By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/25/2020
Posted: 11/26/2007
Updated: 11/12/2015
Topics/Keywords: #Thanksgiving Page Views: 4942
The life story of your Thanksgiving dinner.

Ernest was a young, somewhat overweight, turkey who was beloved of his few friends and whose death shortly before Thanksgiving of 2007, while not unexpected, was still a tragically beautiful footnote to the whole Circle of Life.

This is his story.

Where's Ernest?

Ernest was hatched on a poultry farm one rainy Wednesday into a large family, as he was born in an incubator with some two hundred others, so he never really grew close to his siblings.

Ernest didn't know his mother, either; and he had no father as his was a virgin birth. His early days were spent crowded with other fuzzy baby turkeys. A special treat was mealtime, when he and his adopted brothers and sisters ate the high-protein mash presented to them. Ernest, a robust young poult, always managed to eat a little more than the rest, a trait he would carry with him to the end of his young life. As soon as he could feed himself and locate his own water, he was released into the World. Since he could never clearly remember his infancy, the World was all he knew. Only the gods could come and go from the world. For turkeys, sharing quarters in the World with 25,000 other turkeys wasn't without its travails. Sometimes, Ernest's temper would snap and he would poke at one of the other turkeys with his beak. However, this behavior was noted and one day, one of the gods came and removed one-third of his beak. The process was painful, but Ernest found he could suck up his mash even faster afterwards and so didn't mind so very much.

Earnest in love

One day, Ernest fell in love. Her name was Angeline, and she was a saucy little vixen with a delightful wattle and a twinkle in her eye. The couple decided then and there that they would make little baby turkeys. However, there was no privacy. And when they decided they didn't really need privacy, they discovered to Ernest's chagrin that his breasts, which were far larger than Angeline's, made it impossible for them to make love.

Ernest's weight was also causing hip distress. As it became more difficult for him to walk, he found himself simply remaining near the feed trough so he wouldn't have to walk there at mealtime.

Ernest's hips caused him so much discomfort that he found himself listening to another tom named Constantine. According to Constantine, all physical ailments were the result of "bad thoughts". So Ernest tried to think only good thoughts, but his hips remained stiff.

Another influence was the charismatic Betsy. Though small, Betsy had a loud voice and she encouraged all the turkeys to pray and make offerings to the Gods of the Turkeys. These were giant, wingless creatures who wore amazingly beautiful feathers and brought them food from outside the World every day, and, occasionally, struck terrible vengeance for transgressions, like removing part of Ernest's beak. The problem was that it was impossible to know what, exactly, constituted a transgression. According to Betsy, all turkeys were born with "original sin" and were destined to be punished for it; but the punishment could be minimized and perhaps even favor curried, if the Gods could be given an offering.

Before Betsy could specify what form that offering might take, the Gods entered the World and took her and the other females, including Angeline, to Heaven.

This Rapture, which Betsy had predicted, was no less shocking because of that. Ernest began to consider the afterlife more frequently. Not during meals, certainly, but for much of the time in between.

One day a stranger came into the World from Heaven. His name was Kutkuwic, and his story was an unbelievable one. He claimed that outside the World, was another world, one in which the sky was blue and the light in the sky disappeared at nighttime, only to reappear each morning. Sometimes water fell from it, and sometimes very cold feathers he called "snow". Instead of the Gods feeding him, he had to feed himself; and there were small living creatures in the floor for that purpose.

Most amazingly, Kutkuwic could fly. However, he didn't do it often because there was no place to fly to. One spot of feces-covered sawdust on the ground was pretty much like any other. Besides, the other turkeys couldn't get out of the way fast enough for him to land.

Kutkuwic and Ernest became friends, although each found the other's dialect somewhat difficult to understand. Kutuwic confessed that he had a premonition. "I think," he said, "that I used to be in Heaven, and was cast out into the World. But I think it was a mistake, and that we shall all be taken soon into Heaven."

Ernest didn't really care, as long as the mash was good and plentiful.

Ernest was still sleeping when, early one morning, the gods came into the World wearing gloves and carrying dull wire boxes. One by one, the gods picked up each tom and stuffed him into a box. Some of the turkeys panicked, and began running to and fro. But how can one escape the gods? Ernest was one of the last to be chosen; and as he sat in his metal cage he tried to keep calm. "Soon I'll be in Heaven," he told himself.

There was a brief flash of the Heaven Kutkuwic had described, the sky above such a brilliant blue that Ernest could hardly stand it. But then he was in another World-like place, his cell amongst others at his sides and above and below. There was a stunned silence, broken over by a few forlorn gobbles, and then a sudden shaking and jolting of the entire place. The jolting continued, sometimes hurling Ernest against one side of his cage, sometimes another. This went on so long that, despite his anxiety, Ernest eventually fell asleep.

