Finally we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 24, 1938.

All God’s children have wings… Christmas is like a pair of glasses that allows us to see them

“I’m heading for the market,” said Jimmie Frise. “Want to come?”

“What’s doing at the market?” I inquired.

“I’ve got to buy a turkey,” said Jim, “the best turkey in the market.”

“A turkey?” I exclaimed. “Then what was that enormous nude figure I saw hanging up in your back kitchen this morning?”

“Ah, that’s our turkey,” explained Jim. “But this one I’ve got to buy is for an old friend of the family, an old lady I’ve been giving a Christmas turkey to now for nearly 20 years.”

“That’s kind,” I submitted. “The true Christmas spirit. We should always remember the poor old ladies.”

“Poor old lady my foot,” laughed Jim. “This one is no poor old lady. She’s got a lot more dough than you and me together. She’s a very comfortable old party, very comfortable indeed.”

“Aha,” I laughed back, “Rich old lady gets Christmas turkey, Jimmie Frise gets ten thousand dollars.”

“No chance,” said Jim. “She gets the income from an estate and every cent of it goes to her children when she dies. But she’s such a lonely old soul, we just started this turkey business after the war and now she expects it, as regular as her cheque from the trust company. She wouldn’t buy a turkey if we didn’t send her one.”

“What kind of a person is she?” I protested. “Some kind of old crank?”

“Oh, no, she’s all right,” explained Jim, “but she just doesn’t get on with people. Her children and so forth. But it doesn’t hurt us to send her a turkey and she gets a tremendous kick out of it. It gives her the Christmas feeling, I guess.”

“It’s funny,” I said, “the people who think they are entitled to feel the Christmas spirit.”

“I always get her,” said Jim, “the finest and biggest turkey I can find. It gives me a queer feeling to send her such a turkey. She can’t ever use it. A little turkey, even a little chicken, would be enough for her. But being reasonable at Christmas seems sort of blasphemous to me. To really feel Christian, you ought to overdo things. You ought to carry things to excess. It’s a form of humor. The divine humor that sent hosts of angels to sing and shout the good tidings of great joy, not, up the main streets and into the better-class residential districts, but to shepherds minding their flocks by night, out on the cold and lonely hills. How about it? Would you like to come?”

So we went to the market, and a great place it is, Christmas week. So crowded with provender, there is hardly any room for the buyers. And it has a great country smell to it, and the cold is so sharp and the sense of bounty so lavish. It is not like going into a store, where the turkeys are in one section and the cabbages in another. You can see all kinds of separate and distinct exhibitions of turkeys, as though it were an art show, and each man had his own chef d’oeuvres by themselves. You struggle slowly through the narrow crowded aisles, gazing upon great displays of hung turkeys, some pallid, some rosy, some bloated, some lean, some neatly killed and some killed as though by a sledge hammer on the head. And all of them aloft above an earthly array of every conceivable vegetable and fruit, offered in country simplicity without guile or art.

Red Ribbon and Gold String

“Don’t let’s be in a hurry,” said Jim. “I want to buy my turkey, knowing it is the biggest and best in the market. That is a most important part of this gift.”

“I can’t understand you going to such bother over a cranky old lady,” I submitted. “It is cold and it’s damp in here. Let’s get going. There’s a dandy big bird, right there.”

“Too old,” said Jim. “Tough as shoe leather. Dry as punk.”

He thrust his way down the aisle and I followed in the wake he made amidst the crowd. He stopped and studied every turkey display, large and small. He leaned out and felt the bulging breastbones. He squeezed their meat, pinched the skin.

“There’s a beauty,” he admitted at last. “There’s a real Christmas turkey. Look at it. Look at the shape. The color. Feel the skin.”

“O-kay, take it,” I said, adjusting my muffler better, because the market chill was penetrating me.

“Not until I’ve been around and made sure,” said Jim.

“Aw, what the heck is this?” I called sharply.

