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Essay from November 2010
"Turkey Gratitude"
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[From an unplublished collection, "Trees and Birds."]

Wild turkeys are really wild, and very intelligent. Brian had another barnyard animal in which wildness of another sort drew near and required attention. This was a domestic turkey, different than the ordinary. Brian raised a few turkeys every year on his rural homestead, to sell, in order to have some extra end-of- year cash flow. He planned to keep one for the family's holiday table. One chick escaped the pen that confined the others. He romped all over the yard with the dogs, behaved like a dog and thought he really was a dog. He was fun to watch and the kids of the family named him Maynard. Brian couldn't force himself to put Maynard back in the turkey pen, where he would have learned, perhaps, that he was not a dog after all.

Maynard grew very large and very brash. His impudence and mischievousness turned him into a barnyard pest and a problem. On one occasion a dignified visitor at lunchtime at the kitchen table was startled when Maynard barged into the room, grabbed a ham sandwich out of the visitor's hand and stalked back out. If a dog had done it, it would have been enough of a surprise, but the appearance and behavior of the turkey was a little much.

One day Brian, mostly in jest, since he was quite tender-hearted, told his brother Sean that he was tired of the hassle and was going to butcher Maynard, put him in the freezer and be done with it. Sean, the playful prankster, became the tender- hearted one. He went to a supermarket and bought a frozen ready-to-roast turkey at the meat department. He took it to Brian's place in the middle of the night and exchanged it for Maynard, leaving a note on the package on the back porch. He took Maynard home to the big city, to the back yard which was already notorious for its collection of several dogs, turtles, a Vietnamese pig, chickens and other inhabitants, all of whom prowled among Sean's unusual sculpture works, as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Maynard felt at home from the start.

Instead of a swimming pool, fancy or otherwise, Sean had a stock tank in his back yard. It was his custom to sit on a white plastic chair in his swimming trunks in the stock tank in the water in the evening with a beer in hand, and stare at the sunset, recovering from a hard day's work hanging drywall. Some people think turkeys don't have enough sense to understand anything. "Too dumb to come in out of the rain," was first applied to turkeys, known to drown in the barnyard in a thundershower. When we want to call attention to someone's denseness, we call him a turkey.

The concept of "ransom," which not all humans can manipulate well, is surely beyond turkeys. But Maynard was no ordinary turkey. He felt something, and I think we dare call it gratitude. Every summer evening Maynard took a flying leap and landed in Sean's lap in the chair in the water in the stock tank, where the two of them communed together, pondering the vicissitudes of life, and watched the sun go down.

Maynard lived a long and happy life, pretending to be a dog in Sean's backyard. He died of extreme old age, simply keeling over one cold winter day. Sean buried him in the vegetable garden and carved a wooden marker, to remember that grateful turkey.

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Copyright © 2010 Harry Willson

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