The Turkey and I
Besides the family dog, the first pet that I truly had was the turkey.
I was about eight when Dad and my uncle bought a couple of turkeys home. For some reason, I took to feeding the turkey not as a chore, but as a “mission” of sorts. Feeding leftovers to the neighbor’s pigs was one thing, but taking care of the turkey was another. I even made the turkey gobble on cue: all I had to do was stand in front of it, jump around, and imitate Taz from “Tazmania.”
Until that fateful day when Dad decided that the turkey was fat enough to be killed. I was inconsolable: for much of the day I looked at my relatives as cold-hearted pet-killers. Eventually I relented: after a gift of a plastic robot and a talk with Dad over the facts of life, I sat down to one of the best pets I ever had.
It wasn’t exactly a good meal, though: my pet turkey ended up as adobo and afritada, not the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce of our 20th century colonial masters. It wasn’t bad – a rather earthy, gamey chicken – but a bit sinewy and rubbery. That’s the first and the last turkey we kept.
* * *
“Pabo” isn’t exactly the most Pinoy thing in the world, methinks. The turkey is just too big to be put in a coop, too high-maintenance to be fed, and is kind of a bad bet for avian lucha libre. It doesn’t taste that good either, at least from the turkeys I’ve had.
The first time I had the turkey-stuffing-cranberry sauce thing, it tasted rather bland, almost like cardboard. It’s poultry whose flavor can be vastly improved by drowning it in Knorr, or stuffing it with tanglad and wansoy or whatnot. You don’t see Andok’s or Baliwag’s spit-roasting the giant birds in their stalls, although I’m willing to bet that they would do a terrific job with it.
My aunt, ever the health-nut, thinks that turkey is more nutritious and better for the body than things like beef or pork. Turkey has somehow become the default meat in her house. There’s turkey burgers, turkey bacon, turkey ham, turkey breasts, but no amount of kitchen magic can ever make it taste like “real meat.” It’s alta sociedad stuff, methinks: a canon of taste, something that expands your carnivorous horizons beyond the pork and beef cuts that hang around in the talipapa, riddled with flies swatted away with makeshift swatters made with a bamboo stick and a shredded plastic bag. It’s the stuff of coffee shop eggs benedict, or if you’re up for a serving of healthy and tasteless salad sandwiches at Subway. It’s only good if you put enough sodium on it.
* * *
Pinoy-style Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated with turkeys, but pigs. Where I’m from, the pig is singed, boiled, and cut up in big chunks. There’s thanks right there: not the unctuous lechon that’s the pinnacle of porcine preparations in the Philippines, but good old no-nonsense pinuuran (literally: “burned”), with all the ritual about it. The dances, the prayers, and the offerings all make for a proper thanksgiving in its literal sense. Simply put, “giving thanks.” No Black Fridays here, aside from the usual mall sales.
Lately, though, there’s a spring of American-style Thanksgiving celebrations in the Philippines: not that it’s “wrong” or “colonial” or anything, but it does elevate turkey-eating in a nation that isn’t predisposed to eating turkeys, much less be bothered with all the brining and oven temperatures of cooking it “American style.” For all the stereotypes of “colonial mentality” (a very debatable concept: more when I feel like it) the celebration has all the trappings of a decidedly Filipino celebration. Like “casseroles” that feature good old kamote, or buttered corn and carrots that “look American,” and washed down with ever-reliable San Miguel (the real thing, not the European beer-flavored soda-water that’s been in vogue lately among uppity “connoisseurs” of beer).
It brings me back to the turkey Dad cooked: the animal I fattened, took care of, and sorta became my best friend at home. We weren’t able to eat much of it. Eventually, pots of leftover turkey made their way to our dog’s feeding bowl. Eventually, the poor animal got so tired of it I can swear she swore off poultry altogether.
Unlike the turkey, though, she was put to sleep humanely and was given a proper burial. So did the cat.