Yes, little one, I hear you. Yes, I know dinner is a long way off. Get your own snack. I’ve got eyes on the turkey. Yes, this is butter. It goes all over. Those things over there are spices and that bowl is full of stuffing. You learned to do cartwheels? Wonderful, dear. I can’t watch now. I’ve got eyes on the turkey. It can wait? It can wait? Oh no, it can’t wait.
Let me tell you why. You always watch the turkey so the turkey won’t watch you.
He has no eyes? Well, that doesn’t stop him. I keep my eyes on the turkey because I can never, ever forget the horrible Thanksgiving of ’62.
Oh, I’ll tell you the story, no problem with that. But I’ll talk while I’m working, eyes on the turkey and hands holding tight.
It was Thanksgiving Day 1962…how long ago was that? That would be…let’s see…oh dear…well, numbers don’t matter…a long time ago. I was only a little girl, and I’d gone to my grandmother’s house just as you came here today. I had new red shoes and I danced into the kitchen to show my grandmother. I saw her there with the turkey, but I didn’t care. I tugged on her dress to make her look at me. She set that turkey down and turned right around, scooping me up in a hug. Everyone crowded in, talking and laughing, and I was pressed tight to my grandmother, looking over her shoulder. That’s why I was the only one who saw it.
The turkey moved.
Its little wings scrabbled against the counter as it inched toward the edge. I knew right then it was trying to escape. I let out a yell…I didn’t want to lose my delicious dinner…and I saw those giant turkey legs wave threateningly at me before my grandmother whirled around and there it lay still.
I tried to explain, but the grown ups all laughed. That turkey’s running days are over, they said. Little girls have big imaginations, they said. Go outside and play, they said. But I sneaked back in and crouched down in the corner. If no one else would do it, I would guard that turkey. Thanksgiving would not be ruined on my watch.
But I was weak, children. I was little and I got bored and I remembered that I had left my crayons in the car. I’ll get them and come right back, I thought. It’s all tied up and ready for the oven anyway, I thought. How far could it get in a few minutes, I thought. I was young and naive, children. I didn’t know.
When I came back from the car, crayons in hand, it was already too late. I saw the empty roasting pan. I saw the broken strings that had once securely held those turkey legs. But worse…so much worse…I saw the turkey. It hadn’t run away. It was right there on the counter…quietly eating my grandmother.
Her head and body were already gone, only her legs were still sticking out of that gaping hole where once stuffing had been. I screamed and grabbed on to her feet, but the turkey was too strong for me. She was pulled, pulled, pulled inside, until all I was left with was one old house slipper. The turkey gave a final belch and lay still.
My mother and my aunts, setting the table in the next room, came running at my screams to find me, one slipper in my hand, staring at the turkey and crying. No one knew where grandma was, and I found I couldn’t speak. The whole family searched, the police came out, questions were asked, pictures were shown. The whole time that turkey lay smugly on the counter. I sat in the corner and I never said a word. But I kept my eyes on the turkey. He didn’t dare move with so many witnesses there, but I wasn’t going to be fooled again.
No one much felt like eating with grandma gone. That turkey probably thought he was going to get away clean, but I had plan. Burning with rage, I ran to the spare bedroom where my grandfather’s dogs were kept locked away from the meal. All I had to do was open the door. Being experts in the art of stealing food, they did all the rest.
You might think I’d be too scared to ever eat turkey again, but you’d be wrong. Watching those dogs gobble the turkey that had gobbled my grandmother, I made myself some promises. A promise to eat turkey every year to avenge my grandmother. A promise to teach my children to do the same. And a promise to always, always keep my eyes on the turkey.