Turkey Tom Comes to Dinner

It was early Halloween morning. The sun hadn’t come up yet, so it was still dark outside. I was trying real hard not to be scared. Dad had asked me to feed the calves their hay while he finished milking our three cows. I was just gathering an armful of loose hay, when I saw the biggest, blackest bird standing on top of a hay bale about halfway up the stack.

The bird had an old, wrinkled, bald head and a long, skinny tail that went almost halfway to the ground. I didn’t believe in witches or ghosts or goblins, but I could see that this was a real monster kind of bird.

I turned around, tripped over some baling twine, and fell right on my face. I just knew that big bird was going to swoop down and carry me away, so I got up as fast as I could and started running.

When I got to where Dad was milking, I was breathing so hard that I couldn’t talk. Dad said that my face was as white as a frog’s belly and my eyes were as big as buckets.

When I finally caught my breath, I shouted, “There’s a huge monster bird on the haystack! It’s bigger than an eagle, and it’s really ugly. It must be a Halloween bird.”

Dad listened to me and nodded his head and finished squeezing the last drops of milk out of our cow Kick-a-Pooh Daisy. When he had finished, he hung his bucket of milk on a nail and said, “We’d better go have a look at this ‘monster bird.’”

By then the sun was starting to peek over the mountains, and things were a little lighter. When we got to the haystack, that old bird was still there—right on top of the hay bale—but I could see it better now. It was big all right, but it didn’t scare me this time. Its long, skinny tail was now spread into a shape like a great big fan. My monster bird was just an old turkey—the hugest one I’d ever seen!

When Dad and I climbed up on top of the hay, that old turkey didn’t even try to fly away. He just stood there looking at us, his tail spread and his big chest sticking out. Dad picked him up and said that he might weigh as much as forty pounds.

We carried the turkey down to the chicken coop and put it inside with the chickens. Then we called Mom and my sisters, Jana Lee and Sarah, and my little brother, Jared, to come see it.

“That’s probably Brother Reeves’s turkey,” Mom said.

Brother Reeves was our neighbor who raised hundreds of turkeys, so Mom called him. When he came over, he looked at the turkey and nodded his head. “Yep, it looks like one of mine,” he said. “One of the doors on the turkey truck must have jarred loose, and it probably jumped out when the truck went out this morning. That’s one of my biggest toms.”

“A tom?” I asked.

“Yep. That’s what you call a male turkey. Do you have your Thanksgiving turkey, Aaron?” he asked me. I shook my head. “Well, you do now. That is, you do if your dad will let you keep him.”

Dad had a big smile on his face, and said, “If Aaron will take care of him, he can keep him and feed him and we’ll have him for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“I’m going to call you Turkey Tom,” I said to the turkey. “And you’re going to come to our Thanksgiving dinner.”

“He’s going to be the dinner,” Brother Reeves said with a chuckle.

Our family had never raised our own Thanksgiving turkey, so I was sure proud of Turkey Tom. Every day after school I rode the bus home, changed my clothes, and did my chores as fast as I could so that I could go out and watch Turkey Tom. Sometimes my friends came over, and we watched Turkey Tom strut around. Then he’d poke in the dirt, looking for bugs and things.

The chickens were pretty mean to Turkey Tom at first. They didn’t play with him, and when it came time to eat, they pushed him aside and wouldn’t let him get any grain or mash. I would take a handful of grain and hold it out to Turkey Tom, and he learned to eat right out of my hand.

After a while he started to follow me around. Even when I went to feed the calves or to take the scraps to the pigs, he would come right behind me, strutting along with his big chest out.

Every day I liked Turkey Tom more and more. And though I knew better, soon I had made a pet of him. He was my friend, and I decided I didn’t want to eat him for Thanksgiving dinner. You just can’t eat your friends for dinner, even if they are turkeys.

One day when Dad was out milking, I asked him, “Why do we have to have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner? Why don’t we just have hot dogs or hamburgers or something?”

“Well, I guess we could eat anything we wanted,” Dad answered. “But the Pilgrims had turkey, and we’ve always had turkey, and you yourself said that turkey was your favorite meat.”

