Family Photo Album
My father Charlie is young, waiting along the side of the gravel road, gripping the handle of his square, metal lunch box in tiny fists. He squints at the sun and raises a hand to his forehead, remembering the bobbing backpacks of his three sisters, who disappeared long ago to walk home without him. Charlie rocks forward on his heels, then back, unbranded lunch box slapping his knees.
He considers whether it’s time to give up and head home. But then the familiar rumbling truck and noise of turkeys gobbling surges from the direction of the old farmhouse and Charlie’s eyes widen.
Charlie salivates at the idea of the special little dessert. The flavours. Oh, the flavours. Chocolate. Butter Pecan. Maple Walnut.
More important, though, is his father’s tired smile when Charlie opens the door of the turkey truck. The warm scent of cigarettes clinging to the passenger seat, cotton fraying, spilled coffee staining the dash—fading sun collecting in the rear-view.
My grandfather tells him, “Jump in. Let’s go to town. We’ll stop for fudge on our way back,” another fading sun.
This scene remains a glossy imprint of childhood for my father. A memory for generations, starting with Bill, passing to my father Charlie, then to me.
Over the years, I’ve overheard the late-night arguments between my mother and father about how poorly Bill and his new wife treat their forgotten family. I’ve seen my grandmother at a wedding, unable to look at Bill. I’ve seen the rumbling canyon that divides this family because one man wanted to start a new life and left his old one behind.
Charlie cannot believe he would be forgotten, so he remembers the fudge.
How to eviscerate a turkey:
- Once you have removed the head, use a sharp knife to slice the goozle so the trachea and esophagus can be dislodged. One inch below the hole where the eggs used to come out, slice into the bird all the way up to the breastbone. However, make sure you don’t pop the intestines.
- Stuff your fist into the bird’s cavity like a kid carving a pumpkin. Detach the entrails from the ribs. They should come away easily. Inside the cavity will be the gizzard. The bird doesn’t need it anymore so we can go ahead and take that out. Grab firmly and yank.
- Now the lungs. You can purchase lung scrapers at your nearest Canadian Tire, but only if you want to take the easy way out. Insert your hand into the cavity. You should be able to feel the lungs against the ribs and the spine. Sometimes they break apart, so keep pulling stuff out until you don’t hear the squish.
- Lastly, put the entrails into a bag and stuff this back into the bird. This will help retain moisture and flavour.
Family Photo Album
My father was raised on a turkey farm in Ontario. His family owned a small garden and they sold vegetables at local markets, but most of their income came from the long barn housing hundreds of gobbling birds. There was also a butcher plant and freezer on the property. The oldest of five children, it was an honour for my father to help Bill with the family business. He told me how they would eviscerate the turkeys and place the entrails in neat little bags. Then the bags got stuffed back inside the bird they came from.
“Did we kill on Mondays? No, we must have killed on Tuesdays because we went to Bala on Wednesdays,” my father explained, wading into decades passed. Bala is where they went for fudge as a special treat when Charlie would help his father take butchered turkeys to the market.
When Charlie was twelve, Bill decided he wanted a new life. He wanted to leave the turkeys behind. He separated from my grandmother, sold the farm, and packed up all five of his children to take them out west. A new family under those blue ‘Berta skies. My Grandma Marjorie was left alone in Ontario.
After only a few months of the five children settling into their new life in Alberta, their mother came home for Christmas. She had a mission to recover her lost turkeys. She arrived in her 1957 Chev Belair to pick them up from school. Only, in Alberta, the schools were split between elementary and middle school. My father, the oldest, was in the seventh grade—a big kid now. Big enough to be strong for his family when everything was changing. My three aunts were in grades four, five, and six. Marjorie only made it to the elementary school. I wish I knew why, but I’ve never had the courage to ask. She drove through the wet winter slush and parked where she had a clear line of sight to the front doors. As soon as she saw those familiar marshmallow children wrapped for winter, she waved them over to her car. “Get in quick! It’s freezing out here.”
My father received a choice from the court. He could live with his mother, sisters, and youngest brother. Or he could stay with his father and new wife. The father who gifted him a pen of turkeys to take care of, all by himself. The father who brought him along to Bala markets, bought him fudge. When my father made his choice, I don’t think he realized he wouldn’t see his sisters for years. I also don’t think he realized how hard it would be to watch his father start a new life because his first one wasn’t good enough.
And, you see, the thing about parenting is that you learn so much from your own. You learn from your parents’ mistakes, and you appreciate what they did right. But when you idolize them for being something they’re not, you don’t learn anything. And the cycle continues.
My father left us behind for the first ten years of my life. He was always out chasing that new job with a bigger paycheck, chasing those hours that kept him away for days—chasing that feeling of being good enough.
Little did he know, he was chasing a phantom feeling. The ghost of a little boy his father killed long ago.
Parents are your family. Family is supposed to make you feel at home. Home is where your heart is. It’s one of those words that’s supposed to make you feel warm and cozy.
“Home” makes me think of the dining room table that sat in my childhood house for thirty years, the sandy wood grain collecting scars and uncoastered cups breaking down the varnish. The underbelly sports two brass hooks like commas, linking together the two ends of the table. They unlatch with a metallic slap that will never leave my head. The two ends split apart. My mother keeps the extra panels in her bedroom closet.
Until a recent house fire, a sloppily crafted birdhouse sat in the back of my parents’ garage, buried beneath sawdust and history. I walked through the ash left behind by the fire, slate-grey flakes twisting in the air. Sunlight peered through jagged holes in the rafters like a nosy neighbor. It spied the hollowed-out shell of my father’s Hyundai lemon, now only a rind. I found the birdhouse—at least what remained of it—fused with a plastic trash bag. I made it in Kindergarten, on Father’s Day. A tradition of inviting dads to the school to make a craft with their children. Some kind father took pity on me being the only kid without a partner to help build that stupid birdhouse.
I had my birdhouse, twisted and warped by the fire.
Charlie had no house at all.
How to eviscerate a childhood:
- Once you have removed yourself from the head of the family, use a dull knife to cut the throat so it closes up when they’re twenty-five years old and people ask why they don’t want a family of their own. Collapse the breastbone.
- Scrape out the chest cavity like a pumpkin. Pull the entrails from the ribs. Inside the cavity is the heart. Grab firmly and yank. They’ve no more use for it.
- Time to scoop the lungs. Sometimes they break apart, so just keep pulling until you don’t hear anything. Lung scrapers can be purchased at your nearest Canadian Tire. But only if you want to take the easy way out.
- Lastly, stuff everything back in, slap ‘em on the back, and send them off to market.
Audrey Jamieson is a writer and editor who holds a degree in English and Creative Writing from Mount Royal University, where she won multiple awards for both creative and academic writing. Her research focused on speculative fiction storyworlds and the mimetic process occurring between author, text, and reader. She loves developmental editing for creative nonfiction and fiction. Her work has been published in temporary art installations, The Globe and Mail, Asterism: undergraduate literary journal, and The Writer’s Hearth. You can find more about Audrey’s writing and editing at audreyj.ca.