Highway hypnosis took over the minute I finished the on ramp to I-94 west. Destination: home. The back-end of the van sagged with holiday food which included not one, but two frozen turkeys. I scored a couple of fifteen pound weaklings. I felt like kicking sand in their faces, of which they had none. I set the cruise at seventy, pulled the arm rest down, and turned off the Christmas music.
I saw something short, white, and moving along the rumble strip on the right near exit sixty-eight. I cancelled the cruise and coasted. It was a bird! It was a rotund bird trotting with the traffic. A left-wing was stretched in the air. I tapped the brake and as I got closer its tail feathers reached for the sky and spread like a Geisha’s fan. “It’s a turkey!” I said, “A suicidal turkey!” Come to think of it, a nice fat turkey like that, suicide would be a viable option rather than wait for the chopping block or hope for a pardon from the President. I put on my emergency flashers as I passed him and pulled over the white line. In my mirror I saw him put his wing down and start running for my van. Trotting? I got out and went around the back of my vehicle and this out of breath bird approached.
“Thank goodness!…I know there is a trust issue in this country for picking up hitch hikers, but, come on, how much harm can I do in my condition?”
I stopped short with my hand to my chin and thought I’ve heard a lot of people talk turkey, but a talking turkey!? I shook it off.
“Where you headed?”
“I can take you as far as Mattawan,” I said.
“Thanks, I was sure I was going be the next entrée on the Road Kill Café menu. I mean really, if people don’t want to give me a ride they should just drive on by! They were honking and swerving and yelling out their windows! Geez, it’s like they’ve never seen a hitch hiking turkey before.”
“I’m just trying to get from A to B you know!” He said as his snood flapped from one side of his beak to the other.
“Hey, let’s get in out of this holiday traffic,” I said. I moved up one of the kid’s car seats and positioned it in the middle of the bench behind me and buckled him in. Under forty pounds, have to be in a car seat. I got back in and adjusted my mirror so I could see him. He had a long scrawny neck and a not so handsome head attached. His head was stubble bald with a three inch orange-red snood draped over his beak. The hanging red caruncles waved back and forth like a dancing double chin every time he turned his head. “Do you have a name?”
“Tom. That’s Tom with an h, T-H-O-M. I was named after my uncle Thommy.”
I had an Uncle Tommy once. Come to think of it he would have made a nice turkey on many different levels.
“I’m Jerry with a J. Are you running away?”
“I was, but now I’m heading back to Berrien Springs,” he said as his head bobbed and weaved.
“What’s in Berrien Springs?”
“The free-range turkey ranch I lived at since I was just a wee poult.”
“Why the turn around? Why are you going back?”
“Bad dream. Well, it wasn’t a total bad dream. It was a wake-up call kind of bad dream. I mean it had an epiphany inserted in it. I mean I had an epiphany while I was dreaming. No, no, when I woke up and assessed its meaning… I was taking a snooze behind a rest stop near Detroit and had a half-sleep non-R.E.M. dream.” He stopped short and took cleansing breath.
“Hey, it’s okay, do you want to tell me about it?” I said as a saw his head down with his snood hanging dead center off his pale yellow beak.
“Yeah, maybe talking about it will help me process it better.” His choice of the word process made me raise an eyebrow.
“Why don’t you start by telling me why you ran away in the first place? I kind of have an idea seeing what time of year it is in America, but I don’t want my assumptions to precede the truth.
“Well,” he said after a gulp, “being from a free range ranch I had a great childhood. There was lots of freedom, lots of friends, and lots of room to run. I even enjoyed short flights from time to time. I hardly ever got pecked on and when I did, it was my buddies having some good, clean fun. Yeah, we used to stay up late and talk about our adventures, like when we would wheel dodge. We saw how close we could strut in front of cars or tractors without getting run over. We had chicken fights in the watering trough. We had snood flapping contests until our gizzards hurt.
My uncle Thommy, in whose honor I was named, would tell us of his days in the PPP, the Poultry Processing Program, and his daring escape aided by some animal rights group. He was like a father to me. He would always find a way to help me appreciate life. I remember the way he puffed out his chest and made eye contact. That was his listen up sonny body language.” Thomm then changed his voice to sound like his old uncle. “You weren’t raised to fly but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.” He smiled, although I didn’t think turkeys could with a solid beak and all. “I will never forget that,” he said. Then Thommy looked out the window and sighed and his wing covered his mouth as he continued…
To be continued tomorrow…