“It’s a ceremony,” said Jim. “An old lady who doesn’t deserve it, is getting a lot of attention. And the best of it is, she will never know about it. All she gets is a turkey. But look what I get out of it.”

“I don’t see it,” I declared, following him again.

“Plenty wouldn’t,” agreed Jim.

So round and round the market we struggled, in the far corners, down the main aisle, and finally, after most thoroughly scrutinizing every turkey on display, we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it. At a price that was considerable. The farmer wrapped it with the special care farmers take in wrapping things up, and always vainly. For when he handed the monstrous package over the rough counter, turkey was protruding out of it in sundry places. But that’s the best part of parcels from the market.

Out to King St. we labored our way and into the car and back to the parking lot near the office. Jim locked the car doors carefully and we went back to the office for such work as a man can do Christmas week, with everybody coming in to see us and everybody telephoning from home to remind us what we have to bring home, and nobody’s mind on work anyway.

And at 5 p.m., we proceeded out into the night to go home in Jim’s car. There was mighty turkey, safely at rest upon the back seat.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, “did we have anything else to get before we go home?”

“Not me,” I stated.

And Jim, as though there was something on his mind, slowly got in behind the steering wheel and we drove down to the Lake Shore.

Half way home along that crowded and wintry highway, Jim suddenly cried:


“Stickers,” I retorted.

“Hang it, I was told to bring home ten yards of red ribbon,” said Jim, as we bowled along in the traffic.

“And I was told to bring home a packet of Christmas stickers,” I confessed.

“We’ll turn up to Queen St.,” said Jim. “There are lots of little stores along there.”

So we edged our way out of the homing traffic and turned up one of the northerly exits from the Lake Shore and made our way to Queen St., at one of the sections of it filled with little stores, no less bright and gay than downtown.

“Get me ten yards of narrow red ribbon,” said Jim, as I got out at the first space we came to.

I entered a little shop and got the ribbon and two packets of assorted stickers, when the door opened with a jangle of bells and Jim came in.

“Gold string, too,” he said. “I forgot. A ball of gold string.”

So we got that and crossed the jamming traffic to our car and got back in.

“The turkey!” shouted Jim.

The turkey was gone.

Yes, sir, in less than three minutes, that turkey had been snaffled right off the back seat of the car. With the streets jammed and bright and roaring.

We leaped out and looked furiously in all directions. In a doorway, an elderly lady, who was sweeping slush off the step, signalled us:

“A young boy took a package out of that car,” she called. “I spoke to him but he said he was to deliver it across the street.”

“What did he look like?” Jim demanded.

“A nice young chap,” said the woman. “About 18 or so. A very nice-mannered boy.”

“Which way did he go?” I cried.

“Why, he walked right across the street, heading a little off that way,” said the lady, indicating east with her broom.

“Come on,” commanded Jim.

“He can’t be far ahead,” I submitted, as we dodged across the street.

“He can’t run with that parcel,” gasped Jim, running, “but we can.”

So we ran, ducking and nipping in and out of the street crowds, and keeping a sharp eye in all directions and in the store windows.

At the first corner, we asked a newsboy if he had seen a young fellow going by with a big parcel.

“Sure,” he said, “a guy just went up there in a hurry. With a turkey, I think.”

“That’s him,” shouted Jim, and up the dark little old street we galloped. Ahead, we made out a few pedestrians going and coming and a long way up, one figure in particular, a half-running figure and in his arms some kind of a load.

We ran. As we gained on him, he turned sharply into a sidewalk, and as he did so, we stopped running instantly, and made note of which house he was entering. When he disappeared, we began to run again until we came abreast, approximately, of the place he had turned. It was a shabby little narrow house, one of a dozen alike.

“I think it’s this one,” panted Jim.

“Take it easy, get our wind,” I gasped. So we walked up the pavement and stood in the shadow of the front door, and shadowy it was.

“The thief,” I muttered. “The dirty snatcher.”

“Young toughs,” panted Jim, “pinching Christmas turkeys right out of cars….”

“Will we turn him in? Should we get a cop first?” I asked.

