Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome, Jim Whitaker

I've always been grateful for friends and really fresh turkey dinners.

While we were in fourth grade a buddy and I visited the poultry farm of one of his great aunts. She raised chickens, turkeys and several pet geese. I wanted to stay home and sit around bored, dreaming that someday someone would invent Wii. He insisted we go with his dad on a country drive to, well, the country.

It was near Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, Mo. But that's beside the point.

Great Aunt was a weathered 70 or 80, maybe 120. From birth she had been a farm girl. Without apology she still was as far as anyone was concerned. Anyone concerned – and with a sense of self-preservation - would not dare challenge her on that.

Our mission to the farm, I was told on the way, was to bring home some fresh poultry for the holiday. I wondered aloud how we were going to transport the livestock in the mid-size Ford.

In the trunk I was told. How does it breathe back there? My friend looked at me with the "how dumb are you" smirk.

Quietly walking among the noisy birds in the barnyard, Great Aunt, in a flower pattern dress and knee-high green rubber boots, her hair bobby-pinned back and her glasses perched on the tip of her nose, an old yellow dog limping behind her, sized up one of the bigger strutting turkeys.

Her reach near the speed of light made me jump. She grabbed the bird around the neck at the base of its head. Its eyes popped. She lifted the plump fowl 20 feet in the air. It didn't have time to plea bargain. With a whirling wrist she spun the turkey around – its beak to the south, its breast to the north - in a gnarled iron grasp.

Thud. The part of the turkey she wasn't clutching fell to earth, did a jig, ran over about 40 squawking, feathers-flying-everywhere chickens ... fell over dead.

The geese stood unconcerned near Great Aunt, unabashedly gloating with their obnoxious honking to the rest of the surviving birds that they had maneuvered themselves into the coveted pet status. If they were butchered, it would be the easy way. The axe.

Great Aunt smiled. "Happy Thanksgiving," she drawled with a polite pleasantness as she tossed the turkey's defunct head into a galvanized bucket near the chicken fence. The old yellow dog trotted to the bucket and stuck its nose in.

"Get outa that," she yelled. As the dog took off making more chicken feathers fly Great Aunt looked our way.

"Well, go claim your Thanksgiving dinner. Dress it yourself."
From that day forward I had a new and abiding respect for any old lady in a dress and rubber boots who told me she was going to wring my neck if I didn't stop whatever I was doing.

The bird thumped around in the trunk of the car on the way home as we rounded country-road curves. My friend and I poked each other.


"Hey that turkey is still alive."


"It's gonna get us. Killer turkey's revenge."


"Hey, dad," my friend yelled at the driver dad," the trunk is opening."



"Yeah, it's coming, it's coming. Better be glad it can't see us."
Thump. Thump.

"Look, it's peeking out of the trunk. There's its head ... oh, wait a minute ... erase that ... there's its neck."

Although saying nothing and pretending to tolerate us, my friend's dad, as he adjusted the rearview mirror and glared beyond us, appeared somewhat concerned about a dead limp bird banging around in the trunk of his Ford.

I heard later that normally he really enjoyed the Thanksgiving meal. That year, though, he didn't consume as much turkey as usual.
You have to wonder how he received the "mashed" potatoes and the kitchen "cut" green beans. Not to mention the "scalped" potatoes as we used to call them before we learned to spell better.

I never saw that particular turkey dinner after it got its head yanked off. My friend, after forcing me to share the dubious adventure on the farm, didn't invite me to the payoff Thanksgiving dinner. Come to think of it, I didn't invite him to our Thanksgiving dinner either. So he didn't get the payoff from the trip to the frozen section of the store when Mom forced me to go with her. So we're even. Hey, wait a minute, he didn't have to go to the store, I did. So we're not even.

And I had to go to the farm and listen to that clunk when the head hit the bucket.

You may wonder am I traumatized after 30 some years by my fourth-grader experience of seeing firsthand just what happens to a turkey before we get to eat it?

Nah. I love roast turkey.

I just need to get even with my friend.


Maryann Miller said...

What a wonderful story. I laughed out loud. Thanks so much for sharing this childhood memory.

Anonymous said...

Loved the story...Brought back old memories of my grandmother's farm...

Paige Ryter said...

Oh man...that was something else. Only a man could remember a story like that--no offense. Girls would've run off bawling (I have two daughters and a son). I think it's hilarious, though, that you boys tried to get the dad to think the turkey had come back to life. Hilarious!!!

Thanks for sharing!!!

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