Every Thanksgiving, I think of Hercules. But not the Greek hero. My Hercules was a magnificent fifty pound Broad Breasted Bronze Turkey, the one and only turkey on the farm where I lived. Which created some problems. Lacking a suitable mate, Hercules looked to me as a romantic prospect, and when outdoors in the spring I’d hear that distinctive whirring of feathers rising up, and then feel a pressing against the back of my leg. Looking down, there he’d be, tail and wings spread wide, proud head, neck and wattles flaming vivid reds and brightest blues, his intentions unmistakeable. Though an ardent suitor, Hercules was a gentleman. A few shoves with my foot and he’d move off, his disappointment brilliantly betrayed by his rapidly drooping tail feathers and fading colors.
Hercules had won permanent residency on the farm by his good looks and winning personality. Feeling he deserved a decent mate, I set out to get him one. Bronzes, I discovered, were quite rare, and I couldn’t find one locally. So I made what would turn out to be a most fateful decision, and brought home six young wild turkeys, three males, three females. Even if the mating didn’t happen, I figured they’d be friends. There was no mating, and much later I learned that the Bronzes, with their enormous size, are unable to reproduce naturally. So no mating. And no friends either. The wild birds completely ignored their large cousin. And then the males started to bully and pick fights with him. Though Hercules far outweighed them, they were canny, agile creatures. I knew I had to get rid of the bunch. Tragically, the same day I came to that conclusion, the males made a brutal attack on Hercules. I found him in a heap of feathers in a corner of the coop, bloody, barely breathing. Summoning up some Herculean strength (this time the Greek god variety), I ran to the house, got a blanket, ran back, managed to gather the massive bird up, carry him into the house, and settle him on the couch by the wood stove. After I sat down next to him, my sweet feathered admirer raised his head a little and gazed at me. He then lay his head on my lap. That’s how we stayed until he died a short time later. After burying him in the apple orchard, I called the butcher. Made a date for six wild turkeys.
–Writer Maggie McKaig is a singer/songwriter/instrumentalist who makes her home outside of Nevada City, California.