The Christmas Turkey
Every new farmer has to learn about farming. It's a matter of survival. Basic intelligence supports that survival. I grew up on a farm and that being the case; I have no excuse for ignorance. Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not always bliss. Sometimes it can hurt - a lot.
I always prided myself on being a good strong farm girl, capable of handling any situation independently but pride goeth before a fall. I learned, and quite reluctantly, had to admit, that my strength and independence had limitations.
One year, in lieu of payment for some service we had provided, a neighbour gave us a tom turkey for Thanksgiving, but since we normally did not do the big Thanksgiving dinner deal, we decided to save him for Christmas. We put him into the chicken coop and there he strutted proudly among the chickens, gorging himself incessantly on the constantly available nutritious grain. By Christmas, his already adult weight and size had almost doubled. He just forgot to stop growing!
Christmas at our house always meant lots of relatives, friends, and neighbours so a turkey would go along way to satisfying all those hungry appetites. A couple of days before the big day, I informed my husband that it was time to dress Tommy for Christmas. John got the chopping block cleaned off, got the axe and on the way to the chicken coop, he proceeded to tell me how to aim that axe so as not to waste all that good meat on the turkey's neck.
I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that I would be wielding the guillotine.
"I'm not chopping his neck off!" I protested in alarm. "You do that. I'll hold him."
With his proud regal strut, and that welcoming "gobble, gobble gobble," those beady eyes watching me with such respect each time I brought feed or came to collect the eggs that the hens so obligingly deposited for me, I had grown rather fond of His Majesty. Not enough to spare him his fate; mind you, but enough to make me refuse to wield the axe on that meaty neck of his.
"Are you crazy? You'll never be able to hold him. That sucker weighs as much as you do." John scoffed in disbelief.
I was insulted. "I can too, hold him. I'm strong as horse and you know it! I can keep up with you at any farm job."
"You may be tough, but you'll never hold that turkey." John sneered, conviction and scorn dripping in his voice.
This whole thing was taking on a turn I had not anticipated and the prospect of that turkey dinner was not as enticing anymore. But John’s lack of confidence in me stung to the core! I was tough.
I was adamant - and defiant now. How dare he presume that I was such a weakling? I'll show him!
"You wield the axe. I'll hold the turkey." I insisted doggedly.
Patiently, John tried to explain the facts of life to me. "You don't understand. When his head gets chopped off, that bird's reflexes will go ballistic. He'll jerk and jump like a yo-yo out of control. He'll beat himself - and you - black and blue with his wings. You won't be able salvage any meat by the time he's finished."
I had killed enough chickens to know that a bird without a head can do two or three whole minutes of frenzied reflex dancing before the nerves succumb. But I was a good strong farmer and I would handle that sucker!
"I'll hold the turkey." I declared resolutely fairly daring him to cross me.
After a few more explanations and remonstrations, John finally sighed. "You're going to have to hold on tight if you want to eat that bird." he warned.
"Don't you worry, I will."
We cornered the confused turkey-cum-dinner and grabbing him in a firm arm lock, John soon had him at the chopping block. He checked once more with me if I had come to my senses but I was unyielding.
I glared stubbornly at him. With obstinate determination borne of confidence in my own inflated ability and strength, I clamped the spindly feet tightly between my knees and, slipping my hands along its body, I gripped the wings firmly from beneath. Convinced I had that bird securely trussed, I nodded to John that I was ready. He gave me a condescending look that clearly indicated his disbelief at my lack of intelligence and pulled the neck into just the right spot on the chopping block. At his final pause as if to say "Last chance to change your mind," I nodded. In resignation, he let the guillotine drop.
I couldn't say I hadn't been warned but I must admit I was ill prepared for the absurdity that followed. Minus a head, that turkey's adrenaline went into overdrive and its power multiplied a thousandfold. Somehow, those spindly legs vaulted free of my knee's stranglehold. With the force of a charging rhino, I found myself being catapulted through space, onto my back, onto my side, on my feet and off again, bouncing around like balloon that had not been tied properly. The turkey neck was rotating, spewing blood in every direction and I was now covered with it. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of John helplessly trying to catch up to us but it was no use. This rocketing Tasmanian devil didn't stop long enough for him to grab a hold. Desperately, I held on tight, remembering John’s warning that I would not be able to salvage any meat if I let his wings loose. I clenched my teeth and my fists and hung on as I had never done before. I felt myself hurtling around like an unguided missile, frantically wishing that this Pandemonium would end, that the stupid bird would die already, because if it didn't die soon, I was certain that I would.
After an eternity, I found myself lying quietly on my back, the crazy turkey on top of me, its now still legs pointing to the sun, blood from its now limp neck slowly dripping down the neck of my parka. My arms were still securely locked around its body but they felt like quivering jelly. As a matter of fact, my whole body felt like quivering jelly. But I hadn’t let that turkey beat himself up. Beating me up was another matter. I now had no strength to move. The turkey had sapped it all. John came and lifted the turkey off me and then extended a hand to help me up. The yard looked like a war zone with blood everywhere on the white snow. John said nothing and neither did I. He carried that turkey into the house and I meekly followed him. I went straight into the shower, parka and all. When I finally emerged almost an hour later, I was clean but every muscle in my body was screamed in agony.
John left the house while I was in the bathroom washing up. He didn't come in till late in the evening. I didn't know if he was angry and punishing me for my stupidity or if he was killing himself laughing out behind the shed. I honestly didn't care. What ever it was, I was grateful he was doing it well out of my sight and earshot. Suffering silently in pain and indignity, I plucked the feathers off that wild Brahma-bull of a bird and by evening, I had him safely in the cold room, gutted, clean and washed.
On Christmas day, still enduring excruciating pain in places I had never even known I had, I dressed and cooked that turkey for the big gang that were expecting for Christmas dinner. Everybody enjoyed it except me. I ached too much to enjoy anything for almost two whole weeks and it was months before my body regained its normal fleshy tones. There are muscles in my body that still have vivid memories of that Christmas turkey and I have never felt so arrogant about my prowess and efficacy as a farmer since that turkey gave me a lesson in humility.