The Unconcerned Entrée
not a turkey, per se

"Happy Thanksgiving," I said to the turkey, but it just gobbled, as turkeys are prone to do.

It was a young and good-looking turkey, in the plump prime of its frivolous life. "Where?" and "When?" it seemed to ask with darting eyes and nervous stretchings of its wings. "Who?" and "How?" and "Why?"

It prodded at the cold earth, looking for whatever turkeys find interesting in the dirt and the grass. I was beginning to think it had lost interest in me as it shuffled about, no particular purpose in its directions.

Every question deserves an answer, but not every answer has to be as brutal as an axe. I started to look toward the chopping block but nodded in the direction of the farmhouse instead. There was smoke breathing from the chimney; a crackle of white ice in the corners of the windows; a cord of frozen firewood forming a staircase against the clapboard.

"In there. But it's warm, and dry." Not that it would much matter. The turkey wandered off, not really interested, and not that gullible. It pecked at its feathers.

"In a few days," I said vaguely. "But don't worry about it. We all have to go sometime, and you're one of the few who has the dubious honor of knowing the answer to the ultimate and most human of questions. But hey, you're not human, are you? So like I said, don't worry. You'll probably be reincarnated or something."

It seemed distracted by a tree now, but who was it fooling?

That one had a lot of possibilities, so I narrowed the choices down to the finest definition of kindness."Well, a family. And not just one of those nuclear ones you've probably been hearing about, either. We're talking four kids, a mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins and various hangers-on. Non-nuclear for a day, come to argue and eat and watch TV. Lots of them. You're lucky you're stout," I joked, but turkeys aren't noted for their sense of humor.

"You don't really want to know how." It didn't really want to know how.

"Why?" is seldom of much use. "Why?" is anxious with the flavor of pushy, ageless with a dash of morbid and mortal expectations. "Why?" never did anybody any good, but try telling that to anybody, fowl or not.

"Ever hear of the pilgrims?" I started. No good. The Pilgrim/Indian summit had happened so long ago that it wouldn't be of much interest to a soon-to-be-heartburn youngster of a bird. Nor would a synopsis of American culture and tradition have an effect. Perhaps it was time to talk turkey.

"You see, we the people have a need for celebration and solemn occasions. At the risk of alienating a large number of sociologists, it's an instinct, a primeval yearning. We find a reason to gather together and partake on but a few occasions a year. It's good for us; it gets our minds off things.

"There are parades, sales, school plays, timely sermons, and turnpike fatality counts. It isn't the most obtrusive of holidays but it has its loyal following. To most folks it's simply an extended weekend, an 'eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we become ill' sort of thing."

This last addition was a calculated rewording. Turkeys aren't known to read the bible, but pre-Thanksgiving melancholy may have bred such a taste. He wasn't telling.

"It always seems that it's the thought that counts, and the day has that going for it: good thoughts, noble intentions, whatever. Married to Thanksgiving is the indelible image of a family seated about the table, heads bowed in prayer, thankful. We're pretty stingy with our thanks, though. Once a year is enough. But then, I'm preaching to the wrong congregation. I don't suppose you have much to be thankful for."

That wasn't an adroit thing to say.

"But look at it this way," I remedied. "You, as the focus of so much attention, are a martyr to a worthy cause. You, more than anything, symbolize the nebulous idea of 'plenty' that we all have guilt complexes over occasionally. You're the centrepiece, the posthumous master of ceremonies. So take heart. You're not just white meat to me."

It was difficult to tell whether or not the turkey felt any different after our little talk. My emotional outburst at the end must have been taken with a grain of salt. The turkey fell asleep.

I gave it a pat, then headed for the house after a silent postscript to the oblivious creature.

"OK, so I was lying about the white meat."

The Bowling Green News, November 1986

(Psssst. A decade and who knows how much white meat later, I went vegetarian.)