“Get the turkey, before he hides it,” corrected Jim in a low voice. “Then we can report it. Probably some young gangster. Our word will be enough.”

Jim, peering and finding no bell, rapped loudly on the old blistered door.

No answer. He rapped loudly again.

“Footsteps,” whispered Jim

A light came on in the vestibule, there was a fumbling at the lock; and the door opened. There before us, silhouetted against the light, was a young fellow of about 17, still in his overcoat.

“We’d like to speak to you, me lad,” said Jim, sternly, pushing in. The young fellow backed ahead of him and I followed.

“Where’s the parcel?” demanded Jim, quietly, for fear of bringing tough reinforcements from the back of the house, where, from behind closed doors, sounds of excitement came. “Where’s the parcel you carried in here a minute ago?”

“What,” said the young scoundrel, in thick, husky voice, “what kind of parcel, mister?”

“A turkey,” said Jim, “wrapped in newspapers.”

The young fellow stood motionless in the pallid light and his head was hung so we could not see his face. It was a thin face. A thin, rather fine looking face on a young man so shabbily dressed, in coarse work clothes.

“Come on,” I said sharply.

“I’ll,” he said, barely audible, “I’ll go get it.”

“Make it snappy,” I repeated.

But still he stood, motionless, as if his legs were turned to lead. Still his hand was on the doorknob, clenched and white. And slowly he lifted his face. I do not suppose I should say it was a beautiful face. It is not right to say thieves have beautiful faces. But slowly he lifted it, not to us, but as if to God, maybe, and on it was a strange, white, thin, terrible expression of agony that I seemed to have seen before, somewhere, perhaps in old paintings was it, or maybe on little wooden carvings…

“Here,” said Jim, “what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” gasped the boy. But tears we soaking down over his thin checks. “Nothing.”

He let go the door knob and tried to turn and walk down the shadowy and narrow hall.

“Look here, a minute,” said Jim, grasping the boy’s sleeve. “Just a minute, kid. What’s all this? What did you pinch our turkey for?”

As if he hated to go down that hall, as if to open that distant door was to enter the presence of death itself, though sounds of life and joy came from behind it, he paused and turned, wearily, weakly.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I guess I went crazy.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, to see if my voice would still work in the presence of that thin and beautiful young face.

“We had a raffle, at the plant,” whispered the boy.

“Oh, you’ve got a job?” Jim asked.

He nodded.

“What wages?” I inquired, for a stall.

“Six,” said the boy, “six dollars a week, in the shipping.”

“Go on,” I said, making it stern, but it came out cracked a little around the edge.

“We had a raffle at the plant. It was for a turkey, and I told them I was going to win it for sure,” said the boy, wearily. “We had the draw today, and I didn’t win.”

“Who’s they?” asked Jim.

“My mother,” whispered the boy. “My mother and kid sister, in there.”

He nodded heavily back down that dim and terrible hall.

“So….,” he leaned against the wall. “So, on the way home tonight, I happened to look in that car…. I don’t know what happened to me. I just don’t know, I guess. I don’t remember. I looked in… it seemed to be a turkey, a great big turkey…. I opened the door, I grabbed it….”

And suddenly his head fell down on his chest, his hands went to his face and Jim’s arm was around the boy’s shoulders and I had hold of his arm, tugging at it to get his hands down from his face; and in a little while, for fear of disturbing anybody down that long, long hallway to death and disaster, we went out in the cool and reviving night; and stood on the dark steps and waited, not with many words, but with a lot of pats and slaps on the back and little swear words men use to show that they have hearts like steel; and when he was all straightened up and tidied, we shook hands a with him as man to man, since all God’s children have wings, and only by the grace of God are we not all thieves nailed to little crosses. And much slower than we came up, we went down that street and got into the car and drove to Sunnyside before either of us spoke.

Then Jimmie spoke first.

“The old lady,” he said, “gets the second-best turkey.”

Editor’s Note: $6 a week in 1938 is only $121 in 2022.

This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).