In autumn turkeys grace the field in front of our house almost daily. Lately, these visitors, often up to twenty-five, have come closer to the house, maybe to forage fallen apples from the tree in the front yard. Or maybe it’s because our cat, Wally, is no longer around to chase them away, and our young kittens, afraid of their own shadows, dare not bother them. I see the holes in the ground left in their wake and hope they are gorging themselves on Japanese beetle grubs.
I welcome these regular visits and often stand at the window watching them zigzag the field, heads down in communal prayer, “let there be seeds.” The other day a single turkey stationed by the garden yelped incessantly for at least half an hour. It was the first time I had heard this sound from one of these busy birds. I wondered if it was injured or maybe separated from its parents. It flew to the other edge of the garden, and I thought it must be lost from the flock. Finally, it was joined by three others, then another, and another. It must have been calling, “Come here, come here. Great grubs in this neighborhood!”
I have a hard time connecting this funny-looking, brown feathery bird, with its bald head and jiggly jowls, to the naked, crispy-brown one on the Thanksgiving table. Growing up in a city I never thought about it. Never actually saw a real, live turkey. Sure, I knew that the Thanksgiving bird on the dinner table was the same as those turkeys in the pictures at school, next to the Pilgrims in their funny suits. I was well-versed in using the shape of my hand to create paper turkeys. But I didn’t know any hunters, and I didn’t know anyone who might have gotten their Thanksgiving turkey someplace other than the local grocery store.
Years ago, before our extended family had expanded to no longer fit into our small house, we often hosted Thanksgiving dinner. One year while the turkey sat resting, I asked everyone to write down one thing they were thankful for. Then I mixed them up, and as I read them one by one, we guessed who wrote it. My mom was at least 80 at the time and generally sentimental, so we expected her to be the one who wrote, “my family.” What did she write? “I’m thankful I’m not the turkey.” We all burst into laughter.
We scattered my mom’s ashes in this field. Even though I know they have long since disappeared into the earth, I imagined today that one of those turkeys might be pecking at those ashes. I smiled to think that maybe she is, if not the turkey, at least part of one. I hear her laughing.