Over the last few years a Thanksgiving tradition has emerged in the Parker household. It starts way back in March.

Each Spring we talk to our local Turkey provider, Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl Farm, and find out what new turkey chicks have arrived. Throughout the year during our visits to the farmer's market, we'll get a tidbit of information on the progress of the turkeys. Sometimes the Turkeys are even highlighted in Dean's weekly newsletter. This year I believe they got out a few times and caused some havoc on a rainy afternoon.

My wife and I host the Thanksgiving meal for our family each year. Around October, we start talking about our trip out to the farm when we discuss the upcoming Thanksgiving gathering. We briefly wonder about how our bird is faring and if it will be large enough to feed our crowd. We drop Dean an email and see how the flock is shaping up and we have some conversation about the birds.

Once November hits, I enjoy telling the story of how we will be fetching our Turkey once again this year not from the sterile aisles of a local grocer, but from the muddy fields of Stanly County and the capable hands of our local farmer. I savor the uniqueness of our good fortune and tell tales of the tastes, flavors and aromas that rise from fresh Turkey roasting in our Thanksgiving kitchen. The anticipation builds.

Then, the big day arrives. We know that on Monday the "harvesting" occurs and the Turkeys are prepared. Tuesday afternoon, we load up with whomever is with us already - this year it was just my daughter and me, but in the past we have brought friends and family - and we head over the concrete highways, broad interstates and congested roads and break into the countryside with two winding lanes and few if any cars.

I'm always struck by the beauty of Millingport Rd at 3pm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. At one point, the trees break away to fields freshly cleared and the sky seems as large as I've ever seen it. The sun has just begun to cast the longer shadows of afternoon and the contrast is brilliant. This year, we passed three different flocks of wild turkeys (I assume "wild") out in the fields. My daughter and I sang some songs and we enjoyed our drive of just over an hour to the farm.

Upon our arrival, I was greeted with a very big smile and a hardy handshake. Dean and I spoke about business, mine in the virtual world and his in the earth's soil, and we connected as men do who understand the commonality in diverse experiences. Bubba the dog challenged my daughter to a nuzzling contest and won. Dean marveled at how much she had grown. We talked about the heritage geese he was raising and the tribulations of trying new things.

Another customer came up and I watched as they shared their experience with their farmer. They talked specifically about how they don't brine their bird because no one in their family ever knew how to cook a Turkey and it just didn't seem like Thanksgiving if the Turkey wasn't dried out and a little tough. The couple had driven nearly as far as I had and seemed just as taken with the experience as the purchase.

The afternoon was beginning to wane and another customer was coming down the road, so I knew it was time to make our purchase and head back to the city. We selected a large Turkey and picked out a few chickens Dean had been holding for us. He apologized for the price, but I quickly told him it didn't matter.

You see, once a year we gather to give thanks for what God has given us. We share a table with friends and family, some of whom we haven't shared with since last year. We talk about all that is good in our lives and for a day the drudgery of the bad is not with us. We celebrate. It doesn't take a Turkey from Dean Mullis to make that day, but the year long pursuit of a Turkey from Dean helps us remember the value of that day and builds it up to the wonderful day it has become.

Thanks Dean. You'll always have a friend and a Turkey buyer in me.

[originally posted on www.iMatthews.com]

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