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How Badly Do You Want a Turkey?

Picture a young missionary family in Warsaw, Poland living a covert, double-life behind the Iron Curtain. In the darkest days of the Cold War, immersed in the culture of a nation not their own, they still sought to pause and celebrate their own American Thanksgiving. The following is a true story.

“Hold the plucked bird over the gas flame of the stovetop to remove the remaining fuzz on the flesh.” Disgusting.

Imagine Thanksgiving without a turkey! Our problem loomed larger with every passing day. Outside America, the nations of the world feed and fatten turkeys for December, not November. We were stuck.

In hopes of negotiating a November turkey, my husband Larry and I bundled up and drove downtown to the Warsaw Farmers’ Market. Trudging through the open-air stalls, we located a semi-friendly vendor who cautiously agreed to do business with us as foreigners. In rudimentary Polish, we arranged to collect an early turkey in time for our Thanksgiving holiday. To guarantee the transaction, we paid in advance and set a date to return.

Ironically, God used a turkey to teach me of His kindness.

A couple of weeks later, Larry and I made our way back to collect our purchase. Dodging puddles, we shoved past shoppers and merchants, and schlepped down the narrow uneven concrete aisle of the make-do shelter where villagers came to sell their wares. Past the pickle barrels, past the potato bins, past the slabs of hanging pork, we traipsed.

Just as we rounded the last corner, our agreement came into view. Shabbily wrapped in pieces of old newspaper, our pitiful, scrawny bird waited for us. Oh—it was dead— but barely. Minus the head, “the rest” remained as our homework. What would U.S.D.A. think of this? (Not to mention CDC.)

Reluctantly, we collected our prize, placed him in the trunk of our yellow Fiat, and drove him home to begin the process of making him presentable, and yes…edible.

Hold the plucked bird over the gas flame of the stovetop to remove the remaining fuzz on the flesh. Somewhere, someone offered this suggestion. Before long, the singed odor permeated every crack and crevice of our small home, and my appetite for our upcoming feast steadily waned.

On Thanksgiving Day, the disgusting ordeal stayed with me. The End Product sat on the platter, but my mind served up pictures of its own. I gagged at the Technicolor memory of that nasty bird resting on the newspaper at the market, riding in the trunk of our car, and hanging over the flame in our kitchen. I choked down my portion of poultry and politely refused seconds. I was thankful all right, very thankful, to be done.

Another calendar year passed, and we were once again faced with the challenge of a turkey-less Thanksgiving. My memories of the previous disgusting ordeal still weighed heavily on me. Minus other options, we repeated the drill, and reserved another bird at the Farmers’ Market.

Amidst the busyness of life, the details of an upcoming raffle at our son David’s kindergarten barely bleeped on my radar. Small snippets of information seemed less than important.

Something being given away? A turkey? How nice. Did you say, “An American Butterball from the Embassy’s forbidden-to-outsiders Commissary?” Oh sure, we will buy a couple of tickets. Why not? I’ll even pray, “Lord, please let us win the Butterball. Please.”

And then…

A few days later…

On the street…

Outside a Warsaw restaurant, I heard someone calling.

“Debby, Debby, I am looking for you!” In the din of noisy buses and trams, I barely heard my name over the roar as Sandra (David’s teacher) jumped out of the taxi, and frantically came running to greet me. Clutching my children in the confusion and chaos of traffic, I wondered why she was so animated, and why she searched for me. Sandra wasted no time in making her point.

Shock gave way to overwhelming gratitude as it dawned on me that God actually heard my prayer.

“We just finished the kindergarten drawing, and guess what! You won! Your family won the prize of the American Butterball Turkey!”

The American Butterball Turkey. Did she say we won? No. No way! In utter amazement, I asked, “How could this possibly be happening?”

Shock gave way to overwhelming gratitude as it dawned on me that God actually heard my prayer. He genuinely cared about such a seemingly insignificant matter as a turkey.

Back in our home, holiday preparation differed drastically from the previous year. In stark contrast to the former bird’s smell of singed flesh, rich aromas of this buttery baking beauty wafted throughout. We gathered around for peeks into the tiny Communist oven, which was nearly too small to house the trophy.

Once the turkey was baked to perfection and reverently placed on a platter, we took photos of our family standing beside our roasted royalty. Carving the mega-monster 14-pound prize was ceremonial. The festive atmosphere continued as second and even third portions were consumed.

Suddenly, amidst the excitement around the table, I found myself overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude. The words of Psalm 34:4 seemed to be written just for me: Delight yourself in The Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

On a Thanksgiving Day decades ago, Disgust gave way to Delight. Ironically, God used a turkey to teach me of His kindness.

Article first appeared on  SohioVoice.com.

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