Tuesday, September 12, 2006


My grandparents--my father's mother and father--lived in a grand, rambling house on the corner of two busy streets in Canton, Massachusetts. This house, brown-shingled and green-shuttered--a very New England house--held magic and mystery for we young grandchildren who came for holiday celebrations, Sunday dinners, and drop-in visits.

My grandparents were farmers and business people, and among their many ventures was a turkey farm which they operated for several years. Down the broad, curved driveway of their home, next to the barn (which smelled of clean hay, grain, and burlap bags) were the turkey coops, where hundreds of turkeys gobbled and clucked through their days until someone wanted to eat one, at which time my grandfather wrung its neck, plucked its feathers, and handed it over to the customer. Business boomed during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and to this day there are people in Canton who remember my grandparents' turkey farm and remark, sometimes wistfully, that those were the best turkeys they'd ever tasted.

Running a turkey farm, like running a family, requires huge amounts of energy and devotion. There were seasons for turkeys: in the spring, chicks hatched and had to incubated in the farmhouse until they were old enough and strong enough to move into the coops. They had to be fed and watered daily, their coops had to be cleaned, and when night fell or the skies threatened bad weather, the turkeys had to be gathered and sheltered from the elements. Often, when my grandparents were visiting us at our home in a nearby town and dusk began to settle, my grandmother would become anxious and announce, "We got to get home and get those turkeys in." I imagined her standing in the turkey pen, shooing every last stray turkey into its coop before night--or the first raindrop--fell, unable to rest until she had sheltered her enormous brood of turkeys in warmth and safety.

Five years and two days ago, a dear friend of mine boarded a plane in Boston and flew to San Jose for a brief, routine business trip. And then the next morning, tragedy struck our nation and our lives. Knowing she was separated from her husband back East and unable to return home for who knew how long, we invited her to stay with us. So she moved from her expansive hotel room to our cramped, cluttered, often-chaotic house while the world readjusted itself. A few days later, she and I, and two other dear old (as in "long-term," not "aged") friends attended an impromptu service at our church to pray, remember, cry, and try to make sense of the events of the past days--and then went to a local coffee shop to do something normal, sharply aware that the changes to our world and our lives were permanent and irreversible.

My friend, whom I'd met in college, with whom I'd studied for a year in Japan, and with whom I later shared my first apartment, and who has remained close despite the three-thousand miles that now separate us, was in those few days a part of my brood. Like my grandmother, I needed to keep her sheltered in our warmth and safety until she could fly home to her husband.

I'm grateful we were here to do that for her. I'm grateful that she found some comfort and solace in our love. But I think there was more to it. Surrounded by all the fear, sorrow, panic, and uncertainty of those days, she and I needed to be reminded that there are greater things to focus on. That she was here during that time wasn't a coincidence: it was a reminder, a reassurance, that some things--like friendship, love, and God's sheltering grace--can never be destroyed.

© 2006 Marilyn C. Hilton


Camy Tang said...

Aw, that's a nice story. Makes me almost like turkeys. ;)


Dineen A. Miller said...

Very special, Marilyn. You're heart is so big. Love that about you.