By Kirby Vickery from the November 2012 Edition
In 1949 people couldn’t get frozen Thanksgiving Day turkey’s at the market. Those olden refrigerators were too small to hold such a large bird and even if they could the freezer compartments in them were too small. My mother would tell of the hours picking out the ‘pens’ from the bird regardless if it were fresh or frozen. ‘Pens’ by the way, are those under developed feathers which are not long enough to be pulled out by machine as they hadn’t broken through the outer layer of the turkey’s skin yet. They had to be taken out one at a time with a pair of tweezers. Getting a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving was so much better than getting a frozen one and enterprising families who knew someone who knew someone else could get a live turkey for very little money.
Mom and Dad for some reason became one such couple. At the time of this story I was still months old and had napped through the whole thing. My elder sister, Laney, was about 4 years old when Dad decided he would get a turkey early in order to fatten it up before the big day.
So they built a pen on their quarter acre lot in the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and stocked it with a lot of corn and turkey feed and they drove out to get the bird which could have been a story in itself as that particular bird was a little on the mean side and pecked at everybody. This was fortunate because that nasty habit kept Laney from forming an attachment to it during the three months of fattening time and all Mom could do was to complain that she felt she should be exempt from the pecking the bird did because she fed it. Nobody knew enough about turkeys to tell if it was a hen or a tom. Someone had read that a hen was ‘tenderer’ so that’s what they were hoping for.
Finally the big day came and ‘The Turkey’ was doomed. Mom had put Laney in the bathroom to keep her from viewing the ritual axe killing of ‘The Bird.’ Dad had pulled out a short chunk of firewood from the winter’s supply. It wasn’t quite long enough or wide enough to accommodate the turkey and the axe wasn’t the sharpest thing in the shed. But, Dad decided that would make do because he was a ‘make-do’ kind of guy. You know the type: Big and strong and a lot of muscle in the macho head..
With me in bed blissfully dreaming about my next bottle and Laney carefully tucked away in the bathroom, he opened the pen and lay siege to the turkey. Dad was injuries. He had known about the beak and had guarded against that. But, his shins were in ribbons because this bird was, in fact, a Tom, who knew how to use his spurs which were about three inches long and were naturally very sharp.
With the bird finally tied, Mom wanted Dad to stop while she treated his injuries with what they called ‘Monkey Blood.’ It was a deep red, disinfectant which came in a small bottle with a glass applicator, and it stung like hell while staining everything it came in contact with. Please remember that Dad was a ‘can-do’ macho kind of guy and told her that he would just have to suffer through it for a while. He wanted to finish that bird more for revenge now than food prep. Mom could tell because his eye’s had taken on a squinty, red circled appearance and she thought she could hear him growl when he looked at the bird. What had started as a good idea soon ran through the ‘macho stage’ long about the second or third swipe of the spurs now had developed into a blood lust revenge mode with a strong desire to kill. Mom also noted that his jaws were clamped down real hard and he spoke through a clinched mouth in very short sentences.
Placing the turkey on the wood block was difficult because of its size and shape. Dad finally managed a good fit, as it were, only when the bird would cooperate which it seemed to do every now and then. He would get the bird down on one side. Then after it struggled a little it would settle down. He would then grab its head and extend its neck across the block of wood. Now turkey’s are not the smartest animal to come down the pike and sometimes it would leave well enough alone and not move for several moments. It was during these long, still, moments that gave Dad enough time to grab the axe and start getting it set with a mighty back, overhead, leg lifting, swing.
The bird may have been on to what Dad was trying to do because right at the apex of each try, it would pull its head up from the wood or back towards its body. Dad would stop his swing and re-set the bird only to wind up again. This went on for many attempts. Dad’s eyes were getting very red now from anger, frustration, and exertion. After all, he was an office worker not a lumberman and I’m sure a little manic depression was setting in. He just knew the bird was doing it to spite him.
Neither Dad, nor Mom saw that the bindings holding the turkey’s feet had come untied and were working loose. What they both saw was the one time the axe came down and chopped a little of the beak off which made the bird very uncooperative. Dad wanted to ask Mom to hold the head out but didn’t dare knowing the reaction and the answer. He finally got the feet a little under control and again the bird settled down to let its head be pulled out across that piece of wood.
Alas, the bird was cleaned, stuffed with grandmother’s dressing, and roasted to a turn. The family said it was the most tender each of them had ever had. The rest of the dinner was scrumptious all the way down to the rolls and four types of deserts. Aunt Joie had even had ground the coffee and with Uncle Sam’s homemade ice cream, the entire dinner was well received by the entire family. The discussion was of family things’ and remembrances’ during and after the dinner. Even though
Dad was moving just a little slow everyone was kind enough not to mention it or the limp he hadn’t had last week.
The subject of conversation at all the neighbor’s dinners wasn’t so much about their food, as the scene they were exposed to when Dad swung that axe with everything he had that one last time. The turkey had jerked his head back just a little right in the middle of his power swing and the axe pushed half way through the bird’s neck, severing several blood vessels while snapping the bird’s neck and mashing the skin at the point of impact. The cord which was holding the bird’s feet let go and the bird sprung up and started running all over the back yard in uneven circles with its head flopping over this way and that, while spurting blood everywhere. Dad was chasing it with a hobble because his shins were not only black and blue but he was leaving a little trail of blood to add to that of the turkey’s. Mom had tried to run after him but stopped to get sick, repeatedly.
While all this was going on, I slept blissfully unaware of the battle field in the back yard while my elder sister, Laney, was hanging out the bathroom window, yelling at the top of her little voice over and over again, “Get’em! Daddy. Get’em!”