About two weeks before Thanksgiving, Mom started concocting a plan. She had that twinkle in her eye – the one that heeded warning: “Watch out, everybody.” She and Dad put their heads together and with each exchanged idea, the laughter became more uproarious. They were working up quite a scheme, those two.
I heard more laughs and hushed talk of logistics in the days leading up to the big holiday. I didn’t pay much attention to any of it – I was only 11, after all. Those two were always up to something, and I needn’t bother with it. Besides, I had matters of my own to attend to. You know, cutting Barbie’s hair, playing games of Sorry with my imaginary friend, setting up a barbershop for the cats in the hay loft. Important stuff.
The night before Thanksgiving, Mom sat me down and carefully reviewed the next day’s plans. We’d be spending the holiday with Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat – this much I already knew. That was standard fare.
This time, cautioned Mom, we’d be spending the night. I was down with that – more time to play with my cousins. But there was one more thing Mom wanted me to know, and I had to promise to keep a secret. My interest piqued, and my eyes grew wide. Mom paused, looked me in the eye, and told me all the details behind her cockamamie scheme.
Thanksgiving Day arrived and we didn’t miss a beat. We packed up the van and headed to the “big city” – bearing in mind that any city seems big when you live on a farm outside a town of 700 people. An hour later, we were at the door of Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat’s house – their big, gargantuan, larger-than-life house complete with seven bathrooms. We cousins promptly made our way to the basement where the rec room awaited us. The grown-ups did their grown up things, whatever those were.
And then the moment came. The moment I had been warned about, and the moment that would be locked deep in family history forever more. Early in the afternoon, the mansion’s doorbell rang, and Uncle Alan went to see who might be there. There before him in the circle drive was a yellow taxi cab idling, its driver standing at the door to explain he had a most unusual delivery for the family. Uncle Alan arched an eyebrow, and more of us gathered in the foyer to see what was going on. The cab driver returned to his car, pulled out a crate and headed straight to the door. The Dr. Alan Swearingen family had just become the unexpected recipient of a live turkey.
The crate with the turkey bore no message and the cab driver was unable to offer any explanation about its sender. Not knowing what else to do, Uncle Alan accepted the crate and the turkey was placed in the garage. Hours of debate followed about who would do such a thing. Why on earth would anyone think they wanted a live turkey? And whatever would they do with it? Mom, Dad and I kept a poker face. It was the first time in my life I had been given permission to tell a lie. My cousins tried to divide and conquer, cornering me to ask if my family – known country bumpkins – had arranged for this strange turkey delivery. I assured them with a very straight face that we had not.
And so, with no other choice before us, we sat down to enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner and partake in our usual traditions. It wasn’t until the next morning – long after the colossal feast and even after every last piece of crystal had been carefully placed back in the china cabinet – that my parents ‘fessed up. Yes, indeed, the whole turkey hoax was us. And aren’t we funny? I must admit, I think Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat thought a little bit yes, and a little bit no. But you had to appreciate Mom and Dad’s chutzpah, there was no disputing that.
The hour ride home seemed long because – let’s be honest – this time we had a live turkey in a crate in the back of the van. We played the events over and over again among each other, laughing harder each time. It was officially the first time I had been let in on the joke. I was grateful to be right there with them, too. I truly was.
So all of that is to say…Happy Birthday, Mom. You left us way too soon. But know this – I carry you in my heart every day. And that twinkle in your eye? It found its way to me.