Wacky and Wonderful Library: Grandma had Alzheimer's
A short story by Kim Rosenthal, MD
Turkeys are funny looking. As adults, that is – cuz as poults they look a lot like chicks, and they peep like chicks when they’re lonely.
Raising a sole turkey made for a lonely turkey, and Grandma carried him about in her bra, between her breasts, keeping him warm and happy during the day. Grandma had Alzheimer’s and often forgot he was there — “My GOD, who put this little bastard in my bra!” — then she’d eye the critter and grow soft. “Ach, never mind. Leave the poor thing where he is.”
We had chicks, too. You’re not supposed to raise chicks and poults together because turkeys catch chicken-diseases real easy. But this lonely turkey cried all night every night, a desperate cheep cheep cheep, and the noise echoed through the barn and house. Something had to be done. At first we kept him indoors. He slept with Grandma, who started to remember somethings about turkeys, and things went well until he grew cumbersome and long-legged and too big to fit between her breasts. He kept falling out. Grandpa put his foot down. “I ain’t gonna have a teenage turkey sleepin’ in my bed every night. He’s gotta join the chickens.”
So Turkey became a chicken. Within a week, he was taking sand baths, raiding Grandpa’s vegetables, and roosting along with the best of the chickens.
Grandma chuckled when she saw him. “He’ll taste good, that turkey,” she said.
Turkey had a good old time, but he didn’t forget us. Often he stood outside the kitchen window, turning his head left and right as he watched us watch him, and he’d wander into the house at least once a week if we left the door open. He’d get lost indoors and whoop sadly until we helped him find his way out again. He was dumb, but that damned turkey’s whooping put people into action. He grew on us.
And there was the dilemma: turkey had become part of the family. How could anything that had slept with grandma and sat between her breasts be considered a meal? He was left alone and gained weight right fast.
Turns out turkeys aren’t meant to reach fifty pounds. Our turkey developed a right-sided hip dysplasia. He limped about. He stood on his left leg like a flamingo. By early November he stayed in the chicken pen all the time. We carried him out in the mornings to sit in the sun, moved him to a shady spot by early afternoon, and escorted him back into the coop by nightfall.
“Don’t worry,” Grandpa said. “All turkeys get depressed this time of year. He’ll get over it.”
So we fed him bits of bread and stroked his beak and neck to help him sleep. Then he couldn’t walk. We carried him about in the wheelbarrow. Grandma and he both sat under that big maple tree during the day: she in her wheelchair, and he in his wheelbarrow. She’d feed him pieces of bread and grass and stuff.
“Good meal, that turkey,” she insisted.
Turkey never did get better. “Turkey’s shouldn’t reach seventy pounds,” said Grandpa. By now Turkey was huge. Grandpa had a hungry look in his eyes. He was thinking about the vegetables he’d lost over the past few months. “Their little legs can’t take it. Cruel to let him go on this way.”
But we couldn’t kill him.
So we watched and waited. Watched and waited. Turkey got no better. He cried most of the time.
On January the first, we gave him a couple shots of Grandma’s best coffee brandy, topped that off with a bit of tequila, and let nature do its job. Birds don’t do well with alcohol. Turkey liked the taste of the coffee brandy/tequila mix and guzzled it down over a slice of bread, but he grew weary and top-heavy and soon fell dead asleep. I suppose intoxication was a nice way to go. Anyway, Grandpa was happy and carried him off in a very, very large box.
Out of respect, we ate him the next day. Or tried to. He was too stringy and tough and tasteless, and even Grandmother wouldn’t touch him. “Too dry, this turkey,” she said, staring off into the distance a moment. She shrugged. “Damned thing messed up my bra.”