Talking Turkey: What Mother Never Told Me

My family and I once ate an entire turkey named Walter.

I know what you’re thinking: never name it if you’re going to eat it.

I grew up on a farm, and I understand the importance of anonymous food. We had vegetables from the garden and beef from the field. The veggies went unnamed; the beef … well.  Despite the no-naming-what-you-eat-because-then-you-can’t-eat-it rule, everyone got a name.

One year, we had a cow named April. She was abandoned by her mama and we bucket fed her. In later years, she still came when we called her. Another year, we had a lovely creature named Spook. She had inherited that insanity gene that cows often demonstrate by jumping through fences and leaping cattle guards. She was aptly named.

Then, there were the bull calves, which soon became steers – a process that bears no explanation on these pages. We named them – only, with meatier monikers: T-bone, Flank, Filet, Sir Mignon. The most recent calf caught me on a day of high satire. His name is Pork Chop. Every great dish deserves a name, right?

Walter? Now, Walter was different. I did not raise him from creepy-baby-turkey stage. In fact, I never even saw him alive. But the things I did to that turkey … let’s just say that not naming him would have made our kitchen rendezvous a one-night stand.

I’m just not that kind of girl.

There is this funny thing about me and cooking: I simply don’t enjoy it. Many fine women I know have the enviable gift of hospitality. My mom, for example, can whip up a gourmet dinner with dessert in 45 minutes or less. Not only that, but she serves her food in serving dishes, at the table.

My idea of gourmet cooking is Spaghettios. When I’m feeling extra generous and domestic, I open the cans before I hand them to the children.

One year when we lived out of state, I decided to give my family a Thanksgiving meal memory. I removed ten-year-old shrink wrap from all my beautiful cookbooks and pored through their pages. I planned my menu. Then, I went shopping.

The panic really didn’t set in until I realized I had to cook everything I had purchased … in separate pots and pans … all at the same time.

The turkey would take the longest amount of time, I reasoned, since it weighed more than my car.

I read the directions on the outside of the plastic covering, then entered my bathroom with a giant box of chocolate dipped cookies and locked the door. I wept. After an hour, I wiped the chocolate drool from my chin, pulled myself together and made another trip to the store for turkey accessories: roasting pan, white candles, olive oil for the massage, the most soulful Barry White CD, and gloves that reached to my shoulders.

On the way back from the store, as I chugged the family sized bag of M&M’s, I decided on a name: Walter. No one would ever have to know, I told myself. The acts of indiscretion I was about to commit with a featherless fowl would surely be forgiven in the interest of feeding my family.

I put on a movie for the children and closed their door. I lit the candles, pushed play on the CD and pulled on the gloves. Walter waited in my sink.

Never before has a turkey been exposed to such tender treatment. As he reclined there in the roasting pan, his pale flesh bathed in candle glow, I took a moment to read the directions again. Oh. I licked my lips and felt the sweat start to trickle down my back. I had missed a step.

It is a peculiar thing about turkeys: they come with their own storage compartments. No one speaks openly of this, though.

I looked at Walter and his naked little body. I was supposed to reach my hand into that dark crevice and probe the nether regions of turkey hell for a neck and a bag of assorted parts.

I loved my family, had planned a perfect meal, had nearly broken my vows made before God and man … all for a little holiday cheer. I stuffed half a chocolate bar into my mouth and decided that what my family didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. How bad could a turkey taste if one didn’t empty the cavity before cooking?

This year we’re ordering Chinese.

Egg roll anyone?


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