say, “What are you doing and why are you sticking me head first into this feed sack?” I bound his legs with some baling twine, but it really wasn’t necessary.
Arriving at Marguerite’s house, I asked her where I should put my catch. “On the porch. Just leave him there.” I had brought my largest canning pot because we determined her stew pots for chickens wouldn’t do. I plopped it down beside the tom with a clatter. And, that was it. A large brown bird, lying still on the wood planks, the rain whispering down on the metal roof, the kitchen bright in the gloomy day.
I hesitated on the steps down to my car. Would Marguerite be able to save me the tail feathers so I could make a feather duster? She would try. Four hours later I had a call to come pick up my bird. The strong legs stuck up straight out of the pot. I couldn’t get them to bend. There was a smell I wasn’t used to and I still don’t know what it was, but it almost put me off cooking the bird. I have noticed particularly pungent smells from some of our hand-slaughtered animals. Most others don’t notice it but once it gets in your nostrils, it is hard to ignore and makes for an unhappy association.
I smelled that turkey every time I opened the refrigerator and all the while he baked in the oven. The smell was on my hands and seemingly in my pours, yet the meat was tasty and rich. Hard to explain since taste and smell are often so closely linked. Thankfully, he was a wonderful bird for our Christmas dinner, although the straight legs turned out to be a bit of a problem with my small oven!
I have said several silent prayers of thanksgiving to our turkey. Thank you for living. Thank you for entertaining us. Thank you for eating the garden grubs, for fertilizing the yard, for maintaining a sense of humor and curiousity when the dog faced off with you. Thank you for feeding us for many days. Thank you for my feather duster. You have provided amply for us. Thank you.
Photo: Chickens and turkeys free-ranging near a creek on our property. Cisco, the dog, is just our of the picture. A minute earlier he had had a barking-gobbling contest with the turkeys.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 Scottie Jones