The Magazine

The Turkey Vanishes

Claudia Anderson, on shaggy-dog tales.

Nov 30, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 11 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
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Whenever conversation turns to dog stories, especially tales of dogs' misdeeds, my husband bides his time, hanging back while others spin their various yarns.

I take my turn, reciting Nandi's depredations. The quintessential family golden retriever of my childhood, she used to leap the high fence around our yard and roam the neighborhood stealing shoes. I was marked for life by the humiliation of having to take a bag of chewed up shoes door to door to see if any could be reunited with their owners.

There was the time Nandi ate a dozen tickets to the Royal Ballet. They were expensive tickets, to be shared by two families as a special treat, and all that was left of them was a few soggy crumbs. Luckily, my friend Helen was supposed to come with us to see Swan Lake, and her mother--braver or more brazen than mine--took the crumbs to the box office and cried, and got us replacements.

Even in old age, Nandi was equal to downing a freshly constructed gingerbread house (think gingerbread Dresden). But after the gingerbread house, I'm done. I'll finish saying my piece and there'll be a pause. Then Bill will say, "That reminds me of the time Taimyr stole the Thanksgiving turkey."

What??? people will say.

No!!! they'll say.

Not the Thanksgiving turkey?

I never knew Taimyr (pronounced Tay-mar), but all who did testify that she was the ultimate alpha dog, a huge and exuberant Samoyed, beautiful and intelligent, too, and named for the Siberian peninsula that is home to this oldest recognized breed. She was the Anderson family dog who kept Bill company after he was widowed, and before and after that she played the starring role in many a legendary scene.

Never, though, with more spirited guile than the year she took advantage of the hubbub surrounding the arrival of Thanksgiving guests to slip into the kitchen, seize the bird, and carry it up two flights of stairs to an attic-like room, where she peacefully devoured it under a bed. The skeleton, picked clean, went undiscovered for weeks. And the assembled merry-makers had to order out Chinese.

It's a great story--until you think about it, and if you do it falls apart at the seams.

I thought about it the other day. For one thing, even a canine genius couldn't carry a roasted turkey two feet, much less up two flights of stairs, without leaving a trail of juice and drippings. Besides, wasn't it hot? The whole thing was flat implausible. I confronted Bill.

No, no--it seems the mental picture I had derived from hearing the story told and retold was all wrong. Taimyr did the deed before the turkey was cooked. I thought about it.

"So you had hours before dinnertime to adjust to the vanishing of the turkey? Are you telling me that in that time no one found the dog or the bird?"

Suddenly Bill's memory went hazy. I decided to consult another witness. I called his daughter Jennifer.

"I can't remember the actual finding of the turkey," Jen said, "but we must have found it that evening since Taimyr hid it under my bed.

"Also, that bit about ordering Chinese doesn't sound right. Mom always made a big Thanksgiving. I'm sure there was plenty to eat."

We both pondered.

"You know," she resumed, "it all happened when I was in sixth grade, a long time ago. I remember it mainly from Dad's retelling."

The vagaries of the oral tradition yawned before us. I held my breath. But Jen went on.

"When you get right down to it," she said, "it could just as well have been a Christmas roast."

Bill, however, isn't budging. He concedes he's fuzzy on what was eaten for dinner that Thanksgiving, but he stands by the heart of the matter. Taimyr was so clever at concealing her stolen treasure that days at least elapsed before the carcass was found.

As to the Christmas roast, he says that was another occasion entirely. That time the thief was caught almost at once, red handed, under the dining room table.

So the moral of the tale would appear to be: If you can't guard the meat, get the samoyed out of the kitchen. And maybe also, when it comes to family stories, have the sense to let sleeping dogs lie.

CLAUDIA ANDERSON