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One of my readers commented about how much she enjoyed the fact that my “Swarm of Ideas” cloud ends with the words “Space Turkeys”, two very different topics which seem to be elided because apparently I write about turkeys as much as I write about the vast cosmos. Well, I don’t have any stories about space turkeys, but I did have a rocket turkey back when I was ten.
My family had no luck raising our first batch of turkeys, which had been semi-feral specimens obtained from a disreputable stockman. We next obtained a single pair of bronze turkeys, which are august and splendid birds. The hen, Brown Sugar, was our favorite bird ever. She would steal up to visitors, lay her head on their knees, and make delicate purring peeps of happiness as they stroked her iridescent feathers. Unfortunately the tom turkey, Biff, went a bit…off and started attacking everything red. Bronze toms are big: Biff probably weighed 50 pounds. Since our chicken shed was red (as was my mother’s coat) the situation deteriorated and Thanksgiving time found us with only the hen turkey. Brown Sugar was lonely, so next spring we ordered a large batch of bronze turkeys from the mail, and the flock of adorable little turkey chicks imprinted on me and followed me around field and hill as they grew to full size.
As all of this was happening, I was first tasting the joys of model rocketry. Rocketry kits pictured a seductive spaceship ripping through the heavens, but when you opened the package what you got was a lot of unfinished balsa wood, some derelict cardboard tubes, a cheap plastic cone, and an immense fold-out sheet of finicky instructions. You had to provide your own craft glue, exacto knife, and spray paint. Anyway, I visited Grandma that year and prevailed upon her generosity and craftiness to participate in my new craze. Together she and I built a “Starship Vega” (it was mostly Grandma who built it, since I lacked the patience to properly set the fins). But, when we went to launch it we discovered that the launching pad came separately! For months thereafter, the glorious Starship Vega set on a shelf, taunting me. I had to wait till my grandparents visited the farm and brought me a birthday present before I could launch the thing.
At launch time, turkey-raising collided abruptly with model rocketry. My flock of hand-raised bronze turkeys rushed over to see what my family was up to, and they were particularly curious about the rocket launch pad. They kept sidling up to the pad just as I was done counting down, forcing me to initiate safety procedures, remove the launch key (yes Estes provided a safety key), and run onto the launch field to shoo away my turkeys. Finally I got them all away from the miniature spaceship except for my favorite turkey, the dominant tom, Guy Smiley. Guy was once again closing in on the launch pad, but still within a roughly safe distance. All the other turkeys too started edging nearer. The sun was beginning to head down. I would never get a better chance. I pushed the button.
My rocket leaped into the sky with a mighty hiss and a great white gunpowder cloud. Poor Guy Smiley also leapt into the air. He weighed over 40 pounds so it must have been a dreadful shock that propelled him up above our heads. When he landed his poor head was a ghastly yellow (turkeys’ moods can be read by their head and wattle color, but this was the only time one turned yellow) and he uttered a weak croak before fainting and slumping into a heap.
In the mean time my rocket had turned into a distant twinkle above the cornfields. Would the shoot deploy? It did! But unseen wind currents carried the spent vehicle far away, over the Amish neighbors’ cornfield. I ran desperately, but it was no good—a botched recovery! For hours, I searched the August corn, until my mom called me in, but the Starship Vega was gone for good. Only months later did a report emerge: the Amish kids found it, and unable to comprehend the finer points of rocketry, crushed it to bits.
What about the poor swooning Guy Smiley? Less ardent rocket enthusiasts among my family rushed to his aid, but he was already recovering. After fifteen minutes of quivering, blanching, and muttering odd strangled chirps, he recomposed himself entirely. His head grew ruddy again, his tail fanned up, and he strutted around the other turkeys with greater vanity then ever–having alone braved the noble pursuit of the heavens. The incident also cemented my parents’ affection for Guy Smiley. The other toms from our flock all eventually encountered the block and the axe, but, like Brown Sugar, Guy is buried under the old apple tree with my other beloved childhood pets.