“The Family Member Who Became Thanksgiving Dinner” was the first short story I ever published. It was included in the 2002 anthology, TAKE TWO, THEY’RE SMALL: WRITINGS ABOUT FOOD, edited by Whitney Scott, Outrider Press. It’s about a family member who unfortunately became Thanksgiving dinner. The original title was “Turkey.”
Raising a sole turkey made for a lonely turkey, and Grandma carried him about in her bra, between her breasts, keeping him warm and happy. Grandma had Alzheimer’s and often forgot he was there — “My GOD! Kimmy! Who put this little bastard in my bra!” Then she’d grow soft a minute later. “Ach, never mind. Leave the poor thing where he is.”
We had chicks, too. You’re not supposed to raise chicks and poults together – turkeys catch chicken-diseases and die very quickly – but this lonely turkey cried all night every night and something had to be done about it. At first we kept him indoors at night. He slept with Grandma, who started to remember something about turkeys, and things went well until he grew cumbersome and gawky and too big to fit between her breasts. My husband put his foot down. “I don’t care if it kills him. He needs to stay outside with the other chickens.”
So Turkey became a chicken. He roosted with them, took sand baths like them, and raided the neighbor’s vegetables.
Grandma chuckled when she saw him. “He’ll taste good, that turkey,” she said.
Often Turkey stood outside the window, turning his head left and right, watching us and trying to sneak inside when a door was accidentally left open. Sometimes he lost the other chickens and whooped sadly until I helped him find them.
Yeah, turkey became part of the family. How could anything that had slept with grandma and sat between her breasts be considered a meal?
He was left alone and gained weight accordingly. At about forty pounds he developed a right-sided hip dysplasia. There he was, my turkey, limping about and standing on his left leg like a flamingo.
By early November he stayed in the chicken pen all the time. I carried him out in the mornings to sit in the sun. We fed him bits of bread and stroked his beak and neck to help him sleep. I carried him about on the wheelbarrow and he spent the nights in Grandma’s room. Grandma and he both sat under the tree during the day: she in her wheelchair, and he in his wheelbarrow. “Good meal, that turkey,” insisted grandma.
Turkey never did get better. “Turkey’s aren’t meant to weigh forty pounds,” said my neighbor. He was thinking of his vegetables, maybe. “Their little legs can’t take it. Cruel to let him go on that way.”
We watched and waited. Watched and waited. Turkey limped about on the occasion but got no better. He cried most of the time.
That’s when I did what had to be done. I gave him a couple shots of Grandma’s best coffee brandy, topped that off with a bit of tequila, and gave him to my neighbor. Birds don’t tolerate alcohol well. Turkey had liked the taste of coffee brandy and guzzled it up over a slice of bread, but he grew weary and top-heavy and soon fell dead asleep.
I suppose intoxication was a nice way to go. Anyway the neighbors were happy and carried him off in a large box. They invited us to dinner. We ate him over a barbecue. He didn’t taste too good. “Too dry, this turkey,” agreed Grandma, and she’d refused to eat any more of him.
Alex Natalian is a penname for psychiatrist KRR.