Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/Staff File Photo
Turkeys, like this Bourbon Red heritage turkey at Tangletown Farm in Middlesex, would live long lives if not for American holidays.
We had a romantic notion to drive to the turkey farm to buy a genuine fresh turkey, replete with images of coddling gobbling turkeys picking at grain. The whooshing draft of the sliding coop door blows white and grey feather puffs into the air that float briefly and then roll on the floor. The turkeys are not here.
These ghost-like balls remind us that in this holiday season turkey farms are transformed into slaughter houses. Death gobbles expectation. Even a bird’s brain intuits impending doom at smell of blood, sight of ax and the manic scurrying of terror. Guilt rises. I want to tell the tomb-like empty coop that I have longed respected vegetarians, resolving repeatedly, and secretly as well, to become one.
I tell the turkeys about Benjamin Franklin, and his vain efforts to make the turkey the national bird, appreciating turkey gentleness over eagle violence. Stretching for more tangible compensation, I say I will consider choosing turkey life next.
Returning as a turkey has its upside. They work little, eat plenty, and conserve energy, fly only in extremis and never far, and if it were not for Christmas and Thanksgiving would live long lives. I identify with their under-average intelligence and respect their acceptance of this. Contentment with your brain supply is a key requirement for a well-lived life, some think.
Turkeys believe in showing off their bodies to females and are equipped to make a wide variety of sounds in the mating game, including the powerful gobble, which carries a full mile. Their feathers have a coppery sheen, males have a reddish head, red throat and red wattles on throat and neck and a spur behind each leg.
In addition, they strut; that is, they have enormous self-confidence in their turkeyness that lets them wander through their yard world strutting their stuff. I have trouble imagining my shy self with a strut.
A sound interrupts this reverie. Music is heard, softly, orchestral. I spy a radio and see a single red bulb hanging over an area, enclosed by hay bales, where a tom and a hen are lying together, seeming to snuggle, and so rapt in the soft soothe of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concert, they treat us as invisible.
As I speak to them, the tom steps between his hen and me. At the same time, a young, pretty woman, the turkey farmer, appears with data on this couple. One of the farm dogs had managed to get through the electric eye and in seconds had nearly killed the hen. The tom had rushed to her aid, and then stood watch for days, nursing her back to recovery.
This caring led to mutual attachment, creating a moving display of turkey love. The youthful farmer could not bear to separate them. This life-saving act so invigorated the tom that he made heroic efforts at his main manly role of sperm producer. He failed, the farmer adds. But the hen helped ease his reaction to this failure by ceasing to lay eggs, thereby softening the Tom’s shame by joining him in one of the troubling certainties of aging, declining libido.
Perhaps it was the energetic manner and loving gentleness in this young woman’s voice that seeped into my adrenaline. Silently staring at the calm survivors, a swell of appreciation descended, for turkey chivalry and empathy, their unembarrassed show of intimacy and natural acceptance of loss.
I feel the presence of my wife of 40 years, her body warmth and seen breath beside me, and I imagine us shaking hand/wings with this surviving couple. It grows clearer that the two of us protect each other from the age of ax that inches closer to its destination. In this moment of turkey-induced clarity on the primacy of caring for one another, a felt degree of isolation lessens, as do shame and fear. Accompanied by the Rachmaninoff crescendo of the Second Piano Concerto, I grow speechless with the desire to have this moment and its lesson take hold and last.
Raymond E. Lovett (www.raylovett.com) is an online psychotherapist in Dorset.