Christopher launched himself into space. The ladder wafted back, under the powerful heave of those wings.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 9, 1937.

“What size of a turkey,” asked Jimmie Frise, “have you in mind?”

“A turkey,” I enumerated, “about the size of ten-year-old school-boy. A turkey, say, roughly, about the size of a large travelling bag when picked, plucked, singed and trussed up ready for the oven.”

“About a 12 or 14-pounder?” inquired Jim.

“Never mind the weight,” I assured him. “It’s the size I am interested in. You know that sort of box or lid that goes over a sewing machine? Well, I want a turkey, nude, about that size. In short, I want a turkey that won’t fit any roasting pan we’ve got. I want one that can’t possibly be got into our oven.”

“What’s the idea?” demanded Jim. “Don’t you want to eat this turkey?”

“Of course,” I laughed. “But you see what I mean. Whenever I say I want a real big turkey at home, they always say a big one won’t go in the oven. Or that we haven’t a pan big enough. Or it will be too big to eat or too tough or too dry or something. I’m going to bring them home a turkey that is a turkey. They will have to go and buy a big enough roasting pan. And they’ll have to tie the blame thing’s legs down and grease it all over in order to slide it into the oven. They’ll have to pack that turkey into the oven the way they get a chesterfield up the stairs on moving day, by figuring and calculating and trying it this way and that way. But I am determined this year, of all years, to have a turkey for Thanksgiving that truly represents the grateful heart.”

“It won’t be a young bird,” cautioned Jimmie.

“Who wants a young bird?” I demanded. “This business of buying everything young, like baby beef and young chickens – why, there isn’t any taste to that stuff. The world is getting soft, and no wonder. Eating nothing but veal and baby beef and six-weeks’-old chickens. Give me prime beef, one slice of which is as big as a face towel. Give me a good big rooster, with a flavor that is a flavor. I like bacon off a hog that spent some time and thought upon his bacon, every slice as long as your arm.”

“An old turkey,” warned Jimmie, “is often as dry as a roll of asphalt roofing.”

“Not if he is properly cooked,” I replied, “with plenty of fat bacon skewered on his breast-bone, and well stuffed with the right kind of dressing. Mix some fresh butter in the dressing, and some nuts.”

“Nuts?” cried Jim.

“Whole English chestnuts,” I said stoutly, “and whole walnuts and filberts. You’ve got a good big cavern to stuff when you’ve got a real big turkey. It’s a hole almost a square foot in size. A small boy could crawl right into it. You need about a bushel of stuffing for the kind of turkey I have in mind. Loaves of bread, box after box of biscuits, handfuls of chestnuts, walnuts and filberts, a slashing big fistful of sage and summer savory, some onion and anything else you fancy, not forgetting a big gob of butter to lubricate the beast from within.”

“You seem to like turkey,” said Jim, as we drove along the autumn road, turkey bent.

What Might Have Happened

“Carving chickens,” I said, “is just a kind of manicure business, a kind of fiddle-diddle breaking and tearing apart of a poor little fragile, helpless song-bird. But carving a turkey is a major construction job. You have mountains to break down. You have mighty joints to separate with knife, fork, sharpening steel and elbows and anything else your family will let you raise above the table level. And finally a mighty excavation job, with a great big spoon, digging out the stuffing.”

“I like slicing the white meat,” said Jim.

“Aaaah,” I agreed.

“The way it slices,” quivered Jim. “In great big white tender slabs, with juice running and thee smell rising.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I confessed, staring eagerly over the farm fields as we passed in watch for the great bronze figure of a turkey the size of a young horse.

“Still,” said Jim, “I don’t think we should get all worked up over the thought of eating that turkey. Thanksgiving shouldn’t be merely an excuse for a colossal bust of eating.”

“You’re right, Jim,” I said, “it’s a sacrifice. We should make it a sacrificial feast. But to get people into a truly grateful state of mind, you have to fill them pretty full.”

“It has been a year to be thankful for,” said Jim, looking at the fat Ontario barns.

“Except in the drought areas,” I suggested.

“The true spirit of Thanksgiving,” said Jim, “isn’t so much for the things we have got as for the things we didn’t get. For instance, we didn’t get any gumboils this past year.”

“And we didn’t get hit by lightning,” I submitted fervently.

“My car hasn’t been wrecked,” said Jim, “nor me squashed beneath it.”

“And nobody,” I contributed, “has persuaded me to mortgage my few belongings and borrow money from my friends and relatives to put into a sure thing in the stock market, only to lose it all.”

“I didn’t get the itch,” said Jim, “though it was very prevalent among my friends.”

