Bringing Home the Turkey
© Copyright 2017 by June Calender
Today was his and Britt’s first major holiday together. She had wondered if they should invite Uncle Jake to dinner. No, Uncle Jake didn’t bother with things like Thanksgiving. Good, they decided, they would ignore the holiday too and have a quiet day in and out of bed. Frank would have a good work out, get some Dunkin Donuts on the way back. He wondered if he’d see the pair of deer he saw earlier in the week; maybe he should slow down. Sometimes there were wild turkeys too.
As if thinking makes it so, at a sharp bend he saw a flock of the tall, scruffy birds stalking across the road as if they were a royal entourage. They were headed from the creek to the woods. Damn! Frank slammed on the brakes but his tires were nearly bald and the leaf-strewn macadam was as slick as black ice. The Bronco skidded.The turkeys squawked like a Comanche war party. They ran, leapt up, flew. WHUMP! Shit! Hit one. He righted the slew of the Bronco, punched on the flashers and got out to see if he hit one or two or more. Just behind the back left tire was a single turkey, flopping and squawking, mad as hell and looking uglier than usual.
Put it out of its misery, he thought. Wring its neck? No way, Jose. That bird was hurt and mad and would attack. Poor bastard. Frank felt a lump in his throat. All my fault. He hated making stupid mistakes. Maiming an animal–or bird--was worse than embarrassing. He felt uglier than the turkey. The other turkeys were still crashing through the underbrush headed for denser woods. They don’t gang up on attackers. Turkeys desert the fallen. Good thing for him, sad for the poor suffering critter. Damn! Frank couldn’t leave an animal or a bird, certainly not this turkey, to suffer. Stomp on its head? Oh, god, can I do that? Don’t want to.
Oh, yeah, the tool bag—a hatchet or at least a hammer. A hammer, jez! Hey, Britt, guess what I did. I hammered a turkey’s brains out. That was not the kind of turn-on he had thought of waking her up with when he got back from the gym. Uncle Jake advised, when they decided to rent the little old farm house and he saw the aged Bronco, that Frank fill a duffle with essential tools. Yes, there was a brand new, shiny bladed hatchet.
By the time Frank got back to the turkey it was in the very middle of the road and running out of energy. It gave him a mean look and flapped a wing at him. Don’t think, do it! A good quick whack with the hatchet. His guts grabbed at one another. This was killing, a different category of killing than swatting a mosquito. He picked the turkey up by the feet, and held it so the blood would run out, making a puddle in the road. Pretty wing feathers – never noticed that before. Real pretty. Guess I always just saw that scrawny, wrinkled red neck and ugly, mean face. Sorry I did that to you, fella.
Better leave the head here so no one thinks the blood means someone’s been murdered. He imagined the police collecting a sample of blood and sending it to a lab for DNA testing. He chuckled. Let ‘em. He gave the head a strong pitch toward the creek. Frank was about to toss the bird into the ditch when lightning struck like it had struck Ben Franklin’s kite. It’s Thanksgiving, I’ve got a turkey! We’ll be like the Pilgrims and have a real wild turkey for dinner. Britt might like that; she was a gung-ho environmentalist. She loved that the woods were full of wild turkeys. Live ones, a dead one might not be welcome. I might have to do some convincing. Hey, Hon, this guy gave up his life for a reason. Put it that way. It’s true. I’d like turkey better than the eggplant parmesan she assembled last night for today’s dinner. Who ever heard of eating eggplant parm for Thanksgiving dinner?
Frank was getting excited thinking about having a story to tell. Yeah! Not just this week, back at work on Monday and for the rest of his life. When I’m a grandpa, I’ll be sitting in an easy chair telling the kids about how I had a wild turkey for Thanksgiving. Killed it myself! “Did you really, Grampa? With a bow and arrow?” “No, and I didn’t shoot it either. I killed it with a hatchet.” Maybe I won’t tell them that part. Don’t want them to think I was some heartless bastard.
turned the Bronco around, no workout today. Now what do I have to do?
