Monday, November 10, 2014

Thanksgiving For Dummies

Herry the one-legged heritage turkey.
In a beautiful state in the northeast of our country is a wee little town populated by an assortment of characters both young and old. These characters have horses, run sled dogs, build hay-bale houses, adopt mixed-race children, have gardens that contain all manner of organic greens (mostly legal but some perhaps not). The backyard farms of the aging hippies, Nuevo Hippies or generational backyard farmers are populated with cows, goats, sheep, chickens and one very visible turkey.

This turkey is known as “Herry” -- not to be confused with “Harry”-- a special, huge, white bird with with black markings that is a heritage variety. Probably a Royal Palm which is ornamental, table-worthy, and dumb … really dumb with a capital D. Even as a youngster, Herry was not the smartest poult in the flock. Eventually, as his snow-white feathers developed their black tail halo and wing stripes, he was spotted and taken home by of one of the characters that inhabited this wee little town.

Once he was adopted and taken to live in the quaint and idiosyncratic hill town, he looked around at his farm mates and decided that the dog got the best treatment. He was, in his limited intellectual capacity, unable to see that the dog also had great responsibilities. The dog had to herd the sheep, bark wildly at the deer that threatened to invade the kitchen garden and likewise be an alarm when a pick-up truck came uninvited up the long, curving driveway. The dog had to be a companion, a concept utterly lost on Herry. Like others of his breed, it had been determined by the esteemed Scientific American that turkeys have no ability to learn from experience or plan for the future --  much less make informed decisions.

But Herry knew nothing about these scientific studies and decided that he would act like the dog who barked at the pick-up trucks and cars and occasionally chased them. Since “free range” (meaning that the poultry that populated the mini-farm could roam where and when they wanted) was in full force, Herry ran hell bent for election after anything with wheels that invaded his stretch of road -- gobbling instead of barking. His eye had an evil gleam and he intimidated anyone who thought that they were brave enough to dismount their motorized transport to be friendly or snap a photo.

Local folks knew to slow down for Herry as he went on his appointed mission. Others that chanced along the dusty dirt road in the wee little town slammed on brakes and marveled at this strange roadside apparition. Wags at the local country store shook their heads in amazement that Herry had survived his fruitless mission to catch a car, how they had to come to a complete stop to avoid clipping his wings or worse as they traveled the rural road. Herry was tireless in his pursuit of these roaring behemoths and it did not matter if there were six vehicles in a day or 16 or 60, the chase went on.

In spite of Herry's excess exercise he grew and gained on the rich cracked corn and plethora of bugs and worms his free range afforded. It looked like Herry would top out at 22 pounds just in time for Thanksgiving. He was such a pretty bird that it seemed a shame to butcher him for the enjoyment of a few family members gathered around a table that would be laden with so much food that the meat bird, while the picturesque centerpiece of the table, was almost an afterthought in the cuisine.

But Herry was bought for the table, destined for the table and unable to breed since the farm had no other turkeys. While his black and whiteness would seem to define him as drab, he was perhaps the most colorful of animals in town. But Thanksgiving was coming.

And then, the inevitable happened: A Jeep came racing into town and tread on Herry’s territory. The youthful driver slammed on his brakes in a cloud of dust and skidded sideways before he hit Herry with the shiny chrome of his bumper. Horrified, he leaped out of his car and cradled the wounded turkey in his arms until Herry’s master came to the scene. Such chaos! Squawking and talking and decisions and, finally, a neighbor with some veterinarian experience amputated the damaged leg, disinfected the wound and tranquilized the traumatized bird.

For days, no one saw Herry. Then his head would peek up out of the gorse at the side of the road as a car would pass. But he no longer could chase. He could only hop on his one good leg and peck for the juicy bugs in the weeds and hobble to the chicken coop for corn. If a turkey could look depressed, he did.
The holiday season was coming. The glorious autumnal colors had come and were almost gone. The deer hunters in their camo were roaming the hills of the wee town. Thanksgiving was next week. Herry’s owner was ready to butcher Herry as had been the plan all along. But there was a problem. This clan had two strapping young men who every year got a drumstick each from the holiday bird… it was a tradition that was not to be broken. And Herry had only one drumstick to bring to the table.

The owner looked at Herry, the strapping young men looked at Herry, Herry looked back. If a turkey could look baleful, Herry did. "We’ll decide tomorrow," they decided, in the best of a no-answer answer to the thorny problem.

Now, no one would admit to buying it, but the next day a plastic-wrapped, 22-pound Butterball turkey was thawing in the kitchen sink.

I still see Herry when I drive by the mini-farm in the wee town. I know that Scientific American says that turkeys are among the animals that cannot learn from experience or plan for the future, but I swear I can see Herry smile -- if a turkey can smile. He’s outfoxed the November roasting pan and still living the good life picking bugs and lounging in the gorse by the side of the road.

He may even be planning for the time when he can once more chase the metal monsters. I didn't say that he was he was smart enough to learn from experience -- just smart enough to avoid being the centerpiece of the November holiday meal.

And that lifts him out of the “dumb” category no matter what the pundits say.