Setting: Irwin Avenue Open Elementary School; Charlotte; November, 1986.
Cast: Dee Dee; 30 kindergarten-second-grade students and their teacher; Rocky, the school custodian; a newspaper photographer; a turkey.
Scene 1 opens at the school, where the teacher asks me a question: “Will you please bring us a live turkey so our English-as-a-second-language students can better understand their first Thanksgiving in America? I see you around here all the time and if anyone can do this, you can.”
The students were Vietnamese and Laotian. Remember the 1980s boatlift? Helping children become Americanized through a venerable custom was a feel-good act I couldn’t pass up. “Yes of course I’ll bring you a turkey,” I replied. No PTA volunteer worth her salt would’ve said otherwise.
I didn’t think through the practical aspects of making her request a reality. I was a city girl and had only seen turkeys on a platter, stuffed with dressing and festooned with cranberry sauce. It was flattering that someone thought I could do something so outrageous. So I put on my thinking cap.
Scene 2 is a park frequented by my two personal children. The park has a petting zoo and I asked the groundskeeper if I could borrow their turkey for a day trip. Quickly a cage appeared and a very nervous turkey was loaded into the back of my Volvo station wagon. I was proud of myself for figuring out how to make the procurement.
But pride go-eth before the fall.
I tend not to do things in a small way so I called the newspaper and invited a reporter. I promised there would be great photo ops in keeping with the season. The students had studied the first Thanksgiving and made black-and-white pilgrim hats and colorful construction paper headbands with feathers. There was a frenzy of anticipation about the arrival of the feathered creature.
Scene 3 takes place on the playground. When I lifted the cage onto the ground the turkey wouldn’t emerge. The park guy had provided me with seeds, which I used to lure Tom from the back of his cage into a small area that contained a few pieces of playground equipment.
The area was enclosed by a chain-link fence about four feet high. Dozens of excited children filed out of the school building and took their place around the fence. The turkey looked wary.
Let’s imagine what might be going through his mind. One minute he’s strolling around the park in the cool morning grass without a care in the world. The next minute he’s taken hostage in a cage, goes for a ride, and ends up in a strange place. The familiar grass is replaced by a hard surface.
And it must have been unsettling to be circled by a few dozen children wearing funny hats. Staring. Pointing. Laughing. I’m not a turkey shrink but I’m sure he felt threatened. The children were having a ball. They clearly enjoyed seeing the real thing.
I didn’t think anything was amiss. But suddenly, in one startling move, the turkey jumped to the top of the fence, paused for a moment and took flight. Showing an incredible wing span, he flapped furiously. He was headed for freedom.
Kids started running and screaming, “The turkey’s going to get us!” The teacher tried to restore calm and usher everyone back into the building.
More than a hundred yards from where the turkey took off he glided to the ground. If he’d stayed airborne another dozen feet and cleared a fence he would have come to rest on an interstate highway. During the scene of panic I imagined the mayhem and litigation that would result if he landed on I-77.
When the great escape started, someone wisely found the school custodian. Rocky arrived on the scene, scooped up the bird, and returned it to the cage.
The paper didn’t run cute photos of children but one of me, dressed for turkey-handling, trying to lure Tom with a handful of seed.
The moral of this tale is, “Just say no.”
Murphy lives in Carrollton and is a member of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club and the Civic Woman’s Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.