He had scaled a few fish, he’d heard others talk of skinning a
deer but never seen it done. His foot almost lifted off the gas as he
thought about the depth of his ignorance. Google! Everything’s
on You Tube.
Water was set to boil in the teakettle and in the big lobster pot when Britt shuffled into the kitchen. Frank was at the desk in the living room. He had found more information than he expected. “Hey, Hon, is the water heater off?”
“No, it’s got to be boiling so I can pluck the bird.”
“Honey, you know, my brain has to wake up. Don’t give me riddles. Is the coffee pot broken?”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot to turn it on.”
“I thought you were getting donuts.”
Frank got up and folded his arms around Britt. “Sweetheart, we have a change of plans. We’re going to have an old fashioned Thanksgiving dinner. I brought home a turkey. And we’re going to–
Britt was shaking her head. “No. We agreed…”
“Fate intervened. We undecided. I have a dead wild turkey out in the driveway. I’m going to pluck it and prepare it for roasting.”
She pulled away. “I’m going back to bed. Tell me when this is over.”
He held onto her. “Aren’t you excited?”
“I don’t want turkey–wild, factory,d free range or tofu.”
The teakettle began to shriek. “Britty-booo – I hit it. I killed it and the only noble, ecologically and morally correct thing to do is eat it.”
Britt pondered, looking at his earnest face. “I’m glad you didn’t hit a skunk.” She followed him into the kitchen. He turned off the burner under the teakettle. The water in the lobster pot was beginning to shimmer, about to truly boil.
“Please hold the door open so I can take this out.” She did, she saw the dead turkey lying by the front tire.
“You can’t boil it in that.”
“I have to dunk it in the water to loosen the feathers so I can pluck it.” He set down the pot and pushed the turkey into it displacing at least half the water.”
“It’s not working,” Britt said.
“I know. That’s why the teakettle. I thought that through all by myself–it wasn’t in the directions.”
“Go look. Online.” Frank went back for the teakettle, returned and carefully poured boiling water over all parts of the turkey not in the pot. Steam rose along with a horrible stench. Britt pinched her nose closed and headed for the house.
Frank pulled at some wing feathers; they did not come off easily. I’ll let them loosen up, he thought and followed Britt into the house; she was headed for the bedroom. “Don’t go back to bed. Please. We can’t let this turkey give up his life in vain.”
Britt sighed. “Frank, you’re too good to be true.”
“Yeah, St. Francis of wild turkeys.”
For a minute they held each other chuckling at the silliness of the whole situation.
“Just wake up the screen, there’s a bunch of sites. I’ll get the feathers off.”
Easier said than done. At first the whole bird was too hot to handle but the air was chilly and soon the feathers were almost flying. Frank worked fast because the smell was putrid, moldy, acidic. Frank got more nauseous by the minute. I won’t punk, he muttered. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. He did. He spent three or four minutes spitting the taste out of his mouth and breathing deeply. His stomach settled. In another ten minutes he even pulled most of the tiny pinfeathers off and had a naked bird that was long and skinny. It looked like a different species from the supermarket turkeys.
Britt came out in jeans and sweatshirt. She had a newspaper and a selection of knives. “You’d better cut off more of the neck. That’s a hell of a long neck, are you sure this wasn’t a baby giraffe?” She offered the knives. “You’ve got to reach down the throat.” She was on board. Frank grinned at her. “This will be an historic happening in our lives,” she said.
“We’re making memories,” Frank agreed.
“Cut there.” He cut just at the top of the backbone.
“Reach in and pull out whatever you can.”
“With my bare hands?”
“Do you want my dishwashing gloves?”
He got hold of something like a squishy bag. His stomach lurched but he swallowed hard and and showed Britt.
“The craw. That’s where it holds food until it goes to the gizzard where it gets ground up.”
