Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ben Was Right! T Is for Turkey by Tanya Lee Stone

Old Ben Franklin was on to something when he nominated the turkey as our national symbol.

A modern slang synonym for "clueless loser," the turkey gets none of the respect he deserves. Knocked out of contention by his slicker, sleeker, (and more bellicose) relative the bald eagle, the American turkey has proven his staying power far beyond that of that famous raptor. Wild, hardy, elusive but sociable among his kind, he has remained a survivor for over 400 years who, despite his tastiness, has steadfastly refused to go extinct while sharing the continent with his human predators.

Adaptable and resilient, the American wild turkey now lives comfortably close to us non-natives, even (if news reports are to be believed) chasing down Massachusetts matrons unloading groceries from their minivans in search of a meal of their own.

And truly, we owe the turkey a treat or two. He's lent himself to celebratory meals, countless low-fat deli sandwiches, and endless elementary-school art projects, even subjecting himself to an inglorious worldwide domestication which has made a travesty, albeit toothsome, of his sleek shape, all the while maintaining a robust remnant which refuses to give up its wild ways.

What a bird! What a fine and nuanced symbol for America! Ben was right!

Tanya Stone's celebration of the turkey and all things Thanksgiving, T Is for Turkey (Price Stern Sloan, 2009), puts this fine bird right up there on the title page, along with other proud symbols of our most uplifting national holiday:

A Is for American story,
Our school play will tell.
Some myths we'll set straight;
Other facts you know well.

Stone's engaging alphabet rhymes point out that the Pilgrims dressed in bright as well as dark colors and that the local "Indians," the easternmost dwelling ones, actually called themselves the Wampanoag, or "people of the light," being the first to see the dawn over the Atlantic each day. In her entries for the letters H and L, she gives credit to Sarah Hale and Abraham Lincoln, who saved the local custom of Thanksgiving for the whole country by making it a national holiday. Massasoit, Samoset, and Squanto get their alphabetical due, and Stone doesn't stint that national characteristic which itself enabled that first harvest celebration:

Q is for quit,
Something we'll never do!
We're determined to carve out
A life that is new.

And that legacy, from those early settlers and from that beneficent bird which helped sustain them and us to this day, should fortify us this and every Day of Thanksgiving!

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