K.D. McCrite grew up on an Ozark Mountain farm along an old dirt road, just like April Grace Reilly in In Front of God and Everybody. She loves writing stories that make people laugh and think. For a while, she worked as a librarian, but these days she sits at her desk and makes up stories. Her second book to this series will release in December 2011. Visit her at http://kdmccrite.com/
The whole business started back in the spring when Mr. Brett, our hired hand, came back from a trip into the farm supply store in Cedar Ridge. He brought back a baby turkey, gave it to me in a little cage, and said, “Happy Easter.”
Now I have to tell you, I have had more thrilling presents in my life. In fact, a gawky baby turkey was about number 2,963 on my list of favorite things to get for a gift.
“Thank you,” I said to Mr. Brett. I eyeballed that funny-looking bird, wondering if it was gonna bite. I am not a big scaredy-cat about most things like my sister, Myra Sue, is, who is afraid of ants, daddy longlegs, earthworms, cows, and goldfish. I’m afraid of mice and that’s it. Well, and snakes give me the willies. And Grandma’s cat, Queenie, makes me want to run screaming, but not because I’m afraid.
But anyway, I want to tell you about last Thanksgiving. Daddy and Mama laughed when they saw Mr. Brett’s present. “We’ll build you a pen for it,” Daddy said.
“Does it have a name?” Mama asked.
I looked at that bird and it looked back at me, sideways like birds do, with its eyes all bright and beady.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked, because that’s something you need to know when you’re naming someone.
“Time will tell,” Mr. Brett said. “In a couple of months, we’ll know by size and how many feathers.”
“I guess I can call it Spot or Fluffy.” I wrinkled my nose. I did not like those names.
“How about Pilgrim?” Mr. Brett suggested. “Because of turkeys and Thanksgiving and all that.”
Pilgrim, eh? That sounded good to me. Pilgrims came in all sizes and genders. I figured some were pretty and some weren’t, but I’ll bet none of them were as ugly as that turkey. Considering its homely looks, I decided he must be a boy. By the time Pilgrim was two weeks old, he had a long stringy neck, a half-bald head, and he walked all jerky and goofy, which did nothing to improve his looks.
Daddy had bought a special feed mix for him, and I made sure he had fresh water. Because he was mine, I spent time with him every day. But now here’s the thing: What was I supposed to do with a pet turkey? He wasn’t huggable and sweet like Daisy, our big ol’ Great Pyrenees, or Taz, Mr. Brett’s black chow. He wasn’t even fluffy like Queenie, Grandma’s cat, who is not lovable or huggable but gives that impression. You have to watch out for ol’ Queenie, by the way. Do not attempt to pet her.
Pilgrim made his funny turkey noises whenever I went outside.
“Let him out of his pen when you’re outside,” Daddy said. “Just be sure to pen him again before you go back in. We don’t want him wondering off into the woods where something might get him.”
I want you to know that goofy bird followed me around like a dog. He got all uppity when Daisy came around, but good ol’ Daisy just sniffed him from top to bottom and side to side, wagging her tail. She didn’t care if Pilgrim was ugly as sin and made noises. Pretty soon, the two of them got along like apple pie and cheese. If I walked through the woods and down to the creek, Daisy ambled along and Pilgrim waddled right along behind me.
Boy, oh boy, did that crazy bird grow fast. He never was much to look at, and as he got bigger that did not change. I thought I might make him look better if I dressed him up, sort of like how Isabel St. James made over my grandma from an old lady into some kind of old lady glamour girl. But that’s another story and I won’t get into it now. In a box of old toys and stuff in the attic, I found a yellow and white polka-dotted doll dress and bonnet. I thought it might look pretty good on ol’ Pilgrim.
Daddy saw my intent, and he stopped working on the tractor to come where I was fixin’ to dress up that turkey.
“April Grace,” he said, frowning at me, “you can’t put clothes on a turkey.”
“We’ll see,” I said with all the confidence in the world.
I looked at the bonnet, then I studied Pilgrim’s dinky little head. There was no way he could wear the bonnet, but you gotta admit he would’ve looked better with his head covered.
Mr. Brett ambled over, grinning. “Now this is too good to miss.”
So I went into Pilgrim’s pen. He came right up to me and pecked some corn out of my hand. Then he stood still as pond water while I slipped that silly, frilly dress over his pointy head. He sorta flicked out his wings, stretched up his neck, then turkey-walked a couple of times around the pen. Finally, he came right back to me and just stood there, staring at us all sideways like he thought we were gonna take his picture or something.
“Well, look at that!” Daddy said. He and Mr. Brett just stood there, gawking and grinning at Pilgrim.
I put my hands on my hips and stared down at the turkey.
“Too bad I didn’t have something more manly for him to wear. I hope trotting around in a dress doesn’t embarrass him.”