“And I haven’t had a single corn all year,” I prayerfully added.

“Lots of people,” went on Jim, “have had the appendicitis and all sorts of trouble, but not me.”

“I haven’t had any toothache,” I thought up.

“Nor hangnails,” listed Jim, “nor ingrown toenails, nor thumbs hit with hammers.”

“Think of the aeroplanes,” I said, “that have flown over us, and not one has ever fallen on us.”

“Or even dropped a wrench on us,” said Jim. “We haven’t been shipwrecked. We haven’t been run over in traffic. No slivers under our fingernails.”

“No plaster has fallen on us from our ceilings,” I remembered.

“When you think,” said Jim, “of all the things that might have happened to us, we certainly ought to be thankful.”

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

“It certainly is far larger grounds for gratitude,” I admitted, “than the few good things we did get, like our salary every week or good crops.”

“We should give thanks,” decreed Jim, “for the things we didn’t get. That ought to be the spirit of thanksgiving.”

At that moment, in a stubble field this side of a pleasant white farm-house backed with red barns and sheds, we beheld the unmistakable form of an enormous turkey.

He was swelled all up in his pride. He was absolutely square. His head was drawn back and his tail spread wide and his wings were dragging. In a slow, measured pace, like a politician pausing between sentences, he strutted a few aimless steps.

Jim had taken his foot off the gas and we coasted to a stop. He turned off the ignition just in time. Across the bright stubble came the baritone bellow of the bird, a sound like a baseball bat being rattled in a huge syrup kettle.

“Jim,” I breathed, “that’s him.”

“I’ll toss you for him,” said Jim, anxiously.

“He’s mine,” I declared grimly.

Jim started the engine again and in low gear we crawled up the lane to the farm house, feasting our eyes on the splendid creature as we passed. He grew more beautiful and desirable with every moment. He was far bigger than he had seemed from the road. He was as broad as he was deep. His plumage gleamed like metal and his enormous wattles, when he slowly turned to face us as we passed, were not merely red. They were magenta. And they hung from his head in great knobby festoons like the ornaments of some pagan Aztec high priest.

As we passed, he began to shiver and shake in a sort of frenzy, stretching every fibre of his being, and suddenly thrust forth his great neck to let go a sound like nothing on earth.

“Hoggle, woggle, goggle!” he yelled.

“Hah, hah, hah,” I yelled in retort out the window.

“I bet he weighs 30 pounds,” gasped Jim.

“Each side of his wishbone,” I gloated, “the white meat will be as big as a rugby ball.”

“Think of his drum-sticks,” cried Jim.

“You could use his wishbone,” I said, “for croquet.”

We pulled up in the farmyard and a lady in an apron came out, drying her hands. “We’re looking for a turkey,” said Jim jovially.

“A big turkey,” I added, significantly.

“Ah,” said the lady. “I was afraid Christopher Columbus would holler once too often.”

“Christopher Columbus?” I asked.

“That’s his name,” said the lady. “The one out there in the stubble. He’s pedigreed. That’s his official name.”

“Is he for sale?” asked Jim.

“Everything is for sale,” said the lady, “considering.”

“How much is he?” I inquired.

“Wait till I call pa,” said the lady, retiring to the house and coming out with a big galvanized horn on which she blew a deep fat blast. This was a well-organized farm.

He’s More of a Pet

While the lady went and got a pitcher of cider, Jim and I got out of the car and looked the situation over. It was a beautiful farm. The house was neat as a pin, and brightly painted. The yard looked as if it had been swept. The buildings were all tidy and trim. No chickens or calves roamed loose.

“Look at that barn,” said Jim. “Bulging.”

“Look at that implement shed,” I countered. “Everything as trim and tidy as a would-be foreman’s bench.”

“Farmers must be in the money again,” said Jim, and from the far side of the house came the triumphant challenging yell of Christopher Columbus.

Over the fields came the farmer in long business-like strides. Out from the house came the lady with the cider pitcher. The bright sun glowed.

“Pa,” said the lady, as the farmer strode up, “here’s a couple of gentlemen to see about buying Christopher Columbus.”

“Old Chris, eh,” said the farmer, accepting a glass of cider from his wife and hoisting it in salutation.

“We’re tired,” I explained, “of looking at those poor pallid turkeys they have hanging in the stores. The kind you have to look at their feet to see if they are chickens or turkeys.”

“Them,” explained the farmer, “are what they call standard market size. The way people are nowadays, they don’t want a real big turkey. A nice medium bird is what the market calls for.”

