As told By Claudia Bollman
This is a factual tale of the celebration of ‘two’ holidays in a far off land ~ that land being Nationalist China, in the city of Taichung.
In the year 1960, one warm evening in February, our doorbell rang and Johnny, who is a she and was our family’s ‘very proper’ lady maid, answered the door. With a slight forward bow, Johnny acknowledged the guests’ presence and then immediately turned around. Dutifully she reported back to my mother, Jeannie, that there was more than one male guest at the front door.
It seems a man was standing out front with a rather large turkey. Jeannie inquired as to just how large the turkey was. Johnny answered, “It is large enough to walk on its own and is on a leash.”
The Chinese New Year was (and still is) a time of gift giving. And our Chinese friend knew our custom of celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday which was just around the Chinese calendar for his American friends. Also, in China, all gifts are to be presented in either red paper, a red envelope or red wrapping. A turkey was a little large for any of these traditional adornments, so a red bow was around his/her neck instead.
My mom immediately headed off to solicit my Dad’s help. This turkey thing was a bit much for Jeannie. Once she found him she asked that Papa Vito handle the fowl situation at the front door.
Men, being men, are bound by the rules of proper behavior which are dictated by their wives. One of the rules being ~ there will be no big birds pooping in the living room. Another rule ~ never allow a guest to just hang out on the porch; even if that guest has a large turkey with a leash on it.
So, Vito followed the rules as he briskly sauntered to the front door. His staunch gate was so he would not appear to be ‘hen-pecked,’ so to speak. Graciously, Vito invited the gentlemen and his turkey into the living room. I mean, what choice did he have? The turkey was attached to his friend’s arm.
Once the gobbler and good buddy were safely inside the house, we all gathered in our living room, bowing, The custom of the Chinese is to bow…they prefer not to shake hands.
Our Chinese friend explained that since he was aware that Americans have a special day for Turkeys, he was visiting us to present this ‘magnificent bird’ to help make merry our Thanksgiving. It was being given to the Nelli family, all 6 of us, for our holiday. (Sounded to us like we were supposed to cook and eat the damn thing.) This explanation was unfolding while the ‘magnificent bird’ was gobbling at the top of his/her lungs.
As we were incapable of chopping its head off and then baking it, we kept the bird, and named him/her Stanley. It wasn’t long before Stanley became a familiar fowl and celebrity of sorts in the area. As the school bus would rumble by everyday, the kids would call from the opened windows, “Stanley, Oh Stanley, where are you.” The not too bright bird (but obviously happy with his newfound popularity) would come a runnin’ at the sound of the children calling out for him/her. The silly pullet plowed its way every day (in its awkward way) at a high-stepping rapid pace. Stanley aimed to be sociable once recognizing that he was being beckoned by the youngsters on the bus. An obnoxious gobble noise/sound accompanied the path Stan took all along the fence toward the road to accommodate his adoring fans.
And then there was this house issue ~ he wanted to come into the house in the worst way. Stanley learned that pecking at the back door could give way to home invasion. He would peck hard at the wood of the door until the door would open, ever so slightly…just enough so he could crank his neck around it. Then, with a little leverage, the critter self-taught a way to nudge the door open far enough to allow his entry. One of his favorite pastimes was to come waddling down the hall, “quietly,” and find my mother. While turkeys aren’t famous for their intelligence, Stanley had figured out he needed to use his “inside” voice when he wanted to sneak up on Jeannie. So, without so much as a peep, there’d be the hard, surprise peck on Mom’s hindquarters. I guess that’s where the expression “getting goosed” comes from.
Stanley always attacked Mom from behind, in her behind. Then off he’d swagger at a rapid clip ~ running like hell and gobbling all the way out the door. These episodes were too funny and I’ve often wondered if the particular tone of the gobble the turkey made, while mom was climbing off the ceiling, might have been shear laughter.
My brother, Lee, loved to fix things and I recall several times when Stanley would jump on Lee’s back. This must have been to get a “bird’s eye view” of whatever my brother was working on. Slight problem: Big Bird blossomed into a 35-pounder. The weight of the turkey would knock Lee down to the ground. At the time, Lee weighed a mere 50 pounds himself. So it was pretty silly to watch my lightweight brother chase Stanley around the yard. They really weren’t that much different in size. And of course Stanley was flapping and gobbling all the time. I think, if a bird could grin, that’s the expression I saw on Stan’s face when he and my brother would race.
When the end of November of that year rolled around we were Thanksgiving Day bound. Jeannie asked Johnny to take Stanley and prepare him for dinner. (Surely Johnny thought Mom meant to adorn the bird in a coat and tails.) However, Johnny just looked at Mom and said, “Missy, no can do!”
My Mom said,” I understand,” and immediately went for the “big gun,” Papa Vito. Mom wanted Dad to make Stanley an offer he couldn’t refuse. Mom had, in effect, put a contract out on the turkey.
Next thing ya know, Dad left the house and was gone for a while; quite a while; we all waited. An eternity later, Dad came back in with a huge, wide and proud grin on his face. Simultaneously he was shaking his head…we all knew instinctively that we’d be having ham for Thanksgiving that night. And then to confirm our relief, from the far corner of the yard came that sound:
“GOBBLE- GOBBLE,” which was ‘way cool.’ None of us wanted to gobble Stanley up. We much preferred listening to him and totally enjoyed our ham that year and several years thereafter.
(When ‘The End’ to this pleasant, pheasant Thanksgiving Day story unfolded,
Cindy was thinking to herself…hmmm…
“Just ‘be thankful’ none of the Nelli’s had a pet pig.”)
From the November 2009 issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette