Just a Poultry Encounter
It happened while on the way back from Meijers. An immediate onset of “highway hypnosis” came as I finished the onramp to I-94 west. Destination was home. The back end of the van sagged with holiday food which included not one, but two frozen turkeys. I wondered why the turkey ranchers didn’t grow turkeys larger than 15 pounds. I swear that when I was young thanksgiving turkeys were of greater mass before all the mysterious injections came into play. Anyway I set the cruise at 73, pulled the arm rest down, and turned off the Christmas music.
It happened just beyond the Oakland Dr. Exit in front of what used to be the Episcopal Cathedral. I saw something short, white, and moving along the rumble strip on the right. I cancelled the cruise and coasted toward it. It was a bird…A rotund bird…trotting with the traffic with its left wing in the air. I tapped the brake and as I got closer its tail feathers reached for the sky and spread like a Geisha’s fan. “It’s a turkey!” I said, “A suicidal turkey!” (Come to think of it, a nice fat turkey like that, suicide would be an option rather than wait for the chopping block or a pardon from the President.) I put on my flashers as I slowly passed him and pulled over the white line. In my mirror I saw him put his wing down and start running for my van. I got out and went around the back of my vehicle and this out of breath bird approached.
“Thank goodness!…I know there is a trust issue in this country for picking up hitch hikers, but, come on, how much harm can I do in my condition?”
I stopped short with my hand to my chin and thought…”I’ve heard a lot of people talk turkey, but a talking turkey!?” I shook it off and passively said “Where you headed?”
“I can take you as far as Mattawan,” I said slowly.
“Thanks, I was sure I was going be the next entrée on the Road Kill Café menu. I mean really, if people don’t want to give me a ride, just drive on by…They were honking and swerving and yelling out their windows! Geez, it’s like they’ve never seen a hitch hiking turkey before.”
“I’m just trying to get from “A” to “B” you know!” He said as his snood flapped from one side of his beak to the other.
“Hey, let’s get in out of this holiday traffic,” I said. I moved up one of the kids car seats and positioned it in the middle of the bench behind me and buckle him in…under 40 pounds, got to be in a car seat. I got back in and adjusted my mirror so I could see him. He had a long scrawny neck and a not so handsome head attached. Stubble bald, 3 inch orange/red snood draped over his beak, and caruncles waving back and forth like a dancing double chin every time he turned his head. “Do you have a name?”
“Tom Tom with an h…T-H-O-M. I was named after my uncle Thommy.”
Wow, I had an Uncle Tommy once. Come to think of it he would have made a nice turkey on many different levels.
“I’m Jerry with a J. Are you running away?”
“I was, but now I’m heading back to Berrien Springs,” he said as his head bobbed and weaved.
“What’s in Berrien Springs?”
“The free-range turkey ranch I lived at since I was just a wee poult.”
“Why the turn around?”
“Bad dream…Well, it wasn’t a completely bad dream…It was a wake up call kind of bad dream…I mean it had an epiphany inserted in it…I mean I had an epiphany while I was dreaming…No, no, when I woke up and assessed it’s meaning. I was taking a snooze behind a rest stop building near Detroit and had a half-sleep; you know a non-R.E.M., dream.” He stopped short and took cleansing breath.
“Hey, its o.k., you want to tell me about it?” I said as a saw his head down with his snood hanging dead center off his pale yellow beak.
“Yeah, maybe talking about it will help me process it better.”
“Why don’t you start by telling me why you ran away in the first place…I kind of have an idea seeing what time of year it is in America? I don’t want my assumptions to precede accurate information.
“Well, being from a free range ranch I had a great childhood. Lots of freedom, lots of friends, lots of room to run. I even enjoyed short flights from time to time. I hardly ever got pecked on and when I did it was my buddies having some good, clean fun. Yeah, we used to stay up late and talk about our adventures. Like when we would wheel dodge. We would see how close we could strut in front of cars or tractors without getting run over. We’d have chicken fights in the watering trough. We would have snood flapping contests until our gizzards hurt. My uncle Thommy would tell us of his days in the concentration camp and his daring escape aided by some animal rights group. He was like a father to me. He would always find a way to help me not take for granted the life I had.
Then about a year ago he went missing. Just like that…here one moment, gone the next. I was deeply saddened and looked for him for days. I wanted to pull my feathers out as I went back and forth. I even walked the entire perimeter of the chicken wire fence for compromises in our security(There were known to be coyotes in the area.). It was the beginning of experiences that would draw out adolescent tendencies in me. I wasn’t some little punk of a poult any more. It was me and my buddies now…at least until about a month ago…”
It was then I notice his face starting to pale(I don’t understand how a turkey could get any paler but he did.)
He continued slowly with a Captain Kirk drawn out sentence. “They…just…all…started…to…vanish!”
“All my friends…Wing Man, Tommy Boy, Hook Beak, Pencil Neck, Bird Turd. My whole crew!”
“You say it was about a month ago? Well I think…”
“I know, I know, at least I know now.“ Resignation followed in his voice…“I was so naïve. I thought that our ranch was different from all those other communities, communes, concentration camps. I had to get out of there so I made a way of escape. Last year, when I walked the perimeter of the fence, I noticed a sagging area of the fence. Now, I knew my uncle was too old to clear it, but if I could get a running start it might be a possibility. After all, I was the champion wheel dodger. So from 25 yards back I dug my talons in and pushed the throttle to full on….and here I am!”
“Wow. That’s quite a story, even from a turkey…ehem, no offence,” I said.
“Quite all right,” he replied.
There was a pause and I realized I was getting close to the Mattawan exit. “Hey, how ‘bout a ride to Berrien Springs?”
“You don’t have to…”
“It’s a holiday!” As I said it I felt bad knowing which holiday it was and my present company. How could I be so insensitive! “I’m so sorry!”
“No worries, I’ve come to embrace this time of year as a point of destiny, not regret.”
Hmmm, this Thom Thom grew up in a hurry! Or he has gotten his feathers all fluffed up with poultry traumatic stress syndrome. “I think hearing about the dream would help me straighten out the disconnect as to why you are going back to the ranch,” I suggested.
“Of course, I think what influenced the dream was the feeling of hopelessness, or rather, I could almost feel meaning and purpose drain out of me as I hitched rides away from home. So as I dozed off or dozed on or rode the horizon of R.E.M. I had this dream. My Uncle was in it. He was plucked, stuffed, and golden brown on a platter right next to the cranberry sauce! I gasped in horror! Actually in my native tongue it would have been an annunciated “blullullla”. The table was long and the people were plenty with their heads bowed and hands folded in their lap…except for some of the children staring at my uncle like he was Turkish Delight. Then I realized even though uncle Thommy was missing feet…talons and all!…his spindle neck and bald head were attached AND ALIVE! He cricked his neck and look me right in my eye, my right eye, and began to speak.
“Thom Thom, how I’ve missed you! How you’ve grown. You have a nice beard there. I’ve been worried about you. I know there is reason to run, at least it seems the reasonable response to the recent events in your life. But I am here to offer another possibility, so don’t start molting like you’ve seen the ghost of Thankgivings past. This is only a dream, but the scene is a reality that many of us have the privilege to enter. For many of us it is our manifest destiny.”
“Destiny! Destiny? Butter basted, extra crispy, stuffed with who knows what, and taken from the free range to the range oven…just what kind of destiny is that?”
“I know how you feel.”
“Do you now!?”
“Yes I do, because you are looking at last Thanksgiving at the Hubble’s house. For a brief moment I laid in the middle of a family taking time to reconnect at an annual meal. Meal time for American’s used to be the time of day, every day, for communication and communion. Eye to eye contact, body language, common courtesy, and a physical reminder of belonging. Now those special times are reduced to a few times a year.
When I was your age, an older, wiser, Tom took me aside and gave me ‘the talk.’ The talk I never made the opportunity to give to you. I procrastinated, and I kept seeing the chicken scratch writing an the wall but….” His voice trailed off. “I’m so sorry I didn’t prepare you for this. I hope you will find a way beyond this and forgive me.” He then shook his snood and said, “This now is my chance, and as weird as it might be to listen to a succulent, organically raised bird speak to you from the dead, I will not pass this up.”
His head and neck then disappeared and a translucent uncle Thommy floated above the Hubble family table. He looked over the bald combovers, parted pigtails, cornrows, and grandma’s poofy grey arrangement. He saw the horn of plenty. He also saw the expanded double leaf table full of food, and there in the middle his body. What he left behind was, for a moment, the center piece. It wasn’t the candied yams. It wasn’t the mashed potatoes. It wasn’t the salad. It wasn’t the cranberry sauce or the green bean casserole. It wasn’t the cherry pie or mintz or pumpkin. It was the body of a bird raised free.
“Oh Thomm Thomm“, he began, “Take a good look. This family is bowing and thanking God for the gifts they are about to receive and I was one of them. I was the one in the middle to be carved and given to each. This is what I was raised for…To bring families home again. More accurately, a family. The Hubble family. Look at them. Before they sat for prayer I was able to float around the house and listen in on conversations. They have their dysfunctions and differences. They have their favorites. They have their spoiled last borne. See that little one over there. Her name is Emmy and she took special care of me when I was just fluff. Thank goodness she lost track of who I was! It would be arrogant to tell you that they gather just because of me. No, it’s their God given desire for connection and the God-image in them. This holiday is just one reason they make efforts to come together. It’s a human thing, we wouldn’t understand. They pray to One bigger than their collective experiences. We fulfill God’s design for us…we feed, but more than that, our species in America feed thankful bodies, thankful hearts. Your destiny is at hand…You could be in the middle of all sorts of possibilities. Redeeming moments, forgiving moments, loving moments, joyful moments, meaningful moments, all basted in the juices of thankfulness.”
“It was then I woke up and looked east and rousted my roosting. Time to head home I said to myself. Time to make it to the door of destiny. No more running. I figured if I got back soon enough I could be a part of someone’s thankful day this year.”
I was without a word. Did a turkey really go there? Nobody’s going to believe this…I don’t believe this. I’m on my way to Berrien Springs. I’m a turkey taxi. There’s a turkey in my babies car seat that just gave me a lesson in religion, philosophy, manifest destiny and the difference between free range and manufactured turkey farming. All that came to mind and passed through by lips was “thanks for sharing.”
“Thanks for caring and carrying for that matter!,” he responded.
“Hey, I know this is sudden, but why don’t you come to my house for dinner! I mean, I have a couple of punk mass produced turkeys in the back I can give away to two families in Mattawan. You’ve got to be thirty pounds dressed. You are what I was looking for earlier…a nice, fat, Thomm Thomm! We both laughed. If you’ve never heard a turkey laugh you’ve never split a gizzard.
“I would be honored to be front and center at Jerry with a J’s house. Blullulla!”
Happy Thankful Day!