Written by Beth Meyer
When I was about eight years old, my parents told me and my sister that we were going to spend Thanksgiving on my grandparents’ farm.
This was wonderful news because we loved visiting Grams and Papaw’s farm. It was so different from our boring house. On the farm, we could collect eggs from the chickens, watch the cows being milked by giant milking machines, play in the haybarn, and even ride the two ponies that we named Mickey and Minnie. Hey, we were little and didn’t have much reference for choosing names for a pony.
After what seemed like a car ride that lasted for hours, but in reality, was just ninety minutes, we pulled off the main road and onto a gravel driveway. Dad’s big Pontiac kicked up lots of dust as we slowly made our way to the big white farmhouse sitting on top of the hill.
As we got closer, we could see Grams standing on the big wide porch, wiping her hands on her ever-present apron. Crossing the yard from the barn, was Papaw. The car had barely stopped when my sister and I opened the doors and ran to open arms waiting to hug us and fill our cheeks with kisses.
While Dad unloaded the luggage and Mom carried in the basket of goodies she brought to give to Grams, my sister and I ran to the side of the barn. Here in a pen full of disgusting mud, resided five of the biggest pigs we had ever seen. Petunia was the oldest of the pigs and by the far the largest. Papaw followed behind us and handed each of us a bucket of scraps for us to throw over the fence to the waiting, hungry pigs.
From pig pen to the barn, my sister and I ran hoping to see the newest litter of barn cats. Sure, enough nestled in a quiet corner, was a Mama cat with six, mewing kittens. While carefully holding them, stroking their soft fur, we heard the dinner bell clanging, summoning us in for lunch.
Thanksgiving was two days away, and Grams and my mother were busy planning the feast. We were excited to find out that we would be joined by my mother’s two brothers, their wives and their children. Papaw’s brother would be there along with Grams’ twin sister.
The day before Thanksgiving, Grams slid back the pocket door leading into the dining room and started pulling the dust covers off the massive table and the ten chairs that fit around it. My mother set up the two card tables which would be where all the kids would eat their dinner.
Later that morning, my sister and I went searching for Papaw. We found him on the other side of the chicken house. He was just coming out of another building that wasn’t as big at the chicken coop but was set up like it. There was a small building with a fenced in pen attached to it. As Papaw entered the pen, right on his heels was a very large, turkey. It had a bright red head, small beady eyes, a wide chest and lots of tail feathers.
My sister and I had never seen a live turkey and we were fascinated. Poor Papaw faced a barrage of questions from two very inquisitive little girls. Finally, he convinced us that we were probably needed in the house, and we wandered off.
Inside the house, we found some of our cousins had arrived and we happily sat around the kitchen table, drinking glasses of farm-fresh milk, and eating Grams’ chocolate chip cookies.
My Uncle Dave walked in and sat down with us. He asked Grams if Papaw needed any help with the turkey. My sister laughed and said that was silly since we had just seen the turkey and he and Papaw were having fun going in and out of the turkey’s house. It looked like they were playing hide and seek.
Billy, one of Uncle Dave’s sons, snorted and said girls were stupid. Didn’t we know that Papaw wasn’t playing a game but he was probably chasing the turkey so he could catch him and kill him.
The room went silent. My sister jumped up and ran over to Billy and punched his arm. She yelled at him to take it back about Papaw wanting to kill that nice turkey. Billy’s brother, Jimmy pushed my sister, knocking her to the floor. She started wailing and everyone started yelling.
Papaw came into the house, with my father following close behind. They wanted to know what had caused such a ruckus. Billy said smugly that the stupid girls thought Papaw was playing with the turkey when everyone knew, Papaw was going to kill the turkey that very day. Afterall, he exclaimed, how can you have Thanksgiving without the turkey.
My sister and I looked at our father. He didn’t say a single word. We ran from the room, up the stairs to our little bedroom and slammed the door. Sometime later, there was a knock on the door and in walked Papaw. He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled us onto his lap. Quietly and patiently, he explained to us the realities of living on a farm and the circle of life of farm animals. He reminded us that every animal had a job to do from the cows and chickens to the Mama cat and her kittens. That included the turkey who was destined to be our main course on Thanksgiving.
When he left us, my sister and I pinky swore that tomorrow, no matter how delicious the turkey looked, we wouldn’t eat a single bite of it. How can you eat someone you know?
Thanksgiving morning was sunny but chilly. Grams had been up way before the sun and we awoke to the smells of fresh baked pies, cooked apples, and a roasting turkey. We all got ready, and everyone piled in their cars and trucks, and we attended church together. On the way home my sister told our parents about the solemn vow we had taken not to partake of any turkey. Mom and Dad looked at each other but said nothing.
At 1:00 p.m. sharp, everyone assembled in the dining room. The table was covered with dishes of delicious, homecooked food from mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry relish, corn pudding, oyster stuffing, fresh dinner rolls and freshly churned butter. Sitting in the center of the table, in a place of honor was the turkey.
I made my cousin switch places with me so I couldn’t see the turkey. After saying grace, Papaw pulled out the old carving set and began to dismantle the turkey. My sister and I ate very little. It wasn’t easy to enjoy our meal when all around us, the poor turkey was being consumed by hungry relatives.
Before dessert was served, the women cleaned off the table, washed up the dishes and put away the leftovers, my sister and I sat outside on the old porch swing, listening to our cousins play tag out on the lawn. Papaw stopped by and asked us if we wanted to help him feed the chickens. Reluctantly we agreed and followed him to the chicken coop.
It was funny watching the chickens hop all over the place, trying to grab the chicken feed we scattered around. For a few minutes, we forgot why we were so sad. Looking around we discovered that Papaw was gone.
My sister called out to him, and we heard him on the backside of the chicken coop. We came around the corner and stopped in our tracks. Standing in front of us, with a big smile on his face, was Papaw. And in his hands, was a thick rope attached to a collar around the scrawny neck of the turkey.
We were so happy to see the turkey alive and well that we scared it by screaming and trying to hug its wide body. Papaw told us to calm down and we ran to him and hugged his legs and kissed his hands. He handed the rope to us and told us to take the turkey for a little walk around his house.
On the way back to where Papaw was standing, we saw that our parents, Grams as well as our aunts and uncles and cousins were all gathered around. Billy wanted to know if the turkey was still alive, what had they eaten at dinner.
Papaw laughed and said it wouldn’t have been very nice to eat this turkey, since he was part of the family, so Papaw had called up a friend of his who lived down the road, and who just happened to have an extra turkey that he had bought at the grocery store. So, Grams had cooked the store-bought turkey and not a turkey anyone of them knew personally.
Everyone laughed and Papaw asked me if I would like to name the turkey. I smiled and thought very hard for the right name. Several came to mind, but I wanted the perfect one. Then it popped into my head.
I walked over to the turkey, stroked its bobbing head and said proudly, his name would be Lucky. Papaw threw back his head and laughed loudly. My sister said she felt hungry and would like a turkey sandwich. Leading Lucky by his rope, I put him back inside his house. Papaw closed the gate and latched the lock. We strolled back to the house where everyone was in the kitchen, eating again.
Lucky survived that Thanksgiving, and many more thereafter. When he finally died of old age, Papaw buried him under a big tree on one of the hills overlooking the farm. The only heat Lucky ever felt was that of the sun, not that of an oven.