By Bob Huber
Now comes Thanksgiving Day with fond memories of family gatherings and succulent roast turkeys — you know, those buzzard-looking birds with Jurassic brains the size of peas and flapping wings strong enough to tear your head off.
One particular event in my family’s history had to do with 200 of those nasty gobblers. My father traded some hay for them, and although the incident took place when I was still a kid, I get cold sweats just thinking about it.
But first let’s talk about farmers back in those bygone days and how they lived by the Code of the Plow, Canon 8, Row 5, Seat 32, which said, “Lo, all farmers shall be incurable optimists or terminal dingbats, whichever comes first.”
You see, farmers back then didn’t dream of modern economic cushions like federal aid, wealthy widows, or kind-hearted bankers. Instead, they bet all they had on good weather, an expanding economy, and hereditary IQs. They lost on all counts.
But they never gave up. No, sir. Each year they hitched up their bib overalls and gambled on new ventures, then mulched their fields with shredded dollar bills.
Behind this ridiculous way of life was the fact that farmers in those days thrived on a myth that someday they would harvest The Mother Crop and pay off the bank. They spent their entire lives looking in vain for an elusive El Dorado of the Field, but their last words were always, “Doggone it, I shudda put in rutabagas.”
Dad was no exception. Year after year he vainly wracked his brain for signs of instant wealth. He wasn’t a good farmer — he drank too much — but our neighbors kept an envious eye on him. His hangovers gave him a bemused expression that looked like he secretly knew something they didn’t.
That said, I still remember the night he announced a new scheme. “Essie, I’m gonna raise turkeys this year,” he told Mom. “Could make a killing.”
“Killing is definitely a part of raising turkeys,” Mom said, employing her Nebraska wit. “How many birds you talking about?”
“A couple hundred,” he said. “I traded some hay for them today. We could be rich by Thanksgiving. All I need is some grain money.”
Mom sighed, dragged out her butter-and-egg money, and before you could say, “Dark meat, please,” we were in the gobbler business.
But my father in his quest for fame and fortune was ignorant of basic obstacles to turkey economics, mainly that birds can fly away, and that they gaze at clouds with their beaks open when it rains, causing them to drown. Now you know where the expression “dumb turkey” came from.
Dad solved the first problem by borrowing even more money to build expensive overhead fences on the turkey pen before they all flew off. But a solution to the drownings remained a mystery until one day I was practicing a cavalry charge on my dented World War I bugle. Coincidentally a rain storm hit.
Dad noticed that when I blew the horn, the birds ran in circles, gobbling in panic. They forgot all about standing around with their beaks open and drowning.
So Dad grabbed my bugle and took up serenading the birds whenever clouds appeared in the sky. The bad news was it was a wet year, and his renditions kept the birds lean as jackrabbits.
Another problem had to do with marketing the birds. Turkeys in those days were sold fresh in butcher shops the day before the holiday feast, which meant our entire family had to kill, dip, pluck, and gut 200 birds in one day and get them to town.
But that brought up yet another problem — the birds were so goosey from Dad’s trumpet solos they had to be roped and hog tied in a no-holds-barred rodeo. The dilemma was compounded when our neighbors thought Dad knew something they didn’t, so they also butchered their bugle-shocked, lean copy cats, which flooded the local market.
The upshot was, by the time we sold our skinny birds they were a dime a dozen. Dad peddled what he could, and my mother canned the rest. We ate turkey, from broth to hamburger, for a year. It seemed like five years.
That’s why to her dying day my wife Marilyn always cooked a ham for my Thanksgiving Day plate, and I was forever grateful. Pilgrim Fathers would have done the same if they’d had a lick of sense.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.