Log Cabin Chronicles

Lillian, a Thanksiving Story



Looking out the kitchen window this bright October morning, I see Lillian, our turkey, scanning the sky for enemies. She is our only turkey. She shares the old chicken house with a varied and diminished flock - three hens, a rooster, and three guineas.

Years ago we raised free-range turkeys. We'd order the chicks in late spring and they'd arrive, all round and fuzzy, looking very much like baby chickens. But, by the time their second feathers appeared, their elongated necks proved them to be another species altogether.

Having spent the summer feeding on rich grasses and grain, by November they were ready for Thanksgiving. Those turkeys were white, with heavy bodies that seemed to weigh them down on their squat legs.

But Lillian is a different kind of turkey. She is a product of natural selection. She stands tall. She is constantly alert and vigilant. Her dark iridescent feathers shimmer in the October light. Her grandmother was a wild turkey from the hayfields around Gramma Moses' farm. A neighbor farmer accidentally uncovered a nest while haying. He lifted the warm eggs into a sling made from his shirt and walked back to his barn. Hatched in an incubator, a dozen survived. When a new generation arrived and the flock was thinned, we were given Evangeline.

The name fit her beautifully. She had inherited the dark beauty of her wild mother. She had a quiet watchfulness. She lived with our chickens but remained aloof from their silliness. She would listen when wild turkey flocks called from the woods but did not attempt to join them. Finally, we found her a mate, a beautiful caramel and white Tom and the age-old dance began.

In late spring she disappeared to a secret place. Luckily, we found her nest tucked down between bales of hay. We moved her and thirettn eggs to a safe nursery. All thirteen hatched and grew in that protected site. Though excluded from the pen, Tom would walk about the area with a proud exaggerated strut.

By the time the fledglings were ready for their first trip out, they had grown from balls of fluff hiding in their mother's feathers to something resembling dwarf ostriches. Their mother had taught them well. She scanned the sky for enemies while Tom walked on ahead, showing his brood their neighborhood - the compost pile, the raspberry patch, and soon-to-ripen grapes.

Both parents supervised their offspring's first dust bath. Young and agile and full of energy, they flew about and perched in the branches of an ancient cherry tree. At the first warning from Evangeline, they raced for cover.

When spring arrived the turkey house became a quarrelsome place as the maturing birds sought their own place in nature. Two birds died. Sadly, we had to find homes for the remaining ten and kept only the old pair.

Evangeline departed to a new nesting place and Tom wandered about. A fox found the nest before we did. Tom died a few days after and we buried him in the berry patch.

Two years ago, Lillian, the only remaining daughter, was returned to us. Now she and I are like two old friends - without mates, spending an occasional day together, but mostly listening to the echoes of our mother's voices and watching the October skies for enemies.

Fran Errion writes in Buskirk, New York.

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Copyright © 2003 Frances Errion/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.03