“But that was before I found Turkey Tom,” I said. “I just don’t know if I can eat him, even if Brother Reeves did give him to us for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“What would we do with him if we didn’t eat him?” Dad asked. “A turkey isn’t good for anything if you don’t eat it. You can ride a horse. Cows give milk. You get wool from sheep. Dogs can watch your house and property. Chickens lay eggs. What good is a turkey? All it does is eat. Why keep Turkey Tom unless you can eat him?”

I thought for a minute and then said, “We could keep him for a friend. Your friends don’t lay eggs or give milk or wool or anything like that. They’re just your friends, and they make you feel happy. That’s why you keep them. Couldn’t we keep Turkey Tom for a friend, because he sure makes me happy?”

Dad rubbed his nose the way he does when he’s thinking hard, then shook his head and said, “I don’t think so, Aaron. If we didn’t want that turkey for Thanksgiving, we should have given him back to Brother Reeves. No, Aaron, we’d better have Turkey Tom come to Thanksgiving dinner and be the main dish. That’s what he’s for.”

I kept taking real good care of Turkey Tom, and he got bigger and fatter and prettier than ever. But I sure felt sad—I didn’t want anything to happen to my best friend. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to eat any turkey this Thanksgiving if it was Turkey Tom.

The day before Thanksgiving Dad told me that it was time to get Turkey Tom ready. When I asked him what he had to do, he said that he had to chop off his head, pull off all his feathers, put him into the oven, and roast him.

I felt rotten all that day, I couldn’t even listen when Miss Long read us a story about the Pilgrims. And when she gave us each a cookie shaped like a turkey, I gave mine to my friend Nathan. All I could do was think about Turkey Tom losing his head and all his fluffy feathers.

When I got off the bus that afternoon, I didn’t run into the house and change my clothes and hurry out to do my chores. There wasn’t any hurry to get my chores done, because Turkey Tom was gone, and I couldn’t play with him anymore. As I walked into the kitchen, I saw mom working on a great big turkey. It didn’t have a head, all of its feathers were gone, and it was hollow inside. It didn’t look like Turkey Tom at all, but I knew that it was.

Dad fed the chickens that night and the next morning because I just couldn’t go out to the chicken coop, knowing that Turkey Tom wouldn’t be there.

On Thanksgiving Day I just sat around and thought about Turkey Tom. I could smell all the good things Mom was fixing, but my mouth didn’t water like it usually did. The only water I felt was in my eyes.

Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Dan and Grandma came over to have dinner with us. They tried to make me happy, but it wasn’t any use. When we all sat down at the table, I couldn’t look at any of the food because right in the middle of it was Turkey Tom, all brown and ready to eat. Then just before we said the blessing on the food, Dad looked at me and said,” Aaron, I almost forgot to invite one of our friends to dinner. Wait a moment, and I’ll be right back.”

After just a minute the front door opened, and there stood Dad with Turkey Tom in his arms! I stared at Turkey Tom and then at the brown turkey on the table.

Dad had a big grin on his face, and he winked at me and said, “That’s one of Turkey Tom’s cousins. He’s not proud like Turkey Tom. He’s right happy to be somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner.”

I jumped up from my chair and ran to the front door and gave Turkey Tom a big hug. “Do we ever have to eat him?” I asked my dad.

He started to laugh so hard that Turkey Tom almost shook out of his arms. “Aaron,” he said, “yesterday I went out with the ax to fix Turkey Tom for dinner and he looked up at me as if to say, ‘How can you do this to your son’s friend?’ Well, that sure didn’t make me feel very good. So I put the ax away and asked Brother Reeves if he would sell us a turkey that we could eat.”

“And we don’t have to ever eat Turkey Tom?” I asked again. “Even if he doesn’t lay eggs?”

“I guess if he can be a friend, that’s good enough for me. I always told you that Turkey Tom was coming to Thanksgiving dinner, and here he is.”

That was my very best Thanksgiving. Mom’s food never tasted so good, especially the turkey, and when I was all fat and full, I went out to the barn and strutted around with my friend Turkey Tom.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn