Last Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 24, I put my hatchet away and sat down at my desk to find the right words to tell the Pomona College community that Miss Henrietta Gobbles, a turkey whom Isaac Kastama PO ’11 and I had purchased to kill and cook for Thanksgiving, was deemed unfit for slaughter and officially pardoned. On Walker Beach, Isaac and I tried to stand tall as we read Miss Gobbles her crimes (which included such heinous offenses as snuggling with humans and impersonating a dinosaur) while an intrigued group of students gathered around to share pumpkin pie and visit with our new feathered friend. The announcement of Henrietta’s pardoning was met with a round of applause, and shortly afterward Isaac and I officially closed the ceremonies and took Henrietta back to her off-campus home. Fortunately for Miss Gobbles, the end of this ceremony marked a new beginning for her. I say fortunately, but in truth she isn’t lucky—she’s special.Turkeys are odd birds, and Henrietta is no exception, but some would argue that humans are much stranger beasts. Isaac and I serve as strong evidence for this argument. We hatched the idea late one night during a poker game in Lawry Hall just as we emptied the last few drops out of our bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey. Afterwards, we searched far and wide to find a vendor somewhere amidst the urban sprawl of the Inland Empire who would sell us a live turkey. We told our plan to friends, all of whom asked how in the world we were going to transform a clucking, walking, breathing creature into the centerpiece of a feast. I readily assured them that it would not be a problem. I’m from Virginia, after all, and my granddad was a farmer. I’ve been hunting turkeys every spring since I was knee high to a grasshopper and have an extensive knowledge of game preparation. I also assured them that the act itself would be done humanely with one blow from a hatchet.Much to our surprise, the plan was well received by everyone we talked to. Even our vegetarian friends had to concede that we were being sustainable and taking the moral high ground. By purchasing a hand-raised, free range turkey we were effectively boycotting the poultry industry and its questionable treatment of animals, and as two of the most carnivorous individuals on campus, we were forcing ourselves to come to terms with what it really means to eat meat.Our wild idea became an even wilder reality on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when Isaac and I drove my truck to Maclin Open Air Market in Ontario, whose website boasts an extensive and eclectic list of attractions including shoes, carpets, barber services, and of course live exotic and domestic birds. We had no idea what to expect when we paid the 50-cent cover charge and walked through the big wooden gate, but it seems unlikely that our meandering imaginations ever could have envisioned the scene that awaited us. For those of you who have never been to Maclin market, I suggest you make the journey on some sunny Saturday when you’re feeling fed up with the bubble mentality. I doubt there are many other places in the world where you can stand next to a farmer bidding for a heifer in a livestock auction while you casually sift through a bin of Neil Diamond and Steve Winwood records. After the initial shock wore off, we regained our sense of purpose and set out in search of a turkey. As fate would have it, there was only one turkey for sale that day at Maclin market. She was standing by herself in a tiny enclosure not far from the main entrance of the park where a group of children crowded around her, gawking and taunting. After a brief inquiry and inspection, we paid a modest sum of money and walked out of Maclin market with a live turkey tied up in a burlap sack.Most domesticated turkeys are white and have been selectively bred over the years to maximize meat production, often at the expense of their mobility and general health. Our turkey, however, shares lineage with her wild cousins and looks exactly like them. Standing roughly three feet tall with iridescent brown feathers, full quills on her wings, and a red crest on her blue head that stands up whenever she gets excited, this turkey is a beautiful and healthy hen, and as we would quickly learn, she had a personality to match.Our first fortuitous decision was to give our turkey a name. The original plan was to call it Tom, which is the generic name for a male turkey, but being that our turkey was very much a female, it somehow didn’t feel right. So we settled on Henrietta Gobbles.Henrietta turned out to be a social butterfly, and she made friends fast. We quickly discovered that she liked going on walks, for which purpose we fashioned a long leash out of a piece of rope, and, most importantly, we discovered that she liked people. We tried to keep our resolve strong, but Isaac and I were both miffed. She liked eating out of our hands, she cooed ever so pathetically when we petted her, she followed us around and allowed us to pick her up, and one afternoon while I was studying, she somehow managed to hop up into my lap where she calmly rested her head and settled down for a nice nap. What strange series of events made Henrietta the way she is we will never know, but one thing seems crystal clear: Henrietta Gobbles is no ordinary turkey.I’m not sure who caved first, but it doesn’t really matter. We both rationalized and reasoned our way out of it a thousand different ways and decided that we could not kill our pet. Across campus, she’d become an instant celebrity, but mainly she had stolen our hearts. For whatever unimaginable reason, she had decided to trust us. To betray this trust and put the hatchet to her sweet head seemed tantamount to slaughtering innocence itself. Harvesting an animal for a meal has never bothered me, but I don’t think I could look at myself in the mirror the same way if I had killed Henrietta.
Thanksgiving came, and a group of juniors gathered at the cottages to prepare a traditional feast. We decided to eat our meal outside because the weather was so nice, and as it turned out we all gathered around Henrietta as we ate. It wasn’t quite how I had envisioned, but our turkey, albeit alive instead of stuffed, was still the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner. And as we said our blessing of thanks giving, I realized that what matters most at Thanksgiving dinner is not the food, but rather the hands that have prepared it. If I learned one thing from this whole experience, it is that the human capacity for love and empathy should never be underestimated. Rationality and reason go out the window when Miss Gobbles cocks her ancient-looking head sideways and looks you in the eye as if to say, “I’m not as dumb as you think I am.” Maybe she’s right. In the end, she won.