“Let me tell you right now, little girl, don’t get too attached to your new turkey because we got him for our Thanksgiving dinner. Do you understand me,” Sally’s father said just a tad too hard for a seven year old farm girl.
On the verge of tears, holding her baby turkey to her chest, Sally quietly said, “I hear you daddy. I just want to watch Tom grow up. Besides it’s not summer yet and Thanksgiving is after school starts. Can I put him in a box and keep him in my bedroom?”
“Let me see about that. I need to talk to your mom about that idea. Maybe for a few weeks and then you can put him in the barn. Now, go play and let me do my work. Your brother is finally old enough to help out with the animals. Soon you’ll be able to help us on the farm.”
Sally, holding Tom close to her chest ran to the barn to find a box for her new pet turkey. She had never heard a real live turkey say, gobble – gobble. In the barn she found an old cardboard box that would work just fine. After filling the bottom with hay, she held Tom in one hand and the box in the other walking quickly back to the old two story farm house.
Sally never noticed the patched roof and peeling paint that stood forlornly among some giant old maple trees. The porch was in dire straits as well. Everyone knew to walk up next to the wobble stair rail. It was just too dangerous to go up the middle with parts of the cross steps had rotted through.
She ran around the porch to the back kitchen door. Like a good girl, in the boot room, she took off her barn boots, put on her slippers, went to the kitchen where her grandmother was making bread and after saying hello ran up the stairs to her room she shared with her older sister, Tammy.
She placed the box on her side of the bed, put Tom in it and ran back downstairs to get a small bowl for water. After asking grandmother what she needed, grandma said, “I’ve just the two things you need, Sal. I just made tuna salad and the two empty cans will work perfect. Let me get them for you. Now as the bird will get into the water and will probably tip the can over, get some rocks to hold the can down. Not to worry the food as he’ll peck it out of the straw”
Jumping up and down, shuffling from one foot to the other, Sally was having the time of her life. Her eyes sparkled with happiness. This was her first time to take care of an animal all by herself. It was a great responsibility, her mother said, whatever that word meant, but she nodded her head in agreement. Later, after dinner, sitting in grandfather’s lap, listening to the radio, he told her what responsibility meant. She loved her gramps. He had such soft words and he smelled like the woodshed.
He said, “Responsibility is like this, Sally. You know we have a wood stove and a wood oven to cook with. Both take wood to make heat and to make our food. Do you understand what I say?”
Sally nodded her head and he continued, “Okay, how does the wood get from the tree to the stove or oven? The wood doesn’t walk to the wood shed. Somebody has to cut the tree down, chop it up and then stack in the woodshed to use. Right now it’s you older brother, Randy whose job it is to keep the woodshed full. It’s Randy’s responsibility to keep the supply of wood for all of the house needs. Now do you know what I’m saying?”
“Yes, grandpa. My turkey is my job to take care of him. I think it’s Tammy’s job to build a fire in the oven and as I see you starting or building a fire in the stove, it must be your job to keep the house warm.”
“Yup, it sure is. Now it’s your bedtime. Check on your pet and make sure he has water and food. We’re going to listen to the radio and the program is a little scary for little girls. Give me a peck on the cheek and go around the house saying good night to everyone you see.”
Spring vacation was over and it was back to school for Sally, Tammy and Randy. The bus picked them up at the end of their road. It was about a ten minute walk to the bus stop. Sally always held her big sister’s hand. Mother had told Tammy to hold her hand and make sure she goes and comes home with her every day. Tammy knew better than to gripe as her parents orders were to be obeyed without question. If there was any trouble, father took care of the punishment in the woodshed with a piece of stout kindling on the bare backside.
At school, she could not wait to tell her best friend Alice what she had for a new pet. After she told her, Alice got really jealous and stomped off angry. Sally had no idea why she acted that way, but for all that day and the rest of the school year, Alice never spoke to Sally again. Sally was devastated. Her mother told her why and Sally thought the answer was rather confusing.
But for Sally, everyday was filled with school and her taking care of a growing Tom Turkey. Of course she helped in the kitchen when grandmother or mother needed the table set or some easy chore like that.
The last day of school came and it was party time in her second grade class. The teacher asked each student to tell the class what they would do this coming summer. As Sally sat in the front, the teacher asked her to be the first one to tell the class about the upcoming summer. Sally hung her head and was reluctant to talk in front of the class. However, the teacher said, “Come Sally. I’ll help you and all the kids with this fun exercise.”
Sally slowing walked up the teacher and then when she was asked what she would do the first few days, Sally said, with her head down and in whisper, “I’ll take care of my pet turkey.”
