This bird must die

Turn the TV to the Food Channel, and there is nothing but programs filled with Thanksgiving recipes.

Walk into almost any grocery at this time of the season, and you'll be confronted with piles of shrink-wrapped, frozen Butterball turkeys.

The people answering the Turkey Hotline are standing at the ready to help you out of any Thanksgiving cooking disaster.

While I can't ever remember anything but a prepackaged turkey, others can.

Just the thought of a fresh turkey calls for a retelling of the tale of "Angelo v. the Turkey."

The story

I used to work with Angelo, a huge mountain of a man, at an advertising agency. The mere mention of Thanksgiving usually was enough to launch him into his story.

When Angelo was growing up, his large Italian family lived in one of the poorer immigrant sections of downtown Detroit.

"I remember the year that I was 11," Angelo used to tell us. "My grandmother thought I was old enough to be sent after the holiday bird. Because there was still a three-week wait until T-Day, she sent me down to the Eastern Market with orders to bring home a live, 30-pound turkey." (The Eastern Market in Detroit is somewhat like the Pike Place Market.)

"As you know," Angelo would continue, "the Market's always been the center of produce for the whole city. Huge wagons would come creaking down the streets hauling loads of fresh meat or cartloads of vegetables. When I finally found the poultry section, they took me out back where they had about 15 birds caged.

"When I picked out a bird, the man who was running the shop tied its legs together, and then he wrapped butcher's paper around the bird's body to hold its wings together and keep them from flapping."

Angelo would get to this point in his story and look at his audience. He knew the mere thought of an 11-year-old boy carrying a 30-pound turkey on his shoulder would keep them riveted.

"So I had the bird over my shoulder," Angelo would continue, "and I had to walk about a quarter-mile to catch the streetcar. Then I had to take a 3-mile streetcar ride and then finally walk another quarter-mile home."

The near-escape

Before they'd gone five blocks, the streetcar's constantly jangling bell had stirred the bird to new energy. It got its head out of the wrapping and began wriggling with new vigor. A mile into the ride, the bird had managed to shred its wrapper.

Suddenly, the streetcar screeched to a halt in mid-block, and its door flew open. The conductor grabbed Angelo and threw him out the door. Next, he managed to grab the flapping turkey, and in a cloud of feathers, it followed the boy out the door.

Young Angelo was still almost 2 miles from home, but now he had to walk, dragging a full-size, angry, flapping turkey along with him.

The turkey, once it was devoid of wing restraints, didn't see any reason to make the trip an easy one. The bird's unceasing wing-beating had managed to remove a fair amount of skin from Angelo's arms, and a peck of its beak had nicked his ear.

"Every day," Angelo remembered, "I had to feed that turkey a handful of corn and keep its water fresh. Then one day my father came up to me as I was putting out its feed dish. 'How'd you like to kill it?' he asked. I started to anxiously count off the days."

Angelo carefully sharpened the ax and was ready and waiting for his grandmother to ask for the dispatched bird. But he readily admitted to being a newcomer to poultry execution and failed to realize that you had to tie the subject's legs.

"I brought the ax down on the bird's neck," Angelo said, "just as my mother started to walk out the back door of the house. Nobody'd told me a bird could run around kicking, and as luck would have it, it went through the door and into the kitchen."

The mess

Angelo's grandmother had a white-tile kitchen with a high ceiling that the whole household revolved around. Clean doesn't begin to describe it; surgical is more fitting.

Angelo guessed from the looks of mayhem that the headless turkey had done about three laps of the kitchen before expiring in front of the icebox.

There were feathers, bird poop and turkey blood everywhere.

It took hours for Angelo to return his grandmother's kitchen to a pristine state. And he was forced to stand for Thanksgiving dinner that year due to the paddling he received from his father.

I'm just thankful my turkey has a shrink-wrap, plastic coating this year.

Freelance columnist Gary McDaniel can be reached via e-mail at needitor@

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