This is a post-Thanksgiving ”post” to assuage my after-the-fact, raging guilt over having yet again stuffed myself silly and had the best of times with friends and family during the annual Great American Thanksgiving Ritual of killing a bird, often burning it, and then eating ourselves into a stupor on it, all the while giving thanks (sort of) for all of our many blessings.
I myself have slowly but maybe inevitably acquired this ambivalent attitude about turkeys vis-à-vis Thanksgiving. After all, I’m a hardcore animal lover, love Mark Twain’s story Hunting the Deceitful Turkey (an hysterically funny personal memoir actually, of how a mama turkey took him on a “wild goose chase” over hill and dale with a single shot shotgun when he was a mere pup himself, an unforgettable reminiscence in which the turkey emerged the finer/kinder/gentler creature than the young Sam Clemens). If you haven’t read it, you should.
More to the point, what really sealed the deal with me was a disquieting experience I had one night last year at a gas station about a week before Thanksgiving. Oddly enough (somehow I am often involved in odd situations like this which prove epiphanies for me), I pulled in to a pump right next to a pick up truck full of plump turkeys. The human occupants of the truck were a young prosperous back-to-the-land kind of married couple, not farmers but hobbyists, who had raised the turkeys from baby chicks (now grown and ready for the table) and they were first-timers en route to deliver them to the butcher. The woman’s face was streaked with tears, the young man was pale, drawn and thin lipped. The turkeys were scared out of their wits and gobbling like mad, having never been away from their happy home where they had obviously been coddled and treated like pets. (Commercially raised birds that receive no human stroking or solace seem to be prepared for this fate; home-grown babied birds are decidedly shocked, dismayed and panicked when such comes to pass, as would be most of us).
So, to continue, the guy went inside to pay for the gas looking like he was going to his own funeral, while the young woman went to the back of the truck and tried to comfort the turkeys, talking baby talk to them and stroking their heads through the bars of the cages. The frantic turkeys extended their necks through their cages, bugged eyed and jerky with fear, and somehow refused to be comforted.
Go figure. Animals are smarter than we think. And don’t we all know what a betrayal of trust will do to the psyche?
When the woman’s husband came back out, she bit her lip, got back in the truck without a word and slammed her door like doom itself.
He paused there under the bright filling station lights, looking into the truck at her, then at the back of the truck at the freaked out absolutely beautiful healthy turkeys that they had raised all year, and I sensed guilt, doubt, hesitation, and reconsideration on his part. Meanwhile his wife stared straight ahead as if planning her swift divorce from this human deviant, this beast, this wretched piece of humanity totally devoid of compassion, shocked at how she had completely mis-judged him and had been conned into marrying him.
I stood there with the pump in my hand and, forgetting myself, said to him loud and clear in an even voice, surprising myself, ”Don’t do it.”
Did I mention I have an orphaned chicken in my back bedroom tonight (only temporarily of course and because it’s freezing)? And six rescue dogs (only temporarily of course;) ? But then, I do live on a real farm and I understand these things. And some things are inescapable or become so over time, just as they did to Twain later in life. And woe attends us upon reaching these inescapable conclusions.
The naïf knucklehead, not as “advanced” as I, and at the crossroads of his marriage, his self-esteem and so on, just stared at me a moment. Our eyes met briefly and he quickly glanced away. When he turned on his heel and went through the motions of checking the tailgate and bungee chords holding the cages in place, it became perfectly clear he did NOT want to do it.
Still, I detected a lack of resolve.
So I cleared my throat and added with authority, having myself done so many, many things at that point (many of which then flashed before my eyes in a timely fashion) for all of the best “reasons” that I’ve later regretted, “Really. Just don’t. You will be sorry.”
He could make maybe a hundred bucks on the turkeys but his guilt would be with him for a lifetime. (Hey, I’m Catholic. That makes me somewhat of an expert on guilt and its ravages).
The poor guy, poised I was sure on the precipice of making a disastrous decision, stood still for a sec at the back of the truck and looked off into the starry sky. The turkeys fell silent.
He never answered me or gave any indication as to what he might do. His wife had turned to stone in the cab. This guy had a lot to lose for a hundred bucks, I thought.
And then they drove off into the night and so did I. What happened to the pet turkeys, I’ll never know, but I’m damn glad I said what I said, even if I did eat turkey myself shortly thereafter.
Which I later regretted, I might add.
- The Sad Fate Of The Pardoned Turkey (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- The Infamous Baby-Turkey Trade of 1641: Secrets Finally Revealed (pampersnpints.com)
- Slaughtering Sentience: There’s No Reason to Eat Turkeys (psychologytoday.com)
- Injured turkey gets Thanksgiving reprieve at York rehabilitation center (bangordailynews.com)