Mister Turkey

I once worried I would never be loved. My first memories are of the sign in front of me which read: Fragile, Please Do Not Touch. The sign wasn’t meant just for me, there were a few other porcelain soup tureens sharing my table. One was shaped like a gourd, one a pumpkin, another was a horn-of-plenty, but I was the tallest and brightest. I was a turkey tureen. I’m not sure if the other tureens held the same worry as did I, but I reasoned it was not likely a pumpkin tureen thought or felt much of anything, after all, it was only a fruit.

I lived in a department store named Wanamaker’s with a grand hall commanded by another, much larger bird made of bronze, who, I assumed, must have been Wanamaker, the owner of the store, himself. Together, we watched the people bustle past in earnest. The children were my favorite. They already seemed to know who I was. As they pointed, they’d declare: “Turkey!” before being pulled along by the hand. The recognition made me proud. One day, the mother of one of these little ones did not pull away the girl, but came in for a closer look herself. Just like that, in spite of the sign warning against it, I was picked up. And, before I knew it, I was bidding my tureen tablemates farewell.

Apparently, it was cold outside, for they bundled me tight in blanket of soft white tissue-paper. I don’t remember much of anything after that until I was unwrapped in a much cozier place. It was a home. A home on a farm. I was placed on a magnificent tablecloth strewn with nuts and fruits, both golden and purple. The air in the house smelled of warm butter and sugar laced with the scent of cherry-tobacco smoke lofting from a father’s pipe. The Father sat by a warm fire in an adjacent room and listened intently to a wooden cabinet broadcasting some sort of sporting contest, which I struggled conceptualize, between two colleges. The little girl who’d recognized me at the store played with salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Pilgrims, a man and woman dressed in silly hats. She made the couple promenade back and forth along the length of a windowsill under an immense spread of transomed window panes. Through the window, a field was dominated by a large old oak. The oak extended its black branches into a damp and cloudy sky that reflected in a distant pond covered in honking geese. Beneath the tree, three boys laughed in the yard, as each struggled through piles of fallen leaves trying to maintain control of a strange ball, pointed at both ends.

One by one, rich and savory dishes were placed upon the table around me. When the candles were lit, it darkened the windows and the boys were called in by their mother. The family sat around the table and smiled in the glow at its bounty. They held each other’s’ hands and lowered their heads. They were truly thankful for the moment. After they said an Amen, the little girl pointed at me and asked: “What’s in Mister Turkey?” Bacon-corn chowder, was the answer. I knew it was warm and delicious, soon they would know it too. They feasted and ate until their bellies looked like mine, and just when I thought they might be done, out came the pies, both apple and pumpkin! This family knew how to live. They knew how to love. I was so glad I was now a part of it.

I watched my family all year from my perch in the china cabinet. Few of their other meals were near so grand as the one I presided over. I wondered when my belly might again be full of bacon-corn chowder. A year had gone past when it I was again filled, this time, however, with something called New England clam chowder. It too was delicious. As the years went by, I came to know many delicious soups, some made of chicken and rice, others ham and bean, others still, of beef with vegetables. Still, my favorite remained the bacon-corn chowder from that very first year. Through it all, I’d become a highly respected member of the family and accordingly was addressed as such. Everyone always wanted to know, not what’s in the soup tureen, but what’s in Mister Turkey?

It was many years before I got filled with the bacon-corn chowder again. Mother made it by special request from the boys. The boys had grown so tall. It was the year they each attended dinner dressed in the same drab green suits. On the following year, however, none of them attended our dinner at all. They had been replaced by a red and white banner in the window affixed with three blue stars. Father smoked his pipe and listened intently, not to the college sporting contest, but to reports of a struggle in distant lands, somewhere far across the oceans. Before the meal, Father, Mother and the girl joined their hands longer, and held their heads lower, than I’d ever seen them, before or since. The pilgrim shakers and I even joined for added measure. “What’s in Mister Turkey?” asked the girl when they’d finished. Potato and parsley soup was the answer. It was watery. Apparently, the boys had taken the meat with them, wherever they had gone.

