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A Thanksgiving Tale of Turkey
title graphic

Turkey Frank
Yes, I admit that he's a handsome bird but this turkey spent way too much time admiring himself in the Catfish Pond - or was he trying to figure out why he couldn't walk on it? He came to be known as Turkey Frank because he was such a wiener and this is his story.

I met Turkey Frank a few years ago at the local feed store. I was there to pick up an order of mallard ducklings and on impulse purchased a trio of baby White Holland turkeys. I moved the ducklings into an old chicken coop and put the turkeys in the barn away from hungry varmints. The ducks thrived but the turkeys immediately died - all but one.

All alone now, the survivor, who I began calling Frank for no reason, became listless and depressed. I was tired of cleaning his box and figured some company would cheer in so I put him in with the baby mallards.

The ducklings immediately accepted Turkey Frank into their flock. He fit in nicely since he shared much in common with his new flock mates and together they enjoyed leisurely spring days gorging on cracked corn and pooping. By June Frank and the ducklings had molted and passed into young adulthood. Now able to more or less fend for themselves, I freed them from the confines of their pen. My happy heterogeneous flock excitedly explored the yard quickly becoming proficient at eliminating buggy pests from lawn and garden.

Each day they wandered further from the pen eventually making a life-changing discovery - The Catfish Pond! Excitedly they sniffed, tasted, and tentatively waded into the wonderful wetness. Suddenly, as if on cue, the flock burst like scattershot across the still surface in a water churning duck delirium of delight.

To my surprise, in the midst of the frenzy was Frank. With un-webbed feet thrashing and turkey wings splashing, he too water-partied but he didn't take to it at all like the proverbial "duck to water". Unlike this flock mates, Frank's excitement was more hysteric than ecstatic, his anatomy requiring twice the effort to swim half the distance as his web-footed friends. Concerned for his safety, I lured everyone back into the pen with some corn and hoped that Frank's aquatic skills would quickly improve - or better yet, he'd realize he was a turkey and stay out of the pond.

The next day, I again gave Frank and the flock free range and realized that even if he didn't walk like a duck or talk like a duck, Frank truly believed himself to be a duck. For some reason I found this annoying. But tolerance is a virtue, so if he wanted to be a duck that was his business. On the other hand, I refused to be a full time turkey lifeguard so he was on his own as far as the pond was concerned. It was sink or swim for Turkey Frank because I had other things to worry about and happily ignored his adventures for most of the summer.

Turkey Frank with his flock of ducks
Frank cools down with a relaxing wade in the shallows just after flailing frantically half the length of the pond. Judging by the way the ducks scrutinize him when he's in the water I suspect they're making bets on when he's going to drown and/or have a heart attack.

Late one afternoon I was working down by the pond when the flock waddled down for a swim. They all dove in and Frank followed Although his swimming skills hadn't improved, a few powerfully spastic wing strokes eventually carried him to the middle of the pond.

Suddenly the ducks spotted me and excitedly swam in my direction hoping for the usual cracked corn handout. Desperately afraid he'd miss his share of the snack, Frank frantically splashed toward me too. Thrashing, wheezing, gasping, with eyes bugging and tongue hanging from his beak I could tell this turkey was in trouble. I came to the rescue by shoving a leaf rake under his fat butt and maneuvered him to shore. His eyes were crossed and he was hyperventilating but he managed to cough in appreciation. It was heartbreaking and pathetic.

Tolerance aside, it was a hassle having a species-confused turkey running around the place so I gave him to the lady who runs the feed store. She had a small turkey flock so Frank could finally enjoy the companionship of his own kind and maybe meet some cute hens. Since her birds inhabit a pasture alongside the main road, I was able to monitor Frank's social progress whenever I drove into town.

A Useful Tip
If you want to raise "free range" poultry (that is let them run about the place instead of confining to a coop) you should avoid those with all white feathers. The white birds stand out in the environment as if they had an "eat me" sign on their backs. To eagles and ospreys and similar predators this is like handing them dinner on a silver platter. Get earth colored varieties if you want to raise "yard birds".
Over the following weeks I rarely saw him with the turkeys. Each time I passed he was hanging with the geese over by the water trough. Fall came and Thanksgiving was fast approaching and Turkey Frank was looking plump and succulent. The holiday passed as, I guess, did Frank. I last saw him standing in a puddle with the geese, a waterfowl to the end. I never asked the feed store lady what became of him and she didn't tell.

When I came across these old pictures of Turkey Frank I felt nostalgic so I decided to share his story and the lesson he taught me. I have yet to figure out exactly what I learned but maybe it is this: No matter how much you think you're a duck, people will still eat you on Thanksgiving if you're actually a turkey.

Whatever the lesson, I always feel a tinge of guilt each year at this time. I console myself with the fact that turkeys are supposed to end up on someone's holiday table which is a more festive and nobler fate than accidental drowning. My conscience is eased when I imagine Frank in the afterlife gracefully gliding across a heavenly Catfish Pond at the head of his web-footed flock.

So every Thanksgiving, because of Frank, I give thanks for who (and what) I am and for all that I have. I also want to say Rest in peace Turkey Frank, I'm sorry they ate you.

Happy Thanksgiving from your friend, Jack Scheper.

9/9/01; updated 11/18/01, 11/22/08



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