Tom bristled, making an odd humming sound. Then he fixed Hailey with a beady stare: all wattle and beard.
Hailey ooched forward on her knees — dainty hand extended. Brave girl. Then she patted Tom tentatively atop his bald, wrinkled red, white and blue head. Tom gobbled explosively.
And 25 second-graders at Payson Elementary School jumped pretty much clean out of their skins — most especially Hailey Hall.
“It’s all right,” soothed teacher Jennifer Thomason, who’d brought in her own, backyard turkey to entertain the kids on the day before Thanksgiving — that annual disaster for Tom and his ilk.
“You have to gobble back,” she told the students, most of whom had never laid eyes on a turkey that wasn’t featherless, golden brown and accessorized with a dish of cranberry sauce.
“On three, let’s all gobble,” said Thomason, who first started bringing Thanksgiving turkeys to school several years ago, although Tom’s predecessor has since died of causes unrelated to Thanksgiving feasts.
Thomason raised her hands to conduct her gobblers: “One ... two ... three ...”
Twenty-five children gobbled happily.
A pause ... wait for it.
“GOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLEGOBBLE,” replied Tom lustily.
After that, the kids pressed forward happily, touching Tom’s bristling feathers here and there, amazed at the gleam of gold and blue and green in his plumage.
Hailey later professed herself pleasantly surprised after her first-ever close encounter of the turkey kind.
“I didn’t expect them to be that cool,” she said. “His head was squishy,” she confided, “like a brain.”
Aleja Hall, who just happens to have the same last name, observed, “It’s very sad that the first one died,” she said of Tom’s forerunner.
In the background, Tom gobbled manfully. Perhaps it had dawned on him that he stood likely to survive one more Thanksgiving, even without a presidential pardon.
Aleja considered the ironies of the world for another moment before she concluded, “but I’m still going to have Thanksgiving dinner.”