Ham preferred after turkey fiasco

Bob Huber: Local Columnist

Now comes that time of year when everyone gives thanks for bountiful gifts — unless you’re a turkey! Speaking of which, I’ve hobnobbed with turkeys all my life, some of whom made it through grammar school and even became college professors, but that’s another story.

My most memorable association with real holiday turkeys involved a couple thousand live birds of my father’s choosing. They transformed an otherwise placid November into what our family called “The Mad Month of the Gobblers.”

Dad in those days was void of economic cushions such as federal programs and competing bankers, and he often bet everything he could beg, borrow, or steal on good weather and friendly seed. Most of the time he lost, but he never wavered.

In fact each year he hitched up his bib overalls and gambled on new ventures, mostly ones that had to be mulched with shredded dollar bills. He thrived on the fiction that someday he would stumble across the Mother Crop, an El Dorado of the Corn Field.

But Dad wasn’t a good farmer — he drank too much. Still, year after year our neighbors kept a furtive eye on him, because he was a quiet man, languishing in his perpetual hangovers, which gave the impression that he knew something they didn’t.

Anyway, one night he turned to my mother and said, “Essie, I’m going to try turkeys this year. Might make a killing.”

“That’s what you have to do with turkeys,” she said with her Nebraska farm girl wit. “It’s a messy business.”

Dad ignored her remark and said, “All we need is some feed money.”

“How many turkeys are you talking about?”

“A couple thousand,” he said.

After we gathered up Mom’s eyeballs, she dug into her butter-and-egg money, and before you could say, “Dark meat, please,” we were in the gobbler business. Still, my father overlooked two basic personality quirks associated with turkeys — they liked to fly, and when it rained, they stared at the sky with their mouths open and drowned.

He solved the first problem by constructing covered pens, but the solution to the drowning syndrome required more drastic strategies. He finally resolved the matter by rushing to the turkey yard whenever a storm developed and by blowing a bugle.

The birds were so baffled by these cavalry charges they ran in circles, gobbling in panic, and keeping themselves lean as toothpicks. But at least they didn’t drown.

A third problem showed up later when the birds had to be marketed. They didn’t freeze turkeys far in advance of Thanksgiving back then. That meant that on a specific day just before the holiday the entire family along with in-laws, out-laws, and drifters from a three-county area gathered to chop, dip, pluck, gut, and wrap 2,000 birds.

Another late problem involved our copycat neighbors, because they followed Dad’s lead and also invested in turkeys. They thought my quiet father knew something they didn’t. So their turkeys were also bugle-shocked and had to be roped and hog-tied in wild, no-holds-barred rodeos. To this day — but that’s another story too.

The upshot was, by the time everyone reached market with their skinny birds turkeys were a dime a dozen and otherwise not in great demand. We sold what we could, and my mother canned the rest. We ate ground turkey on toast for a year.

That’s why my wife Marilyn always cooked a ham for Thanksgiving, and I loved her for it. The 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.