The next year it was the same watery potato parsley soup again. I remember that year well. It was the year I lost my ladle. Mother, beset with a grief only a parent could know, but should never know, smashed it to the floor beside the window-banner affixed with the blue stars. Little was eaten that year as throats were too lumpy to swallow. That soup sat in my belly overnight until it was as cold as ice. The girl emptied and cleaned me the next morning, and carefully put me back on my perch in the cabinet. I never saw the oldest of the boys again.

The following year I had a new pewter ladle. It didn’t match the rest of me, but it was indestructible and got the job done. Bacon-corn chowder was back, and so were the two younger brothers. I was content and satisfied as I watched them pass to each other, in the swirling leaves of the yard, what I’d now learned was a football. I learned it was the same game that Father listened to on the radio, but I still wasn’t able to reconcile what came out of that wood box with what the boys were doing in the yard. Though the empty chair at the table wore heavy in our minds that year, Thanksgiving had returned to our family, and we were grateful.

I didn’t know what to make of the soups that came over the next few years. The brothers had served in a place called Italy and they wanted the family to try foods they had sampled in their travels. One year we had something called pasta fazool, another year, minestrone and still another year, a so-called wedding soup filled with meatballs. Speaking of weddings, both brothers and the girl had gotten married and our table grew. The old farm house was as warm and cozy as ever.

One year, an amazing thing happened. The old radio was taken away and replaced by another wooden box, only bigger. This box had a magic glass window on the front which showed moving scenes from far away places. This was the Thanksgiving where I finally got it: first downs, full-back sweeps, hail-mary’s. Football is just one of those things you have to see. I was hooked and felt like it brought Father and I closer to each other. “Go State!”

In the years after that, an even more amazing thing happened. A return of children! “Turkey,” they instinctively called. The older members of my family made sure the little ones knew that I was, in fact, Mister Turkey. This official moniker was necessary to bolster my pride, as I’d become jealous of a bird I began to see on the new, now-in-color, box with the magic glass window – the largest turkey I’d ever seen. It led a parade in a city, and was so big, it took a team of a dozen people holding him down with ropes to keep him from flying away to the building tops. I couldn’t even imagine how many people the soup inside of him was intended for, perhaps all the people of that city.

For many years, we prayed for the young men of other families fighting a new war. We all gave thanks that the brothers were now too old to be called to fight and that their boys were still too young. It was good because, as it turned out, we would need them at home. Father had risen from watching one of our football games, walked to the table, but stopped just short. He stood strangely silent for a moment before listing and falling to the floor. As he fell, everyone rushed to his side, bumping the table in the process, and I too went over spilling my soup and chipping the tip of one of my tailfeathers. Dinner never happened that year.

Father had had a stroke. He was a strong man and survived, but he’d become old beyond his years. From then on, he needed his sons’ help getting in and out of his chairs and wore a bib around his neck to eat, the same as did some of the littlest ones. He seldom watched football anymore; I think I might’ve, by then, remembered the rules of the game more than he did. One thing he sure did remember was my name. He would ask the children, sometimes three or four times in the matter of a single hour, if they knew my name. The only girl, of the only girl, answered happily every time: “Mister Turkey!” She loved her grandfather and was a favorite of mine. She, like her mother had, enjoyed promenading the pilgrim shakers up and down the windowsill. And, it was she who’d, thankfully, taken it upon herself to get her red marker and color in the white chip at the end of my tailfeather.

I’m not sure when Father died. For a few years, he lived somewhere else. A plate of dinner was made up by the family and taken to him. I was the only member of the family who didn’t seem allowed to go see him. One day Mother went to live wherever it was that Father had gone and I sat for many lonely years on my perch in the china closet. Finally, the day came when I was again picked up. It must have been a cold day because I was again bundled up in paper, not the soft white tissue-paper I remember from when I was originally brought home, but a dirty bitter-tasting newspaper mentioning some sort of Bicentennial blowout sale. Bicentennial of what? I do not know. I don’t remember much of anything after that. Here and there I remember being unwrapped and rewrapped, or transferred into some new cardboard box. It was somewhere around this time when I lost track of the pilgrim shakers too. I worried how my family was able to have their Thanksgiving soup without me.