“Well, this expedition,” I stated, “is a protest against nice medium birds. It isn’t any nice medium Thanksgiving we are thinking of staging this year. It’s a real old-fashioned Thanksgiving. And no standard market bird will do.”

“Christopher is a big bird all right,” said the farmer.

“We never did put a price on him,” said the lady, pouring Jim a fresh glass.

“We never raise turkeys,” said the farmer, “they are too tricky. I stick to the things I’m sure of.”

“We bought Christopher,” said the lady, “at a fall fair four years ago, just for fun. He was only a little bird then, compared.”

“He’s more of a pet,” explained the farmer.

And from the far side of the house came the echoing roar of Christopher Columbus.

“Now last year,” said the lady, “we would have sold him without a thought. But this year, everything has been so good, we never had a crop in all our lives like this year. Everything has turned out, the grain, the roots, the cattle. Why, we even had two sets of twin Jerseys.”

“Well,” I interrupted, “it wasn’t so much for all the good things we have received during the past year that we were planning to stage a special Thanksgiving. It was more in recognition of the things we didn’t get, like appendicitis or motor accidents or getting accidentally shot while out hunting.”

“That’s an idea,” said the lady.

“Yes,” said Jim. “Just think. All the things that could have happened. Lightning and lung trouble, broken legs and so forth.”

“Mercy,” said the lady, “now you come to think of it, there is hardly a farm around here they haven’t had some misfortune this past year.”

The farmer cast an anxious look at his bulging barn and looked nervously up at the sky. “Still,” he said, “in this business, you raise things to sell. And Christopher is in his fifth year. You never can tell what might happen to him some day.”

We started to stroll around the house towards the stubble field. Jim and the lady followed, talking earnestly about heart trouble and headaches, fallen arches and whooping cough.

We stood at the fence, looking at Christopher Columbus, who, shaking and trembling in an ecstasy of pride, slowly paced towards us, his head almost buried so far did he throw it back.

“Aha,” said the farmer, warmly.

We all climbed the fence. Christopher Columbus sidled away from us. We formed three lines of attack, like in the Battle of Crecy1. We converged. Christopher Columbus, as light as a feather, leaped into the air and flew, with all the grace of a cow jumping a fence, to the top of the tool shed.

“One of you go up and get him,” said the farmer. “I get lumbago stitches.”

“If I go up,” said Jim, “he’s my bird.”

So I went up. I reached for his leg, because, after all, his head was four feet away. As I touched the great sinewy beam of a leg. Christopher launched himself into space. The ladder wafted back, under the powerful heave of those wide wings. Sickeningly I arched backwards. Fair into Jim’s rescuing arms.

“Talk about thanks!” gasped Jim.

And in a moment the farmer had walked up and captured poor Christopher Columbus, all exhausted by his aerial efforts.

“Heft him,” said the farmer, lifting the giant creature over the fence to Jim. Jim took both hands.

“Here, help,” said Jim.

So I took a part hold on those great legs and patted the fat thighs exploratorily. What drum-sticks! What a mountain of white meat, above.

We marched into the yard and over to a block of stump wood. From its neat rack in the implement shed, the farmer brought a shining axe. Jim held the bird’s feet. I held his head.

“Poor Christopher,” cried the lady, throwing her apron over her head.

“A fine way,” I said bitterly, closing my eyes and turning my face away, “to celebrate the fact that I never got hit with lightning.”

“When I think,” came the muffled voice of the lady, “of that poor soul on the next farm, wasting away.”

“Pagans,” muttered Jim. “That’s all we are. Feasting.”

I heard a sniffle and opened one eye to see the farmer, gripping the axe, covering his face with his hand.

“Here,” I shouted. “If you feel that way about this poor bird!”

“Sciatica,” muttered Jim, “stomach ulcers, phlebitis.”

“One hail-storm,” said the lady, “and where would we have been?”

I let go Christopher Columbus’ bill. He flapped his wings furiously. Jim let go his feet. With a peep all out of proportion to his size, the huge bird floundered to the ground and with long strides and no dignity whatever he raced around the yard a couple of times to get his bearings and then legged it, head outstretched, down the lane.

So we went inside and sat talking about general debility and spots dancing before the eyes and so forth, including great storms of the past and plagues of cut-worms was time we were on our way, if we wanted a turkey before dark.

But up the lane, we met Christopher Columbus again, all puffed up and proud once more, his head pulled back, his wattles purple.

“Aw, heck,” I said, “why not leave domestic matters to the women?”

Which we did.

Editor’s Note:

  1. The Battle of Crécy was a part of the Hundred Years’ War. ↩︎