Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dirty Bird

Today I adopted a turkey.  Her name is Velma.  Apparently someone will save her from a slaughterhouse and set her free on an idyllic farm where she can frolic and be turkeyish.  She can gobble gobble the rest of her days away without fear of ending up some one's Thanksgiving dinner.

This was a very strange thing for me to do.

For as long as I can remember, I've hated turkeys.  For one thing, the way they look freaked me out as a child.  When we learned about Thanksgiving in school, the sight of the big freaky birds with their bumpy wattles flopping around gave me the shivers.  I don't exactly remember having nightmares about turkeys chasing me but it wouldn't come as a shock if I did.  When we were asked to make turkeys by tracing our hands, I told the teacher I'd rather not.  She told me I'd better.  I did it but I didn't make mine pretty.

You'd think I wouldn't have a problem with eating the big ugly birds since it's not like I wanted one as a pet but I've never liked them as a meal either.  To me, they taste like dirt.  If they're deep fried or honey-glazed then they just taste like deep fried or honey-glazed dirt. I started calling them "dirty birds" sometime in high school.  This was during the low-fat craze of the early 90's.  Everyone and their dogs (seriously) started eating turkey instead of other meats because it was lower in fat.  Turkey sandwiches became a popular lunch choice amongst my friends.  I liked to ask them how their dirty bird sandwich was.

At Thanksgiving, the kid version of me would skip the main course and load my plate with sides.  Mountains of mashed potatoes and oceans of the green jello stuff my mom made.  Before you think I'm going off on one of my vegetarian lectures, let me clarify that it wasn't a moral issue.  I was raised in Texas, after all.  My favorite foods were chicken fried steak and hamburgers.  My hatred was reserved for turkey.  I abhorred the way it tasted and the way it sat there on a big plate looking like what it was, a giant bird.

One Christmas, my mom, her mother and my aunts didn't feel like cooking.  We went to dinner at a Holiday Inn.   In the ballroom, the centerpiece of the enormous fancy spread was two glazed turkeys, one red and one green.  My cousin and I inspected the birds with wide eyes.  They were covered in a thick gelatinous shell.  When he poked the green one, it made a squishy sound and left a child-sized fingerprint in its side, next to its little leg.  Something about the smell of the cooked bird combined with the unnatural green jelly stuff made me feel ill.  I almost hurled up the three pieces of my Meemaw's banana bread I'd inhaled at breakfast.

Since then I've successfully avoided eating turkey.  In the past I've been made fun of and withstood interrogations from well-meaning people.  "What do you mean you don't like turkey?!"  As if it's inconceivable.  As if it's a sin.

These days I'm lucky to be surrounded by friends and family who understand and accept my eating idiosyncrasies.  Even though the fear of dirty bird is my oldest food issue, the people who care about me have supported me through many other "weird" eating habits, such as food allergies and that time I decided I had celiac disease and ate gluten-free for nine months.  These folks have catered menus around me when I decided to go vegetarian and they've nodded agreeably as I sing the praises of going organic or chemical-free, regardless of their opinion on the issue.  It is for these people and their patience that I'm thankful this holiday season.  I don't care if they eat turkey or not.

But, I am glad I saved Velma and her ugly wattle.

*photo by ~Sage~