Photo: Courtesy of Kimberly Hiss
That afternoon we headed to the local Game and Parks facility to pluck and clean the bird—which took forever because I was so reluctant to dismantle this amazing animal. Its feathers were far more beautiful than I'd given turkeys credit for. When the body was bare, we removed the head and wings, then did the gutting, and out of curiosity opened the stomach, which was full of green grasses—the very definition of an organic diet. Then I put my bird (and a bag of its prettiest feathers) in a Christmas-red cooler for the trip home.
The job done, I made a Walmart run for more ice packs. A woman in line ahead of me was buying a roasted chicken in a plastic container. I wondered where her bird had come from.
Christmas morning dawned white and crisp at my parents' farmhouse in Rhode Island. My boyfriend and I were up early to soak the turkey in brine. I wanted so much for my family to enjoy the feast I was about to provide. They'd been surprised and even a little upset when I'd started hunting, but they tried to be supportive. "It'll be great," my boyfriend promised with a kiss on the forehead. Then we headed into the woods to gather holly greens for table decorations.
In the late morning, with our snow-crusted boots dripping by the fireplace, we set to work on the turkey. We patted off the brine, filled the bird with homemade stuffing, covered it with strips of bacon, and sealed it inside a roasting bag—to keep the lean, wild meat from drying out in the oven—along with some freshly chopped potatoes, carrots, and celery.
The timer set, we spread the greens on the kitchen table, along with ribbons and long, elegant tail feathers, and made two vase arrangements and six place settings. I'd donate the rest of the feathers to the National Wild Turkey Federation, which sends them to Native American tribes for ceremonial use.
By 4:30, the bird was perfectly cooked, and I carried it to my family at the table. It looked rich and golden, and the meat was tender, almost sweet, and flavorful in a way none of us had realized turkey could be. My sister said it tasted more "normal" than she had expected. My boyfriend found the first pellet of shot in his slice. I sat back with my wine, watching my family talk and laugh in a glow of candlelight, occasionally passing plates for seconds.
I was in bed when I realized I'd forgotten the wishbone. I hurried downstairs, prepared to dig it out of the trash, but someone had set it on the windowsill. I took it into the living room and curled up on the couch. The Christmas tree was dark, and the fire was nearly out. Holding one end of the fabled bone in each hand, I wondered if I would ever get over my ambivalence about killing—and whether I wanted to. Maybe it should be hard, and should change me a little bit each time. I can still feel the weight of the deer's big head. I can still see the antelope's rough face at my feet. I can still hear the turkey's wings slapping the snow. And I value those moments as some of the most authentic of my life.
I looked at the bone. We'd break it in the morning, probably my sister and I. As if my bird hadn't provided enough, it would also grant us a wish.
Get Ready for Thanksgiving
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