The teacher helped by telling the class what Sally said. Alice thought it was time to make her former friend feel dumb by saying, “How much fun is it watching a turkey grow up. My father said that when Thanksgiving comes her father will chop the head of the turkey and that will be turkey dinner!’‘ Alice started laughing and soon the whole class thought it was funny. However, for Sally, tears were streaming down her face. The teacher was in shock about the unkind words Alice said. She took Sally around the shoulders and gave her a big hug.
The laughter died down and soon it was very quiet in the classroom. The only sound was Sally sobbing into her teacher’s long dress. To make matters worse, a steady rain had begun making the playground muddy. It was a June thunderstorm across the Midwest bringing with it the threat of a tornado.
The teacher said, “A nice end to the school year was spoiled by a jealous person. Instead of show and tell, take out a piece of paper and write what the word jealous means. I’ll write it on the chalk board and you will copy what it says about the horrible emotion called jealousy.
Next year I’ll have more to say about being jealous. Yes, I’ll be your teacher for grade three. When you’re finished bring your paper to me and if I like what you have done, you may go to the gym to play with the other students while waiting for your bus.”
When Tammy picked up Sally for the bus ride home, Sally was still red faced with signs of crying still fresh in her mind and body. ‘‘What’s wrong, Sal,” asked a concerned Tammy. Tammy’s first thought was what her mother was going to do about her baby crying on the last day of school. Would she blame me, she wondered. With the back of her hand she wiped some tears off Sally’s cheeks.
Through blubbering and with the hiccups, Sally said, “Alice says having a turkey is stupid and it will die on Turkey Day. Is that true, Tam?”
“I really don’t know about that,” as they boarded the bus for home. After sitting down, Tam continued, “you have some agreement with dad so why don’t you ask him again what the plan is.
Sally had quit crying and now was thinking hard about her pet, Tom. She saw the fields turning brown preparing for hay harvest at the end of June. Dad too would be busy, she thought. Maybe if I work hard this summer, dad would buy from the store a turkey for Thanksgiving. She really didn’t want to believe that her father would chop the head off her Tom; like he did with the chickens for a Sunday dinner.
At the bus stop, Sally, Tammy and Randy waved at the bus as it roared down the dusty road. Sally perked up with the idea she would get to see Tom and feed and water him. Also, she wanted her mother to give her some more chores so she could show she was responsible.
Walking into the kitchen, mother was cleaning the counters. Without looking she said, “Okay kids, change your clothes and get to work. Schools over and it’s time for summer work. Randy, your dad is working on the old baler so hurry up and go help him. I could hear him swearing from a long ways off. Tammy, take all the school clothes and wash them. Sally,” she turned and saw her puffy face, “what happened to you?”
“With her eyes on the faded and worn out linoleum floor said, “I hate my best friend Alice. She wants to kill my pet Tom and eat him.”
Wiping her hands on her apron, mother bent down and said, “Honey, Alice can’t eat your turkey. Her family has enough money to buy a turkey from the store. We don’t have that much money. Never mind, get changed and come back as I’ve some snacks for you kids.”
After snacks, Sally ran out the barn to check on Tom. Randy had helped her build a large place where Tom could walk around and not wander away. Sally talked to him while she cleaned his food dish and replaced fresh water in a cut coffee can. Randy had bent over the sharp edges of the can so no harm could come from the edge of the can.
After that, Sally went to see her father about their agreement and if it would be okay to put Tom in with the chickens. Something was bothering her about Tom and she wondered what it was. She found her father, with Randy in the equipment shed working on the baler.
Sally said, “Dad are you going to kill Tom and eat him?”
Father was under the baler when he heard his daughter pop the question. He really was not in the mood to discuss such a delicate subject so he replied, “Let’s talk about later. I’m too busy now. Besides, nobody is going to kill Tom right now. It’s a long time until Thanksgiving.”
Sally, with her finger to her bottom lip, thought about it and walked away. She went back to Tom to have a long conversation with him about Alice and maybe his new house in the chicken coup.
Summer came and went. School began and another big year in an elementary students life. By now Sally had mostly forgotten the bad day with Alice at school. Her mother had assured her that Alice had nothing to do with her turkey. Even Alice had little remembrance to that fateful day demonizing her best friend, Sally.
Having a new student enroll in Sally’s school was, indeed, a rare and exciting occasion. Especially as this new student was a girl and in the third grade. Their teacher said, “Class please welcome our new student Andi. She is from the capitol of our great state. A very sad thing happened to her and her brother, Luke. They lost their parents in an accident and have come here to live with their grandparents. This is a terrible time for them and please share your friendship welcoming our new school students. Let’s have Andi sit in the front next to Sally. At lunch time, show her our small town hospitality sharing your table with her. Now, let’s read a short story by Jack London.”
