The Eagle Has Landed. But Where?

Henry Clyde Billingsley was a young WWI soldier who awoke one day with an unplanned, unwanted but spectacular new eagle tattoo. Decades later, your editor recalled the incident to Brother Paul who, consistent with his contentious nature and faulty memory, insisted the tattoo had somehow been squeezed onto Grandpa's left forearm.

It was, of course, spread-eagled in all its glory on Grandpa's chest, wingtips stretching from nipple to nipple. There ensued a heated, still smouldering family discussion, that ended in a call to Blonde Cousin Kathy, who listened tactfully to both cousins before uttering five utterly Kathy-like words: "Grandpa Bill had a
tattoo? Short of exhumation of old Grandpa, the matter may appear long dead and buried. But the mission of this blog will be to rectify this and other faulty family memories ...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sam, the Christmas Turkey

Praters occasionally obsess.  And Stacker Prater (aka Paul E, father of both Bill John and Paulie) had a thing about old-time turkeys - specifically bronzebacks, the kind once found on grade school wall at Thanksgiving Time, with magnificent red wattles and tails that spread wide like an NBC peacock in the days before color television. 

     Thoughtless farmers bred the handsome birds to near-extinction in favor of pasty but tasty white creatures now consumed each Thanksgiving and Christmas. Modern agriculturists bred them to be mostly breast meat, in the same way modern science gave us Pamela Anderson. Anyway, while Stacker longed for a bronzeback, in late 1960s Illinois they were as scarce as hen's teeth. Which led to a related obsession in Stacker's youngest, brightest son: find Dad an old-time turkey for Christmas dinner. 
     The pre-Google search (younger readers won't understand) led Bill John and Linda to Havana (Illinois), home of the state's largest turkey flocks, and to other remote sites rumored to have turkeys. Alas, all were as white as a Republican Tea Party. It appeared the pursuit of an Old-Time Turkey was as fruitless as the prosecution of George W for impersonating a President. 
     Until one early November day, when Bill was driving the old Rambler wagon past the Dino Sinclair station near campus and spotted a sign, "Free Live Old-time Turkey with Fill-up!" A brief conversation with the owner revealed most college town patrons preferred a white - preferably dead - bird over a living relic. So a quick trip to the Grand Union grocery yielded a plump 12- or 13-pound carcass - and the swap was made! I was now in possession of a kind of frightening looking fowl, later known as Sam. 
     Anyway, there I was in the driver's seat of this standard transmission vehicle (young readers, this was ancient transport requiring the left hand on the steering wheel and the right on a "gear shift") wondering how to tame the beast and get it to 1010 East Colorado. In desperation, I extended my hand to the stout feathery neck, so I could wrestle the bird for domination. Thankfully, Sam chose to fall asleep with that neck stretched trustingly across my shifting hand. 
     Within 10 minutes of arrival at the beat up old trailer Linda and I called home, the wife was similarly in love with this cuddly, unbelievably dumb example of a Thanksgiving tradition. We adored Sam, but he was not bright, even for a bird. During the two months or so he lived with us, we'd tie his left leg to a sturdy string and attach the string to the elm in the front yard. Invariably, Sam would peck the ground until he reached "the end of his rope." (I'll bet you always wondered where that phrase came from). Then he'd look back, puzzled, at his clawed foot suspended in mid-air, wondering why he couldn't walk anymore. Is there any reader so cynical, so Scrooge-like, so, so Republican, that they question how Sam saved himself from the Christmas chopping block? 
    Well, to put an abrupt, happy ending to this holiday tale, Sam came home for Christmas to Granite City, where he was quickly declared safe from the dinner menu. And Dad revealed that "Sam" The Gobbler was actually Sam The Hen. (We thought those cartoons with the big peacock tails were just drawn by someone taking artistic license) 
     Sam spent the rest of her happy, if witless, days waiting for Dad at the entrance to the family chicken house. Each morning the chickens would have to wait for their meals, while Dad started the morning with one of his favorite pasttimes: snuggling with Sam, the Christmas hen, and feeding her out of his hand.

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