The Christmas season was fast approaching. The year was 1944, the war in Europe and the Pacific had swung in favor of the Allies, and the holiday mood was upbeat and festive in Dallas, Texas.
In those days, I was the foreman, laborer, and chief chicken plucker and poop scooper for the Harvey family Poultry Enterprises. My family was going to move into a more fashionable part of Dallas, and our wartime chicken-raising project would not be tolerated in the new neighborhood. I had butchered and dressed out all the fryers for our customers. Dad sold off the turkeys, laying hens, and George, the rooster, to a neighbor.
My grandmother, Nanna, who had lost her sight and lived with us, sat in the shade of our willow tree and plucked the feathers from the chickens I had butchered. Nanna had been raised in the 1880s on the Kansas plains and never shirked the drudgery of any menial job. She was an expert on all of the household skills like gardening, bread-making, and canning – skills needed to survive on the American Western frontier. She was an authentic pioneer woman.
Dad had kept one large tom turkey, whom I called Jake, for our Christmas dinner. Jake was two years old, weighed over 20 pounds and had a wingspan of six feet. Jake was difficult to handle and was kept in a large wire-covered coop. I think Jake knew what his fate was to be.
In those days the turkeys were rangy, half-domesticated long-legged birds that could easily outrun me and then take to the air to find refuge on any convenient roof top or tree. Because of Jake’s size and temperament, we were going to take him to a butcher to be dressed out for our Christmas dinner.
When the day came to collect Jake for the butcher, Nanna cautioned me to hook Jake’s legs with our long capture crook staying clear of the large bird’s wings and beak. Nanna knew all about wild game. My little brother, Paul, volunteered to help me subdue Jake, attend to the coop door and render any assistance I might need after I had cornered and subdued Jake and bound up his legs and wings. I would then haul the subdued turkey out of the coop.
Cautiously I slipped into Jake’s pen while my brother tended the door ready to assist me. One look at Jake told me this capture was going to be difficult. First the large bird darted back and forth in the very close quarters of his coop. My brother carefully opened the coop door and slid the capture crook to me. Jake had retreated to the back of the coop and stood in a semi-crouch with his large wings slightly raised and bright eyes fixed on me. Jake’s wattle and head had turned a grayish blue. I knew the signs. Jake was going to make a fight of it. In the cramped quarters of the turkey coop, I stooped down and slid the capture crook along the ground toward Jake’s long legs.
And then–Blam!–a black feathery explosion happened. I was hit solidly in the chest and face by one charging “pissed off” Texas turkey. Jake’s rush knocked me over backwards. The turkey took to the air, accelerated over me and out the coop door, wings furiously beating, beak and claws lashing before my brother knew what was happening. For large birds turkeys are very quick. Out of the coop, Jake lit out for the open field behind our house and flapped gracefully into the air, soaring away toward a distant tree line.
My face was scratched and bleeding, and I was covered with turkey dropping and debris. Nanna had heard the commotion as Jake made his escape, and when I came into the house to wash she was laughing and said that it was just as well that the cussed bird got away, because he would have been tough as shoe leather. We never saw Jake again, but he was frequently sighted around the neighborhood.
On Christmas day we had a ham with pineapple slices. The ham was basted with a wonderful sugar glaze that Nanna had prepared. We all enjoyed the tasty ham dinner, and afterward Dad helped me
to tear down the chicken coops and clean up the yard. As we worked, Dad said “I wonder where that dammed turkey ended up,” and as if on cue, from the distant tree line we heard “Globlagloblaglobla”.
Neil Harvey joined OLLI in 2006 when it was known as Learning in Retirement. Over the years since then he has taken many courses in history, philosophy, politics, literature, health and wellness. Neil is a co-founder and long-time member of the Tampa Bay Great Books Council and serves as the group’s treasurer. This post was originally published in Reflections, a collection of prose, poetry, photos and artwork by OLLI members published on our 20th anniversary. There are still a few copies available. If you’d like one, contact Charise via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Replies to “The Texas Turkey”
Neil, that was a great story! I always thought you looked like an “aristocratic” Brit, so to read that you were actuslly a Texan turkey farmer was quite an eye-opener. Loved it!
This sounds just like Neil! One small correction, though: if not a founding member, Neil came pretty close, as I remember him being active in our Learning in Retirement Institute (a precursor to OLLI) as early as 1995.
Loved reading this story. What a great education you must have had growing up. We had chickens in a chicken coop next to our garage. As a young child I could gather the eggs with my mother close by. I think having hens on your home property was soon outlawed so that was the extent of my “farmyard” experience. My brother and the boy next door would arrange a not so solemn drumroll on an upturned bucket as the next day Sunday chicken dinner victim met her sad end.