Mr. Brett cleared his throat. “Actually, April Grace, Pilgrim is a girl.”
I nearly broke my own neck, snapping my head around so fast to look at Mr. Brett.
He nodded. “If she was a tom, you’d see the beginnings of a large wattle there. And hens cluck and click, but a tom will make a lot of noise, gobbling and the like.” We eyeballed the clucking, clicking Pilgrim.
I let out a heavy sigh. “Well, then. I have to change his, er, her name.”
“What are you going to change it to, punkin?” Daddy asked.
I thought about it a minute. “He’s used to Pilgrim, so I guess I’ll call him, er, her Pilgrimette.”
Those two men laughed right out loud, but I didn’t care.
I didn’t often dress Pilgrimette. She tolerated it, but I don’t think she liked it. When the weather started getting cold, Daddy let her stay in the hay barn, where it was warm. Nothing could get her in the hay barn.
A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I overheard Daddy say to Mama, “At least you don’t have to thaw out a frozen turkey for dinner this year. We’ll have fresh!”
Well, I nearly swallowed my tongue in shock. You know as well as I do the only fresh turkey around our house was Pilgrimette. There was No Way Jose we were having Pilgrimette with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
I put on my coat and went right out to the barn, where I stuffed my pockets full of feed. Then I grabbed an old pan and Pilgrimette.
“Hang on, Pilgrimette,” I told her when she squirmed. “This is an emergency for which you can thank me on Friday.”
I guess you could say we were on the lam. We took off down the slope, Pilgrimette safely in my arms. We went through the woods, across the creek, beyond the back hayfield, and down another hill where a little cave was tucked away. That cave wasn’t very big, but it would be good place for Pilgrimette to hide out until the heat was off.
Let me tell you something. That bird was heavy. I had to lie down for a bit to get my strength back before I could finish what I planned. I brought her up a pan of water from the creek then pulled feed out of my pockets to scatter around on the cave floor. Pilgrimette just looked at me sideways like she thought I was nuts.
It took me most of that day, dragging broken branches and limbs from out of the woods to the mouth of that cave. I piled them up so Pilgrimette would not get out and no hungry coyote would find her.
“None of that clucking and clicking, you silly bird,” I hollered through the wall of branches and limbs. “We don’t want bears or wolves or coyotes to find you. I’ll be back in the morning.”
I felt real bad about leaving her all alone.
I got home kinda late. In fact, it was almost black dark. I could hear my folks calling for me. They sounded scared.
“I’m coming!” I yelled as loud as I could and hurried along. All the lights were on, inside and out. “Here I am!”
Mama, Daddy, Grandma, Mr. Brett, and our friends the St. Jameses and the Freebirds all hugged me, ever last one of ’em, except my prissy sister, who stood back and watched. Everyone talked at once, asked if I was okay, if I was hurt, and stuff like that.
I was dirtier than all get out, thirsty like you couldn’t believe, and half-starved to boot.
“What happened? Where have you been?” Mama hugged me again then looked me up and down.
Hungry, thirsty, tired, and dirty as I was, I declared loudly, “We are not eating Pilgrimette for Thanksgiving. We can just have hot dogs or scrambled eggs instead.” Then I folded my arms to make sure they knew I meant it.
“As if!” Myra Sue yelled.
Every one of those grown-ups looked at me like I had lost my ever-lovin’ mind. But you know what? I did not care.
“April Grace,” Daddy said in a Tone of Voice that means business, “where have you been?”
I sucked in a deep breath, and said, calm as anything, “I hid Pilgrimette.” Then I clammed up.
Those adults exchanged glances.
“Where?” Daddy asked.
I bit my lips to prove I wasn’t saying another word, even if I got sent to my room without supper, a drink, a bath, or clean clothes.
“Honey,” Mama said, “why do you think we’re having Pilgrimette for Thanksgiving?”
“Because you and Daddy said ‘fresh turkey not frozen this year.’ Pilgrimette is fresh, and she’s gonna stay that way.”
Mama covered her mouth with both hands but not before I heard her laugh. Then all the rest of ’em busted out laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world.
“April Grace,” Mr. Brett said, “that fresh turkey for Thanksgiving is over in my refrigerator right now. I got it from the Johnson Turkey Farm where I got Pilgrimette for you. Did you think I’d give you a present we were going to eat?”
I stared at him, all grateful and relieved.
“Pilgrimette won’t be stuffed and sliced and covered with gravy?”
“Not at all!” Mama said. She pulled me to her and hugged me again. “And now, you’d better tell your daddy where you hid her so he can bring her back to the barn.”
Boy, oh boy. I felt kinda silly that I thought we’d eat one of my best friends, but more than anything, I was purely thankful that my family and friends would never have let such a thing happen in the first place.