Monday, November 22, 2010

Sheila, The Hobo Turkey

It was August when I ordered my Thanksgiving turkey from Free Range Foods on Elston Avenue. They guarantee that all their meats, eggs, and vegetables have led carefree, full lives before being "harvested," as they like to call it. There was even a small map attached to my receipt, attesting to the birthplace of my turkey (Western Iowa) and the journey it proposed to make to Free Range Foods in Chicago. So I began to think of my bird as a well-traveled hobo turkey, enjoying itself in the great outdoors, laughing it up with the other turkeys, and generally living life to the fullest. From the description given by the naturally-long-eyelashed Corky at the service counter, it was not difficult to imagine that my turkey had been all over the country, from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters (this bird was made for you and me).

A week before Thanksgiving, I went to pick up the turkey. Corky, with those eyelashes and a big smile, directed me to take my car around to the back of the store where an employee was prepared to load the bird. I told her that wasn't necessary, and she began to explain that it's against city health codes to take live animals through the retail section of the store. I gasped, "Live animals, what live animals!"
--Corky: You ordered a live turkey. It's right here on your receipt.
--Me: Can't be.
--Corky: It truly be. You checked the box that said "live."
--Me: I thought that meant "live," as in "live and let live," or "live free or die," like on the New Hampshire license plate.
--Corky: No, "live," like "five."
--Me: Really. I thought I was just adding a sort of exclamation point to the philosophy of your store, you know, let it live free till.....
--Corky: You're doing a very humane thing by giving the turkey every opportunity to enjoy life until the last moment.
--Me: Well, I do make it a point to change the water in my birdbath every day, and I'm on the side of monkeys and elephants everywhere, and...
--Corky: Seth will place your turkey in a cardboard box and carry it to your car. Meet him around back. And thank you for your kindness towards animals.

Aside from some scratching and a little rustling, the turkey was very well-behaved on the ride home and, I believe, was comforted by my soothing rendition of "This Land is Your Land." Once home, I placed the cardboard box in the middle of our backyard and closed the gate. When the box was opened, the turkey hopped out and began a spirited exploration of its new home, occasionally peering beyond the fence in a wistful manner. It was abundantly clear this hobo turkey still had a zest for life and was making plans for another adventure.

We put out some bird seed and a pan of water and made the mistake of giving the bird a name, Sheila. Looking back, it was an ill-advised idea to get too chummy with our food. Sheila seemed to know this, and after one day, was strutting around like she owned the place. Our attachment to Sheila grew to the point where no one in the family could consider putting an end to Sheila's heralded legacy of roaming. It looked like we would be having only pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner.

After three days, I began leaving the gate open, hoping Sheila would saunter out onto the sidewalk and get "harvested" by the pack of kids who pass by the house on their big-wheels several times a day. They've run me down on more than one occasion, so I didn't think they'd mind giving Sheila the old heave-ho.

The gate remained open, and I left our Thanksgiving dinner up to fate: pie or turkey, it all depended on Sheila and the kids.

On the fourth day, Shelia made her bid for the open road. There were no feathers on the sidewalk; she found her way past the tricycle-riding delinquents. She's become a minor celebrity around town and has been sighted at the Mini-Mart, The Fudge Barn, and the parking lot of St. John's Lutheran Church where she made quite a spectacle of herself on Sunday, stealing the thunder from a bride and groom during their celebratory rice-throwing departure.

From all accounts, Sheila spends most of her time at the local golf course where there's a pond and a flock of Canadian geese to keep her company. This might qualify for some sort of humanitarian discount when Corky and the other folks at Free Range Foods hear of my new "purchase and release" program.

I suppose some things are born to wander, so my hope for Sheila is that the wind be at her back, her feathers stay dry, and a helpful goose shows her the way.

Ding Hoy, feathered vagabond.