Dothan, Alabama—the day before Christmas Eve. It’s a humid 74 degrees outside. I’m sweating.
Welcome to South Alabama in December.
I’m in a truck with a coonhound, a hospice nurse, and an unruly Episcopalian. My wife is our driver. We’re delivering cooked Christmas turkeys to anyone who makes eye-contact with us.
My delivery partner is Katie—nurse and highly-decorated comedian. We’re appearing on doorsteps in rough parts of town. Homes with rotten clapboards, blue tarps on roofs, and old sofas on porches.
We enter an apartment. It’s a cracker box filled with cigarette smoke and concrete floors. A nine-year-old girl named Zion lives here with her granny. Her hair is in cornrows.
Granny is on an oxygen tank, smoking a Menthol Slim.
“Hi, Zion,” I say.
So, I hand her a turkey as big as her granny. She hugs the foil-wrapped thing.
“Merry Christmas,” whispers Zion.
The purest words I have ever heard.
We deliver to an elderly man who has two teeth. He’s tall, skin like rawhide. He’s sitting on a recliner in his driveway.
We hand him a turkey; his face is a lightbulb.
“May Kissmuss,” he says.
Same to you, sir.
We deliver to the government housing apartments. It’s a rough neighborhood. And I mean rough.
Think: glass pipes sitting on coffee tables, and six-year-olds playing with broken toys.
“Merry Christmas,” one little girl says.
Her siblings say the same.
That’s the phrase of the day. We’ve used it a hundred times within the last few hours. But today, it doesn’t mean what it usually means. It means more.
Anyway, this turkey operation didn’t happen on its own. The past few days have been a highly orchestrated hell for those planning it. Raising money, buying supplies, training volunteers, making lists, phone calls, and of course, the cooking.
You’ve never seen so many cooked birds. There are approximately—this is only an estimate—seventeen hundred gazillion trillion turkeys.
Harry Hall started this whole operation years ago. The idea started as a small Christmas barbecue for folks in need. It wasn’t long before others got involved and it turned into a block-party.
Today, it’s a county-wide goat rodeo.
Yesterday, fleets of iron grills on flat-beds arrived. Men in camouflage hats cooked all night. Fellas drank dangerous amounts of Anheuser Busch products and filled dumpsters with poultry guts.
This morning: the turkeys hit the highways.
Multitudes of volunteers came to help. All types. Attorneys, janitors, mill workers, single mothers, electricians, waitresses, youth groups, nurses, college students, recovering addicts, and derelict writers.
“Deliveries are fun,” says one volunteer. “When you have a turkey in your hands, you’re everyone’s best friend. And you should see the kids’ faces…”
I’ve seen my share of kids today. Good kids who are having hard times. Babies, dressed in rags. Children who are terrified of their own neighbors. Bullet holes in backyard fences.
And while I write this, I’m wondering what those kids are doing right now. I hope they’re watching TV, or eating cookies. I hope they’ve forgotten their problems for a night. I hope their tummies are full.
I don’t know where life will take them, I don’t if they’ll survive their circumstances. Odds are I won’t ever see them again.
Even so, if you should ever happen to read this, sweetie…
Merry Christmas, Zion.