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"The Turkey in the Living Room"

No matter where I am, "on the road again" is where I want to be - just 'me and Mike and a dog named Henry' - how I love being a free woman!


The Turkey in the Living Room

All rights reserved: Billie Kelpin Pagliolo Olmon

My cousin Lynn has a turkey in her living room - not a real one that runs around, of course; this one doesn't run anymore. It’s not the kind that’s lying on a Thanksgiving platter either, all glistening brown, stuffed with Jimmy Dean sausage and Pepperidge Farm bread crumbs, although this one is stuffed. This turkey is standing in a still pose on my cousin Lynn's carpet; and it's large, quite large-- almost a yardstick tall, I’d say, and half a yardstick wide. And it has feathers - lots of them - iridescent metallic copper/bronze feathers and white ones that spread out in a gigantic fan that makes the turkey look as if it could be in a Las Vegas dancer in someone’s surrealistic dream.

The turkey in my cousin’s living room is one she shot. I know because I asked. I could imagine myself not asking about this turkey in the living room. I hadn’t visited my cousin’s house in years when I first saw it, and there was a lot of other news to catch up on. Besides, my cousin’s house is filled with all manner of deer antlers and stiff open-mouthed fish displayed in the bedrooms and the basement Rec room, and I could have assumed this was just another creature that her husband Damon or one of her three sons had caught or shot or trapped or whatever else hunters do to get animals.

But I didn’t assume, and I did ask. Lucky for me. I heard the story, and stories are always important...especially family stories.

More than Just a Turkey

The story of the turkey in the living room is a love story of sort and a story of growth and change and pluck - the kind that’s different than what you do with feathers.

It’s hard for me to imagine my cousin Lynn shooting a turkey. She grew up in the heart of Milwaukee just like I did and played in the alleyways and on cement sidewalks instead of soft cushiony green grass. She rode the city buses like I did, sitting in the back ingesting noxious diesel fumes. She experienced the same smells of a Milwaukee morning - barley cooking in the breweries mixing asynchronously with boiling chocolate from the ambrosia house candy factory - all of which reminded us that we weren't living “out in the sticks” as my father called the place where the clean air abides.

My cousin’s childhood “house” was probably too far north of us to catch the distinctive smell of something similar to burning coffee pot handles that emanated from the Allen Bradley factory, but being spared that scent didn’t make the living any easier for my cousin. Lynn’s father had died when she was little and Aunt Sadie and my cousin and her brother lived in a converted bakery with cement floors. Now cement floors can be a kid’s delight - you can roller skate your heart out inside the house while your mom is at work at the tavern across the street. You just have to be careful that you don’t go crashing through the big plate glass window that frosts up in wintertime. You become strong living in a bakery whose baking days are long past and whose bathroom is a stool and a sink...barely. You become strong when there’s only bacon grease left to flavor the last few slices of stale Wonder Bread and when the only decoration on the wall is a grape sculpture of sorts created with purple thread crocheted around Miller or Schlitz or Blatz beer bottle caps. And you become strong when your mother dies when you’re only fourteen.

We Marry Into Lifestyles

Maybe it was my cousin’s Lynn’s pragmatic strength that, years later, attracted her to her husband, the guy who loves to fish and hunt. There’s a survival quality to hunters and a love of the challenge - the same survival quality of kids who grow up in the city across the street from taverns. But even though fishing and hunting were an integral part of my cousin’s family life after she married, I always assumed that through the years, she was too busy frying walleye or crock-potting turkeys to ever shoot one herself. But I was wrong and there was no denying the evidence of the turkey I almost tripped over in the living room.

When I asked my cousin about this somewhat ominous creature in her living room who kept starring at me, my cousin shrugged her shoulders and was very matter of fact. "I just shot it, she says and then she adds, "I thought we were going to take it home and eat it," as if apologizing for her trophy. She explains that it wasn't her idea to bring the turkey to the taxidermist to get it stuffed and preserved this way for all eternity. Nor was it her idea to put it in the living room under the lovely Sheffield sconces that she bought from a Home Interiors party.

"Go Get the Pictures, Doll"

But then her husband Damon fills in the missing pieces to the story. He explains that it was the first turkey she shot after all. He tells us how skillfully she learned the distinct calls of hens and toms. He paints a picture of the scene that day - how they hide behind the bushes and how Lynn calls out with her best hen imitation. He asks her now to make the sound. She does so reluctantly, and I'm impressed He continues the story and describes how, after a while, they see this huge Tom strutting out of the bush looking all around for the hen, how my cousin silently raises her shotgun and quickly takes aim and fires a perfectly clean shot, and then he adds, “Go get the pictures, doll.”. And I admire the turkey in the living room and note the variety of feather sizes and colors and I ask about the red thing at the turkey’s neck. And when I say good-bye, I pat the turkey's tiny head as if he were a good ole sweet dog.

Close to the Source

It’s been only a year or two since I saw the turkey in the living room. Since that time, my cousin Lynn has shot a buck and a doe. And for some reason, in spite of the fact that I once almost joined P.E.T.A. and would, myself, never own a gun or a rifle or shoot any living thing, I can't help but admire my cousin. I ask my daughter, the Vegan who eats only fruit and vegetables and eggs from free range chickens, why I am fascinated with these stories and why she herself listens and doesn’t cringe when I tell them. “Because, mom, she says, "Lynn and Damon are taking food close to the source, and they know what they’re doing and that makes it different.”

And when my cousin calls from her cell phone in a tree stand in the Fon du Lac woods or from a boat in Lake Mendota or a fish house on an icy lake, I too feel closer to the source of our relationship.


Ask About the Trophies

I’m glad I asked about the turkey in the living room. We should always ask about the trophies in our families’ homes and be willing to listen to the stories. Maybe we should never be so out of touch in the first place that a turkey can appear without our having heard about it.

Sometimes when my cousin calls, I think about the cold cement floors and my Aunt Sadie and her crocheted grapes. I think about the fact that who we marry changes everything - how the backdrop they bring with them helps determine our role in the play that we have chosen to star in. I think about the radio psychologist who tells us we have two chances in life to have a happy family, once when we’re little and again when we have our own. I think about the fact that we should never assume that someone stays the same. I think about my cousin’s three strapping boys and their wives who often hunt and fish with them, and about the turkey in the living room and the husband who calls my cousin, “doll.” And then I think about how happy it makes me to realize that my cousin Lynn has become this special kind of wealthy.

Milwaukee Polka Fun


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. According to one TV chef, what is THE best turkey dressing?
    • pork sausage and sage bread crumb dressing
    • the one your mom makes or used to make
    • walnut, raisin dressing

Answer Key

  1. the one your mom makes or used to make

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