When he awoke he was ravenous, but there was no food to be had, nor water. He was drenched from the droppings of the turkey above him, and retaliated by pooping freely on the poor tom below. This intolerable situation went on for days, or at least what seemed to be days—at least, Ernest fell asleep three times. Ernest had ceased to be hungry, feeling just an aching hollow within. He had just resigned himself to this being the afterlife, when a sudden light flooded the compartment and gods began removing the cages.

"Thanks, God!" Ernest gobbled, though the god who carried his cage didn't respond. "Please, take me out of this cage and into the World again! If you will it," he added, devoutly. Then, as if in response, the god opened Ernest's cage. But just as Ernest began to hope his imprisonment was over, the God flipped him over and shackled him by the ankles upside down, onto some sort of moving conveyor.

The pain in his hips was so intense Ernest tried to cry out; but his throat was so dry from dehydration he couldn't even croak. It was hard to make out where he and the other terrified turkeys were going, what with being upside down and being out of the World and in a place filled with unfamiliar, nameless things. But there seemed to be something like a small food tray filled with water up ahead, and the toms' heads were being dunked into it. Ernest was so thirsty he didn't mind a bit, and could only hope there would be a trough of mash to follow.

Ernest reached the trough, and his head immersed—and immediately, he lost consciousness.

After awhile, as if in a dream, Ernest found himself floating alongside his body. He could fly! But he wasn't even moving his wings. His panic gone, Ernest became aware of his friends near him, also floating, disconnected from their dangling bodies. There was curiosity but no fear, not even when a blade sliced the heads off the unconscious turkeys.

Now, Ernest's hips were no longer in pain; his beak felt whole again. And here, he felt, was Angeline!

"Ernest," she said, soundlessly, "I've been waiting for you. I've learned so much! This is the afterlife, not that cage you were in. The cage was simply a way to get us to it. Now, we get to enjoy the most beautiful surroundings, to learn and, when we feel we are ready, to return to a greater World than we left, as any type of being that we choose!"

Ernest and Angeline flew away from their decapitated bodies and spent an endless timelessness learning about reincarnation, the essence of themselves, and how the gods weren't gods at all, but merely other creatures not all that different from themselves. And they learned the range of choices they had for rebirth.

Kutkuwic decided to be reborn, again, as a "free-range" turkey. "That's what I was," he explained. "I was thrown into your enclosure by mistake. This time, I'm going to do it right." His presence evaporated, and Ernest knew Kutkuwic had gone to his new life.

Betsy declined to be born again as a turkey. "But if you change species," Angeline reminded her, "remember you will be doomed to be a misfit; for it takes many lives within a single species to learn how to work it effectively."

"I don't care," Betsy insisted. "Because I don't intend to change to fit my new species. Instead, I will work to force everyone else to live as I prefer."

"How will you do that?" Ernest asked, fascinated in spite of himself. He had never really forgiven Betsy for convincing him that "good thoughts" would heal his hips.

"I shall become a Southern Baptist televangelist," said Betsy; and, with that, vanished into her new life.

"I had a great time selling you suckers patent medicine," Constantine gloated.

"But you were taking advantage of us!" Ernest protested.

"I thought so, too," Constantine admitted. "But now I realize I was simply helping you to grow, by letting you experience as victims what you had the inclination to do as perpetrators. It helped you break through your innate gullibility. After all, you can't be turkeys forever!"

"So you will, again, be a turkey charlatan?" asked Angeline.

"No turkey, I!" Constantine cried. "My next life time, I am going for the big time. I shall become a Republican President!" And he was gone.

"And you, my dear?" Ernest asked of his remaining companion. "Will you also become one of the gods—I mean, a human?"

"For mercy's sakes, no!" Angeline protested. "I want—well, what I want is to fall in love with you again. I want to be born, and stumble into you, and fall in love. And this time I want to be able to make love, and have babies with you."

"It would be nice to be a father," Ernest considered. "But I would still like to be able to eat, and get good and fat, only without hurting my hips this time."

Smiling at each other, Ernest and Angeline parted and descended back into the World. And one rainy day in deepest winter, each was born to a mother bear in separate dens only twenty miles apart.

Ernest: We knew him well.

Meanwhile, Ernest's earthly remains were, under the care of Costco, delivered to one Michael Manion who seasoned them, and cooked them at 325 degrees for five-and-a-half hours and served them at a Thanksgiving feast for fourteen along with yams, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries, a corn casserole, glazed carrots, and buttermilk biscuits and stuffing; and for days afterwards as leftovers.

It's all part of the Circle of Life.

The irony of which will be appreciated by Ernest the Bear when he grows up and eats a vacationing poultry farmer.