Know why I love Thanksgiving? Because it’s all about the three Fs: family, food, and football, with the final member of that triplet lucky to still be on my list after all those years of lame-o Detroit Lions games on Thanksgiving Day. I also love Thanksgiving because it’s the only time of year when you are encouraged–if not forced–to think about what’s good about your life and why you should be thankful. Of course we should all do that every day of the year, but easier said than done.
One Saturday afternoon not long after we moved into our current house, I was lying on the sofa with my napping infant daughter and dozing off myself when I heard a loud, strange noise echoing up my street. At first I thought it sounded like a turkey call, but we live in the city, so there are no turkeys around here. I figured maybe in my groggy state I’d heard geese and thought it was a turkey.
A few minutes later I heard it again, and this time I was certain it was a turkey call. I moved my child oh-so-gently off my chest–never wake a sleeping baby or you’ll be sorry–and went to the front door. Sure enough, a pair of huge wild turkeys, a tom and a hen, were slowly making their way up my street. I was mesmerized: they were huge, even from 50 yards away, and as ugly as sin. Yet they were almost regal in the way they carried themselves, both lumbering and dainty at once, which would seem an impossible combination, but it worked for them.
As they stopped in my neighbor’s yard to forage for food in the grass, I cracked up watching cars sail by me and get right up on the giant birds before each driver would suddenly notice them and slam on the brakes to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. The best part, though, were the turkeys themselves, who gave not one flying flip about the activity around them as they pecked the grass for worms or grubs or whatever turkeys eat. They never even looked up as cars stopped to gawk and take photos on their cameras.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re turkeys,” they seemed to be thinking. “Move along, nothing to see here.”
The birds continued to come around every 2-3 months, the same tom and hen couple every time, though sometimes with an extra bird in tow for company. I started to look forward to their arrival. You would always hear them before you would see them, their loud gobble-gobbles in the distance announcing their approach, just like you hear the faraway music from an ice cream truck and immediately know that something happy this way comes.
I would go to my front window or outside to watch them trudge up my street, stopping in this yard or that one to pick something out of the grass. They never stopped in mine, though, and that began to bother me. What’s wrong with my lawn? It’s a nice lawn, nicer than some they stopped in. Hrmph.
Then one day it dawned on me that almost a year had passed and the wild turkeys had not come around once. Or maybe they had and I just hadn’t noticed; I had a lot of things on my mind at the time. I had just walked away from a cushy job because I could no longer stand the corporate politics and BS. I was freelancing, but the work wasn’t coming as steadily as I wanted, and I was starting to worry. My wife worked, but her job was more stressful than ever and she was miserable. My dad was having serious health issues for the first time in his life, and to top it all off, we had to put down both of our elderly dogs within a span of four months.
I found myself in a dark place, bummed out and worried and questioning all my choices and decisions over the last 20 years. So, naturally, I did what most people do when they land in a dark place: I threw myself a big ol’ pity party. I mean a good one. I invited every bad feeling and irrational fear and clouded perspective I knew and we rocked the house day after day and night after night, even though I woke up every morning feeling worse than the day before.
This went on for a good couple of months. Then one day I stepped outside to get the mail and was halfway to the box when I stopped dead in my tracks. There in the middle of my front yard was a huge wild turkey. Just one–the same tom as always, but alone. In my yard for the first time ever. But alone. I’d never seen any of them alone.
He raised his head and looked straight at me. I stood frozen. He was a big boy, and I didn’t know if he was sizing me up for an attack or what. He just stared, almost like he wanted something. Finally I spoke to him.
“Hey, old tom,” I said. “Where’s your hen?”
No reply. Just a stare.
“Where’s your woman? She didn’t dump you, did she?” I smiled.
He did not smile back. Just the blank stare.
Then he lowered his head to the grass and started moving away from me, and that’s when I noticed he had a slight limp. That’s also when I also noticed an area of discolored and missing feathers near his hind end. Something had happened to the poor guy; he had been injured. Hit by a car? Shot? Dog attack?
“Hey buddy,” I asked him. “What happened to you?”
He raised his head to look at me again.
“And where’s your wo–” I suddenly realized where his hen had gone. They were always together, and now he was injured.
“Oh man. She’s dead, isn’t she?”
As if on cue, he looked away from me and lowered his head to resume pecking in my grass.
I had my answer. Suddenly I felt sorry for the poor fella. Yeah, he’s just a big dumb bird, but my heart actually hurt for the guy. He lost his mate, his best friend, his walking partner. Now he roamed the streets alone.
That’s when it hit me that maybe I didn’t have it so bad after all. My mate and best friend was alive and well. I had a nice home, a loving family, food in the pantry, money in the bank. I didn’t have to go out wandering the earth in search of a meal and worry about cars hitting me or dogs or cats attacking me. I had much to be thankful for, and I realized that I needed to focus on what was right in my life instead of what was wrong.
After all, that’s what the turkey seemed to be doing, out here looking for food, injuries and all, same as always. Life goes on, and we have to get back on the train or we’ll be left behind, lost and hopeless.
At that moment I knew I’d be all right. Things would get better–they always do. I’d be fine. As my turkey friend turned and headed away from my yard, his mission complete and his head held high, I knew he would be fine, too.
That was six years ago. My life has improved immeasurably since then, but I haven’t seen the tom or any other turkey on my street since. I wish he’d come around so I could see how he’s doing. I’d also like to tell him how well things are going these days, and, most of all, to thank him for his help that day.
He’d probably just stare at me, though, and wonder what the hell I was talking about.