The Farm Chronicles: Thanksgiving Turkey

Uncle Bob and Aunt Dory, my mother’s sister, lived about two miles from us. Mom and Aunt Dory were very close. They talked every day and saw each other many times during the week. Uncle Bob was an honored WWII vet who worked at Ford Motor Company and also farmed. They had bought the old Owens farm. Dr. Owens grew up there, an old-fashioned doctor who actually made house calls. Each year, Mom and Aunt Dory went all out for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Being that our families lived so close, Mom would have Thanksgiving at our house and we would go to Aunt Dory’s on Christmas Day, since my Dad’s birthday was Christmas Eve and his party was always at our farm the night before.

Thanksgiving was a big deal—almost as big a deal as the L’Etoile Club where all the farm wives got together once a month for cultural exchange. The house had to be just perfect. Mom was always on edge to get things cleaned (as if anything was ever out of order—Dad always said Mom could spot fly droppings (my word, not his) on a pepper shaker. I remember one Thanksgiving when the well went dry and there was a whole lot of cooking that needed to be done. Mom took it upon herself to order water delivered to be put in the old well. When Dad found out, he made her cancel the delivery because the water would have just ran out in the low underground water tables. I thought I was witnessing WWIII because Dad was messing up Mom’s plans for Thanksgiving. The well replenished and everything was eventually OK.

This one particular Thanksgiving, my brother Chuck and his buddies wanted to go turkey hunting and bring back the Thanksgiving turkey. Mom wasn’t really sold on the idea, but Chuck had his charm and off the manly men went to get themselves a turkey. I remember when they brought that dead wild turkey into the house, Mom about had a fit that it was so messy. Chuck just took it to the kitchen sink and began plucking it. Well, that was taking a long time. So he decided to boil water and pour it over the turkey to loosen up the feathers. The smell of those dirty feathers and dead turkey still haunt my senses. It was terrible. Makes me a little queasy just writing about it. But now the whole house, while very clean, was full of that warm, boiled, feather, death stench. And it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Windows open and that cold Northeastern Ohio late November wind whistling through the farmhouse. And my Mom stewing about whether that smell would go away before guests arrive. It didn’t. Mom was embarrassed. Chuck was sheepish. Dad just smiled and passed the turkey. The rest of us kept our heads down and tried to make the best of it. After a while, everybody got used to the stench, but we were truly giving thanks when it was time to go out to the barn and do the chores. Fresh air! Well, fresher air. As the Lord’s judgment on Jerusalem in Isaiah 3:34 where “instead of a sweat smell there shall be stink,” we all learned that day, the best Thanksgiving turkeys are plucked outside.

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Bill Wilson