“How do you know?”
“I just now read it. They say you should cut the gizzard open and look at the little stones that grind up their food. That’s what happens instead of having teeth.”
“Ah, a learning experience.”
“Well, we are school teachers.”
“Lay him on his back, and cut down–well, no—first cut off his tail stub and get the nasty glands out. They say it makes the meat taste terrible. I think they’re really his balls.”
“Turkeys have balls?”
“Assuming this is a tom. You didn’t kill a tammie, did you?”
“Whatever you call a girl turkey.”
They saved a bouquet of the pretty black and white feathers and wrapped all the messy parts in newspaper for the garbage. Frank worked in the kitchen; Britt went back and forth from the computer relaying instructions. They chose the directions for separating the breast and saving the thighs and wings for another time. “More than enough for two of us,” Frank said.
“Call Uncle Jake,” Britt said. “I’ll bet he’ll come.”
“You really want him here?”
“He’s your relative, he can’t be a as bad as you say.”
“Don’t be hurt if he says no.”
Frank called. Uncle Jake was a life-long bachelor, a loner, a curmudgeon and strangely fond of Frank, his only male relative. He seemed to have accepted Britt.
“Thanksgiving dinner?” Uncle Jake asked as if it were a new invention.
“Well, I thought you probably didn’t have any special plans and we unexpectedly are having a Pilgrim Thanksgiving, complete with wild turkey and … well not a lot of fixings, really.”
“With that girl you live with?”
“Britt helped me butcher it.”
“Did you hunt it?”
“No. Listen, come over and I’ll tell you all about it. Will you come?”
“No coat and tie. No praying.”
“Just eating,” Frank promised.
They hadn’t shopped for Thanksgiving. They scrounged through the refrigerator and cabinets to add to the eggplant parmesan. Baked beans weren’t exactly stuffing and salsa wasn’t cranberry sauce. They had some carrots, largely because Frank didn’t like cooked carrots although Britt did. Britt was planning to bake apples for dessert.
Uncle Jake came in his hoodie and plaid wool shirt but he had on polished shoes. His hair and beard were still damp from a shower. He sniffed when he came in. “Kinda smells like turkey.”
“It IS turkey,” Frank said. He showed off the nicely browned breast, bigger than chicken breasts but not the fat, round, watermelon shaped breasts turkeys were baring on tables all over the country this afternoon.
The meat was a little chewy. It would not cut in neat slices but came off in strips.
“I’ll be damned,” Uncle Jake said, “That tastes a whole lot more like meat than the stuff they call turkey these days.”
“A little tough,” Britt said. Actually she thought it was too dry and she should have basted it with something.
“Meat’s not supposed to melt like marshmallows in your mouth. I like to know I’m eating something as real as I am,” Uncle Jake said.
“Ever tired cannibalism?” Britt asked.
“Glad your girl’s got a sense of humor to go with her looks,” Uncle Jack said.
Frank relaxed. He’d been watching Uncle Frank who wasn’t familiar with eggplant parmesan. “You really like it?”
“This tastes like the real thing. Glad you thought of calling me.”
“So are we,” Britt said.
“I should have taken a picture,” Frank said. “We should have documented this.”
“I could have put it on Facebook,” Britt said wishing she had thought of it earlier.
“We’ll just have to remember.”
Somehow the eggplant parmesan got eaten too. The baked beans were, well, canned baked beans. The salsa was a good addition to the turkey.
“We only have baked apples for dessert,” Britt said. “I’m not a pie maker.”
“This is as good as it gets,” Uncle Jake said, “Except … I have something to add to dinner; almost forgot about it.” He went out to his pickup and returned holding a hand behind his back. “It so happens this is just the right thing.” He revealed a bottle of Wild Turkey about two-thirds full. He splashed it into the cores of the three baked apples.“This is a Thanksgiving you'll be telling your grandchildren about,” Uncle Jack said. Frank smiled at Britt.