I was thirteen when I killed an animal for the first time.
I kept rabbits so went to the barn twice a day to tend to them.
My father kept turkeys. Enormous black-gray beasts with iridescent feathers.
This particular year the turkeys were ruled by a very large, very nasty tom turkey.
The whole barn was ruled by this tom.
His feathery attacks didn’t bother my brothers.
I feared and hated him.
He’d jump up as high as he could, beating his enormous wings on me, looking me in the eye as if hoping he’d get high enough to peck my eyes out.
As the largest tom he was given the dubious honor of living the longest – long enough to grace the Thanksiving Table.
The big tom would be more than enough to feed two families for Thanksgiving.
Having enough meat wasn’t the goal, any of the other toms would have sufficed.
Having the grandest bird possible, graced by dishes of potatoes, peas, and squash, was the point.
No matter how nasty he acted, this tom’s moment of glory would come.
Another family historian could tell who was chosen to shoot and kill this bird and why that particular son was chosen.
I was not involved, that part of farming was not for the girls in our family.
The girls cooked the food, we cleaned the house, we had animal chores of our choice; for me- rabbits, for my sister – a horse; but we were not a part of the normal barn chore crew, and certainly not a part of the killing process for any of the animals we ate.
We packaged meat, we labeled packages, we cooked the meat; but we didn’t feed or tend or kill the animals my father kept in the barn.
On tom’s fateful day I stepped outside just as a shot rang out.
The shot was quickly followed by my father’s astonished.. incredulous…. frustrated voice,
“You missed it, point blank range, and you missed it! Somebody else around here capable of killing this bird?”
I didn’t plan on saying “I’ll do it!”
But I did.
I wanted to kill that bird.
I knew I’d kill that bird.
My father reviewed the basic mechanics of the gun.
This was not the first time I had touched or fired a gun.
Most homes have hammers and saws; our home had hammers, saws, and guns.
Respected, well-used, tools vital to the operation of our lifestyle.
I lined the sight of the gun to the back of the turkey’s head.
The headless turkey raced into the pasture,
wings beating the air,
bringing Tom to his largest size and height,
high enough – at last – to peck my eyes out.
All the hatred and fear I had ever felt for Tom poured through me, flooding my eyes.
I ran to my room.
Away from that hugely-awfully-flapping bird.
My brother who had missed the shot was teased for days. He was outdone by a girl, and the bookworm at that!
The Tom’s moment of glory became my moment of glory.
On the outside.
Inside – I knew I had done a horrible thing.
I killed that turkey because I hated him.
Hate and fear have no place on the dinner plate.
Particularly not at Thanksgiving.
I’ve never forgotten that horrid, hollow feeling of watching that turkey racing away from death. Away from me.
Various cultures and time periods have traditions for the butchering process, involving rituals and religion.
I am sure that not all persons involved in butchering animals need to have that component added to the process, but I do.
I don’t yet have a prescribed ritual but I am working on it.
At the moment, a mental, meditative process involving thanksgiving is an absolute necessity for me when I participate in the butchering process.