Laura Seaborn “The Turkey’s Beard”

My favorite Christmas photo from some unknown someone.

Shadows deepened in the woods where Christopher leaned against a Red oak tree at the edge of the clearing near the back of their summer cabin. Something moved. Then something else.

“Look.” Christopher nudged his brother, Sammi, and pointed to where six turkeys in the tall grass skirted the clearing. He handed Sammi the binoculars.

“Cool. That one’s caught a grasshopper,” said Sammi.

This was the first time they’d seen wild turkeys, but Christopher had read about them. “They’ll eat all kinds of things: insects, grass seed, nuts and even small lizards.”

Sammi nodded up at him. “You know lots of things.”

“I’ll tell you an Indian legend.” Christopher settled against the tree trunk, scratching his shoulder against the rough bark. “Indians think animals have spirits like we do, and this story is about Turkey, who was jealous because Turtle, a better warrior than him, had taken a scalp in battle and wore it around his neck.”

Sammi grimaced. “It must have been bloody.”

“No, the blood had dried.” Christopher listened to insects drone and birds twittered. “Turkey laughed and pointed at Turtle because the scalp around his neck drug the ground. He knew Turtle had powerful magic so he stopped laughing and offered to carry the scalp, for he was taller.”

“Oh, there’s a bigger one,” said Sammi.

“That’s the male.” Christopher welcomed the little breeze that swayed the grass seed stalks. “They’re called toms.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“They could be called Bill or Dave or Harry.” Sammi bobbed his head up and down.

Christopher didn’t want to argue about names. “Turkey liked wearing the scalp. It hung down on his chest and felt good there. He wouldn’t give it back to Turtle.”

“Turtle got mad,” said Sammi.

Christopher nodded. “Turkey ran, but Turtle blasted him with magic that seared the scalp onto Turkey’s chest. Now all toms have one growing on them. It’s called a beard. Can you see it?”

Looking through the binoculars, Sammi said, “It’s not a scalp.” He sighed and lowered the binoculars. “It’s just some longer feathers, but I like the story.”

He pushed out his lower lip. “I don’t want to go home tomorrow. I want to stay here all year.”

Christopher pulled Sammi’s baseball cap over his eyes. “You just don’t want to go back to school, squirt.”

Sammi took off his cap and swatted at a fly. “I like it here in the forest.” Deer at the feeder gazed at Sammi and twitched their ears, but didn’t run.

“Me, too.” Christopher wanted to make it easier for Sammi, so he said, “It’s not like this in the winter. There’s lots of snow and it’s so cold the bears hibernate. You told me you didn’t want to turn into a bear like the Indian boy, One Feather, did.”

“Bears get kilt.” Sammi turned his face away.

Besides, if we stay into the fall, deer season will start and hunters will rent our cabin.”

“I don’t like hunters.” Sammi frowned. “They won’t shoot these deer right here, will they?” His voice quavered.

“No, that would be too easy. They’ll go into the forest.” Christopher hoped he wasn’t lying.

Sammi nodded. “Deer can run away.”

“They hide, too.” Said Christopher.

A cow bell rang, signaling the boys to come for dinner. The deer looked up. The screen door slapped shut. As always, their young Labrador retriever, Bull, rushed out, crashing through the underbrush. The deer bounded into the woods with their white tails flashing.

“He scared the turkeys, too.” Sammi pouted as they flew away. “Stupid Bull.”

Christopher and Sammi rose as Bull careened in circles, tripping on his own feet. Christopher grinned. Like the dog, his own feet were gigantic for the size of his body, and he stumbled sometimes. Sometimes in front of girls who giggled. The Lab jumped up, pinning Christopher against the tree with his paws.

“Down. Down.” Bull didn’t obey very well.

Sammi cried, “I’m going to find a turkey feather for show and tell.” He sprinted across the clearing with Bull gamboling at his heels.

Christopher tromped after Sammi, trying not to step on any wildflowers. In the woods, Bull’s frenzied barking brought Christopher into a run. “Sammi. Come out here.”

Sammi didn’t. Christopher plunged down the slope, tripped over a root, and caught himself. Fallen leaves made the ground slippery.

Bull’s barking brought Christopher to where Sammi huddled on the ground clutching his ankle. “Christopher … ” He whimpered. “I fell. My foot’s broke.”

“Sprained, maybe,” said Christopher after examining the ankle. “You wait here and I’ll go get Dad to carry you home.”

“No.” Sammi jutted out his chin. “Me and Bull can walk, can’t we boy?”

The dog gave a low rowrl.

Christopher patted the dog’s head. “Dad named him Bull, because when he was a puppy he was bull-headed and stubborn.”

“I’ll never call him stupid again. He brought you. He’s smart, just like you.”

They entered the clearing and Sammi said, “I didn’t find a turkey feather.”

He took Christopher’s hand. “I don’t want to eat turkey for Christmas any more. From now on, I’ll eat chicken fingers or fish sticks cause they’re not like animals, really.”