My grandfather’s brother Cecil lived in a sprawling shack/cabin/compound on top of a mountain in West Virginia. His grubby farmyard was inhabited by a melange of distant cousins, dogs, chickens, creatures, and sundry hangers-on. When I was little, my parents and I visited there a few times to get cut-rate domestic animals for our own farm.
The first animals we bought from Great Uncle Cecil were a pair of small woodland-colored turkeys who looked like they had hopped out off the whiskey label. They were caged when we got them–in hindsight, an ominous sign–but their beauty was very apparent. I was turkey crazy and had been begging my parents for some turkeys when, suddenly, Cecil had a pair of turkeys he was willing to part with for next to nothing.
We brought them home and released them into the poultry yard, but they were quite different from fowl we had raised from chicks. Upon hitting the ground, they instantly flattened down like infantrymen and, bobbing and weaving, sprang under the chicken house. Occasionally a suspicious beak would poke out, but they had no interest in the corn I was waving. From time to time, over the course of next week, we would notice a striped tail poking out of a rose bush or a russet shadow on the chicken house roof. One day they were gone for good (although my mother claims to have seen the hen one last time, beyond the fields, flying up into a tree at the wood line).
The local wild turkey population had been depleted by hunting and farming and was thin on the ground, then, suddenly, wild turkeys began to flourish again. Uncle Cecil’s feral turkeys clearly met up with partisans in the hills and brought much needed vigor. There is a huge flock on my parents’ farm today—a moving testament to unvanquished spirit.