Talking Turkey




Meleagris. It’s the gobble genus; gobble being the native language of America’s fine feathered friend, the turkey. It’s not clear if there will be an official Presidential pardon this year, but the social media is stuffed with recipes for turkey alternatives. Good luck hunting a bird under 10 pounds in the grocery aisles.

I’ve always sided with Ben Franklin’s spirited defense of turkey written in a letter to his daughter in 1784.  The turkey is “a true original native of America” and “a bird of courage that would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.”

I can vouch for that. The back road from the Cokesbury parsonage led to a T with stop signs. My car had paint chips missing above the bumper due to the wild turkey that would launch an attack as soon as I slowed to a stop. It was as if I’d invaded his stomping grounds.

There are turkey tracks across my landscape. Turkey is the centerpiece of my family thanksgiving. A bird big enough to fill the plates of family, neighbors, and often strangers. The wish bone is a prize, and the wish making and bone breaking a sibling ritual.

Our living room in the desert north of Tucson is the place of origin of a church, now St. Marks UMC,  but between its hatching and its final settling in, the community roosted in a turkey shed.  The Meleagris were replaced with Methodists for a season. I remember wondering if we’d ever outgrow the teasing of being “turkeys”. The Holy Spirit occasionally appears in my dreams as a feathered being that’s not a dove.

Manifest destiny isn’t a healthy theology for either native peoples or native birds. I try my hand at role reversal in a children’s play I write at Rough Rock on the Navajo Reservation. I remember their delight when Turkey Lurkey corrals the cowboys and banishes the BIA. Not great literature, but very good medicine.

This Covid season of caution has affected my relationship of Lions and Turkeys. I did not help pack Thanksgiving boxes; I just donated food. We quarantine because I want Bill and Daniel and Jess at our family table next year. I didn’t watch kids carry groceries into their neighbors, full of pride. But turkey was on the menu, cooked by Bellevue volunteers and food boxes were still faithfully packed to overflowing, then carried to cars along with Thanksgiving cards made by children.

I look at the thanks giving that rests on my kitchen table: sliced turkey, organic potatoes, broccoli, celery, and bananas, all from local farmers. If talking turkey means telling the truth and the whole truth, so help us, God, Franklin was right. We can survive if we serve others. We can thrive if we trust and share. Courage is what America needs now.