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The Thanksgiving Dinner That Flew Away

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 11/25/2004

The Thanksgiving Dinner That Flew Away Transcript

“A Thanksgiving Dinner That Flew Away” is a poignant story about a cranky gander and a beloved son lost at sea that appeared in the juvenile periodical St. Nicholas in November, 1883. Hester is a young girl arriving on Cape Cod to spend the summer with her Aunt Targood. She has been left at the gate, and as she walks up the long path through a meadow to the house, she remembers how last summer she had been attacked by her Aunt’s mean gander and now, she suddenly sees a head and a very long neck running along on the ground, propelled by a dark body. It is heading toward Hester with great speed, honking loudly and imperiously. Hester drops her bags and runs, jumping the stone wall that separates the meadow from the road just ahead of the speeding angry fowl. The commotion brings Aunt Targood out the front door armed with a broom to shoo the gander away. Later, Hester asks her aunt why she keeps the bad-tempered animal around year after year. I keep him, she answers, because he knows something that no one else knows and she tells Hester the story of her son Nathaniel. Ten years ago, Aunt Targood and her two sons, John and Nathaniel, worked very hard on the farm, but they couldn’t make ends meet. In order to earn money, Nathaniel volunteered to go to sea on his Uncle Aaron’s ship to earn some extra money. In the early fall, when it was time for Nathaniel to leave, Aunt Targood gave him one of the geese she had on the farm to fatten on shipboard and have for his Thanksgiving dinner. The next morning his mother watched Nathaniel walk toward the road with the gander struggling under his arms. On top of the hill, Nathaniel stopped and held up the gander in a farewell salute.

Several months later, on Thanksgiving Eve, Aunt Targood was just about to drift off to sleep when she heard a loud honking geese noise in the barnyard. She got out of bed and looked out the window to see a gander that looked very much like the one she had sent with her son. The next morning the gander looked at Targood and gave a cheerful “honk” as though he knew her and was glad to see her. She was certain that this was the gander that Nathaniel had lifted into the air from the top of the hill. It was Thanksgiving and this bird was to have been Nathaniel’s Thanksgiving dinner. Where was he? Where was the ship? That was ten years ago and Nathaniel never returned.

“That gander knows something.” Aunt Targood concluded. “Birds have memories. He remembered me and I am sure he knows and remembers what happened to Nathaniel. I wish he could talk. And that is why I will never sell him and I will never kill him, and will only ever gently shoo him away with a broom, never a whip or a kick, because he knows what happened to Nathaniel.” And that’s the story of the Thanksgiving dinner that flew away.


Butterworth, Hezakiah. “A Thanksgiving Dinner That Flew Away” in St. Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, Vo. XI, No.1. November 1883, p.13-15.

Posted in Holidays, Magazines