Eventually, I was unwrapped and placed on a new shelf in the booth of a place known as an antique store. It was a drafty place that smelled of dust and mothballs, a far cry from the grandeur that was the Wanamaker department store. I wondered if I looked as depressed, old and lonely as the objects around me. It was too hard to watch the customers walk by me disinterested, so I usually stared at a painting of a farmhouse with glowing windows on an old calendar hanging on the wall beside me. Occasionally, some of things around me were sold to a new home, but I held no hope that it might happen for me. Who would want me? I was chipped. I was missing my original ladle, and my pewter one too, for that matter. I hated that place. No children came to that place.

One day, cold and cloudy, fall leaves swept into the store with the jingling of the store’s door bells. I was studying the calendar farmhouse, imagining if the people within were about to settle down to a family dinner when I heard: “Turkey!” The voice had come from a little girl.

“Oh, my God! It’s Mister Turkey!” the girl’s mother declared.

I looked at her. She looked familiar, but different. A husband picked up the little girl and brought her in for a closer look at me. “Who’s Mister Turkey?” he asked.

“He’s my family’s Thanksgiving soup tureen!”

“Well, it probably just looks like it,” he said. “The odds are small that it’s your family’s actual soup pot.”

“No! It’s Mister Turkey! I know it! See the chip on his tail feather colored in red marker? I was the one who did that when I was a little girl! Oh please, Honey, get him down for me.”

The husband put down the little one and picked me up. “It’s marked five dollars,” he said.

“He tells the story of my family; I’d pay a thousand.”

I was so excited to see my family I didn’t mind being wrapped in bitter old newspaper again. The photo of people on the newspaper page around me seemed to celebrate my good fortune as they stood cheering atop a wall and waving flags.

The only girl, of the only girl, had purchased the old farmhouse. I was thoroughly washed and placed in the center of a table I knew well. It was strewn with nuts and fruits, both golden and purple. The house held the scent of warm butter and sugar. The biggest-screened television I’d ever scene made that damn turkey in that city’s parade look bigger than ever, but I didn’t care. I watched as the only daughter, of the only daughter, of the only daughter, promenaded my old friends the Pilgrim shakers along the windowsill under the huge windows. How they’d been saved from a visit to the antique store and I had not, I did not know or care. We were all together again. Outside in the yard, under the great old oak, a handful of boys kicked up the leaves in, what I considered, a brilliantly-executed flea-flicker pass. One by one, rich and savory dishes were placed upon the table around me. When the candles were lit, it darkened the windows, and the family came together at my glowing table. I watched their lowered, reverent faces as they held each other’s hands in prayer. I saw my little girl who found me at Wanamaker’s department store. She now had gray streaks in her hair. Her brothers were there too, and their children, and their children’s children. I don’t know if the solemn Amen I heard came from them or from my heart. As their hands reached for the bounty on the table, my new little girl wondered, “What’s in Mister Turkey?” Bacon-corn chowder was the answer. I’d never been more thankful.

9 thoughts on “Mister Turkey”

  1. Thank you David for this wonderful story. You truly have a gift. My Mother made a “Mr Turkey” in ceramics class when I was young. He is lost. I hope to find him in storage. He is there because my parents lost their house this year. As you may know we lost many of our family members as well. It is going to be a hard year like the one in your story. But if we don’t find our “Mister Turkey”, you have inspired me to go to a ceramics class downtown here in Ocean City and make another for my children. Thank you again for this lovely story.
    May your happiest traditions live on for many years.
    Love your cousin,
    Carole

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Cousin Carol. That’s fun that you had a “Mister Turkey.” I never had one. The idea for the story only came to me a couple weeks ago. Melissa has decided that we now need to be on the lookout for a “Mister Turkey” of our own. The story itself is kind of like a children’s story, because it’s told from Mister Turkey’s simple point of view, but it does appeal to adult emotions. I have been wondering if it is something I should read to my boys or have them try and read themselves. Do you think it’s a good story for children and grandchildren to be read each year as a Thanksgiving tradition? Would you read it to your kids?

  2. I had been through a Thanksgiving that you mentioned. My dad died 11/13. I don’t know why we even went through the motions. I have nothing like ‘Mister Turkey’, there is very little left of that time in my life. But I do have memories and they are precious.

  3. I cried and couldn’t stop!!!! My favorite so far!

    Thanksgiving is about family and our stories. It’s about the good times and bad. I’m so thankful for my home, my boys, and the love of my life. Thank you for this story, and thank you for all our times… the good, the bad, and the yet to come.

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