This scene from my upcoming seventh book, A Good Place, is set in Piney Woods in western Louisiana in 1863. The characters in the story, 13-year-old Mayo and his PaPaw (Willard Clark) are discussing Mayo’s father’s (Joe Moore) decision to join the Southern army in the Civil War encroaches on their part of the state.
It is told in “first person” by Mayo Moore, 12 year old son of Joe and Eliza Moore.
“A Lesson from a Dead Turkey”
He waited for this to sink in. PaPaw knew I valued his words highly, so he was careful about what he said. He pulled out a twist of tobacco. Cutting off a plug, he began working on it.
After chewing it for a minute or so, he spat. “You know that’s why your Daddy’s going, don’t you?”
“He’s going—to protect you, Colleen, and Patrick—to protect all of us. He ain’t abandoning you. He’s going to protect you.”
He sat on a nearby log. “Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I was over near the Big Pasture the day after a woods fire. The fire must’ve been hot from how blackened the trunks were on the big pines. As I walked through the area, stumps were still smoking and the ground charred.
“I chanced upon an unforgettable sight. In a clearing lay a dead turkey hen, kilt in the fire. It surprised me, because I knew a turkey could fly away from a woods fire.
“So I went over for a look-see, poking the dead bird with my boot.
“Its feathers were scorched, but when I kicked its body over, there were several dead chicks underneath. However, there was one more thing: a small chick, chirping weakly, had survived the fire.
“The hen protected her chicks by covering them as the fire swept through. She could’ve flown, but she didn’t.”
He shifted his chew around, adding, “That’s some good tobacco you boys brought home.” I loved the smell of tobacco, something I’ll always associate with my PaPaw. “What’d you do about the baby chick?” I asked.
“I scooped it up and put it in my shirt pocket and brought it home. I still got it—it’s that big tom I call ‘Lucky’.”
“That’s a good name for him, ain’t it?” I laughed.
“It sure is. Now, don’t it amaze you how God put it in the heart of an animal to protect its young—even at the expense of its own life.” He paused letting that statement sink in, before lifting up my chin.
Staring straight into my eyes, in a way I’ll never forget, he said, “Son, your daddy’s doing the same thing for you, Colleen, and baby Patrick. Trying to cover you from the fire.
“One day you’ll have family of your own, and gladly be willing to take on a fire, a storm, or a bullet for them, and then you’ll understand about what your Daddy’s doing.
“You’ll realize one day—not now, but one day. I know you’re mad at him for going off to the war, but in his own way he’s trying to do for y’all what that ol’ turkey did for her babies—protect them.”
“Now you’re going to have to be the man of the house with your daddy gone, but you can do it. You got good blood in you. You got the best of both of your parents in you. You’ll do jes’ fine.”