If you're having guinea for Thanksgiving dinner today, raise your hand.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, raise your hand.

OK, I'll explain.

I don't remember ever seeing a turkey when I was kid.

Guineas were our big meal on Thanksgiving Day.

And you didn't find them in the grocery store.

They perched in the rafters of my grandmother's barn.

Up over the hayloft.

Those birds were ugly as sin and as noisy as a bad neighbor.

Somebody described them as looking like "an AWOL Army helmet."

But they made a cheap security system for isolated farms.

A prowler might slip past a dog.

Dogs do sleep.

Guineas don't.

If you've ever heard one, you won't forget it.

Their screams will curdle your blood and haunt your dreams.

The birds rarely weigh more than 3.5 pounds.

But the bones are small, so there's a lot of meat.

And they made a fine Thanksgiving feast.

My grandmother always had a yard full of guineas.

And she was happy to share.

We'd usually go out to her place on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.

After church.

That meant it was good and dark outside.

We'd pull up in her front yard.

And the racket would start.

Some of the guineas roosted up in these huge trees in front of the 19th-century farmhouse.

Those trees didn't have a limb within 30 feet of the ground.

see guineas/page b3

And none of us was particularly good at shinnying.

So we'd head out to the barn to catch the ones that roosted in the rafters.

Of course, they knew we were coming.

The tree guineas were screaming at the top of their lungs.

Fortunately, I was too young to do the catching.

My father would climb up the ladder to the loft.

And I got to hold the flashlight.

Keep it steady, he would say.

Right in their eyes so they can't see.

Have you ever seen a scared kid hold a flashlight steady in a dark barn while guineas are screaming like Judgment Day?

It doesn't happen.

Sometimes Daddy took his .22 rifle.

Sometimes, he just tried to throw a gunny sack over them.

Either way, it made for our biggest adventure of the year.

Of course, when we got it home, the guinea had to be scalded, plucked and cleaned.

I didn't have to do that either.

I just watched.

Which made it more fun.

I'm not sure why my grandmother stopped raising guineas.

But it wasn't long before we were eating turkey like everybody else.

It was sure a lot easier than messing with guineas.

But somehow, I don't have any memories of shopping for turkeys.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com.

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