Sally was totally excited to sit next to a new face and person. What Sally wanted to do was show and tell Andi about her turkey pet, Tom. ‘I wonder,’ she thought, ‘do kids from the capitol have pet turkeys or animals?’
At lunch time in the small cafeteria, Sally and Alice sat across from Andi. Sally asked, “Andi, do you have any pets? I have my pet turkey and I’ve learned responsibility taking care of it.”
Andi stopped spooning her macaroni and cheese and looked at Sally with a cocked head. Alice jumped in and said, “Most all of us live on farms, Andi. We have lots of farm animals and usually a pet dog or sheep or any animals we might like to have.”
“I see,” said Andi while finishing off her spoon full. “No, we didn’t have any pets to speak of. We had a gold fish for a while, but it died from lack of food, my mother said. Nobody would feed the poor thing.”
“Don’t you learn responsibility in the capitol,” asked Sally scraping the last of her lunch from the tray.
“Yes, but we learn that responsibility is in everything we do, not just feeding animals.”
“Let’s go play, girls,” said Alice as she stood up and the rest of table followed her lead.
It did not take long and Andi and her brother Luke joined the community with ease. October came and when Halloween arrived, a school party was part of the festivities. Most all the parents drove their kids into town so they could go around trick or treating. Needless to say, kids were a happy lot and full of candy.
When November arrived, Sally began to feel nervous of what might happen to her Tom. He was almost fully grown and father said he was looking good at around seventeen pounds. Sally stared up at him with a frightful look. She had the sinking feeling her Tom was about to be dinner come Turkey Day. That night she cried herself to sleep. Tammy tried to console her, but nothing Tammy said made her feel any better. The thought of her father chopping Tom’s head off on the butcher block almost made her sick to her stomach. For her chickens losing their heads was okay and chickens were very stupid and her Tom was very smart. He would gobble –gobble every time he saw her. He would run up to the wire looking forward to his handout of high protein food.
At school, the kids were reading stories about pilgrims and the Indians. They colored art work depicting scenes of giving thanks for the lord and the Indians helping them through a tough winter after arriving from the Old World.
Sally, Alice and Andi were cutting and pasting a family of turkeys onto a poster. Suddenly Sally began crying. At first it was silent as the tears rolled down her rosy cheeks onto the poster. Alice and Andi quickly looked at Sally wondering why she was so sad on such a happy occasion. The teacher also saw the scene unfolding and new why Sally was so sad. He broke her heart to see her student so upset. She made a silent vow to see what she might do about her being so sad.
School let out early on Wednesday the day before Turkey Day. Sally, sitting by her sister, Tammy, was quiet throughout the trip home in the bus. She never said a word all the way to the house. Walking into the kitchen her mother and grandmother were preparing pumpkin pies for tomorrow’s dinner. The smell of homemade bread filled the kitchen as well. Mother turned her head at the kids coming into the kitchen from the back door. Her eyes fell immediately upon her youngest seeing a long face little girl walking slowly through the kitchen and up to her room to change clothes as usual.
Sally was sitting on the bed when her mother came in. Sally looked up and started crying again. “Why are you so sad, Sally,” said mother sitting down and putting her arm around Sally. Sally leaned in and began bawling her eyes out. Mother let it go on for a minute or so. Then Sally said, through sobs, “Father is going to chop of Toms head tomorrow. I just want to die with him.”
“Now now. Look Sally, your father made an agreement with you and now it’s time to hold up your end of the agreement. It’s cost a lot of money to feed Tom for the last eight months or so. We can’t afford to go buy a turkey at the market. I’m so sorry, but life is very hard sometimes. Do you understand, Sal?”
“Yes, but………….. hey what is that horn blasting outside. It’s not tornado time,’‘ said Sally getting off the bed to look out the window. Her mother followed her hearing loud voices coming from outside. She saw a yellow school bus and a bunch of kids outside running around playing tag.
“What is going on………..” mother exclaimed. “Let’s go see what is happening,” she said hurrying down the stairs with Sally hot on her heels.
Mother heard a knocking on the front door and saw her mother walking to answer the knock. By the time the door opened, Sally was right behind both mother and grandmother. When the door opened Sally saw her teacher standing there smiling. The teacher looked Sally and said, “We have come to give you a present, Sally and family.”
By now all the kids of her class and other classes were gathered around on the porch. The principal of the school walked through the students and when he arrived at the door, he had a large sack in his arms. He said, “We all understand that one of our precious students has a pet turkey at this farm. We know it would be difficult for any kid to lose a pet. So, the school and town chipped in to give you a fresh turkey from the market. Also, the feed store has offered to provide food for your pet turkey as long as he lives. We all say, ‘Happy Turkey Day’.”
Grandmother made the first sounds of a sniffle and soon there was not a dry eye among the entire group of people who shared part of their lives with others most freely; the way it should be.