As we celebrate this day of of appreciation for family, friends and all that we are blessed to have, we thought we’d share a few turkey stories with you. 🦃
First off, if you’re a Vinyl Café fan you may have well have heard Stuart McLean’s turkey stories: Dave Cooks the Turkey and Dave Raises the Turkey. If not, feel free to wander over to CBC to listen to a recording of them!
Okay, now for some stories that are a little closer to home:
1) When Mike was about 4 or 5 his family lived in southern Manitoba, about 45 minutes or so NE of Winnipeg. Lots of snow in the winter, and deep cold… – 40° is where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales converge and that was a good day. One day Mike’s dad and a friend of his were driving down a lonely country lane miles from anywhere, without a building in sight, when they saw a turkey sitting on top of the snowbank at the side of the road.
They couldn’t believe their eyes so they stopped the car and got out, but there it was… frozen solid in the snow. There were no farms nearby and no way of knowing from whence it came, so after much deliberation they opened the back of the Pontiac Laurentian station wagon, tossed the giant fuzzy snowball in and returned to the warmth of the vehicle – surprised at their good fortune. They headed back to town.
It was good and warm in the car, and as might be expected the giant snowball in the back of the car started to melt. And move. It wasn’t quite dead. And it wasn’t happy. 🦃
2) Back in the 80s Mike was doing some field work with the government in southwestern Ontario, and the crew had rented a house on a farm property. Theirs was a secondary house next to the main house, a barn, and a construction trailer they’d set up as a lab. In addition to the gardens there was a flock of white turkeys that had the run of the yard, and the owners had a spaniel-sized dog, good-natured, that also roamed the grounds.
Well, just before Thanksgiving the family took off on a trip, leaving the dog behind. Mike and the crew didn’t think anything of it, but whatever plans the family had made to feed the dog must have fallen through. It wasn’t obvious at first, but it all came to a head when she successfully chased down and killed one of the turkeys in the yard. It was too late to save the bird, but it was collected anyway and since the dog’s distress was laid open, a bag of good dog food was procured. The crew ate the turkey for Thanksgiving; nobody brought up the topic of the ‘missing’ bird. 🦃
3) In the 90s Marcia and Mike lived for a while on a 200-acre property in southern Ontario. This story is from Marcia, a part of her collected Swallowtail Walk stories. This one is Nearest Neighbours:
Seems to me it was autumn that first year when we met our nearest neighbours. It must have been, since I recall the grasses grown high on either side of that long driveway from country road to our newly adopted 5-car garaged-home.
We had two visitors staying with us that late fall day. Both had come to check out the new place. The women were lifelong friends of ours. C. I had known since I was pregnant with my eldest child. T. was one of the children Mike had babysat for when in his teens and with whom he had kept in touch over the passing years. Both women had met each other at various functions we had held and each was pleased to know that the other would be visiting at the same time.
C. chose to reside in the downstairs granny flat we had furnished. There was a massive wall of floor to ceiling windows and the view of, and access to, the valley at the back of the house. And C., like us, loved that huge shower stall. T., in addition to her curiosity, had an alternate purpose for her sojourn with us. Working toward her Master’s degree, she needed a quiet place and space to think and write, to spread her research notes about for accessibility, to match her thought processes to her work. Our offer to allow her a stay at the cottage by the lake was readily accepted.
It was on one of the days when Mike was in town and T. was on an apparently productive writer’s roll and still at the cottage, when our neighbours stopped by. C. and I had just finished breakfast and were still sipping at our by-then-cold coffees when we decided to step outside for a bit of warmth and fresh air. Both of us being city born and raised, it was always a delight to be able to hear the wind, the birds, the crickets and cicadas, the bees. C. couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I really do think she’d have moved in with us if we had made the offer.
On this day the quiet was appreciated and we both soaked it all in. No words were needed between us. The shared awe was all that was required to connect us. Until …
Suddenly there was the oddest sound emanating from the far eastern field across from the drive at the front of the house. The tall, dry grasses were rustling in what seemed like an unusual pattern. We watched as a slither-like movement wended its way slightly south-west and toward the driveway rather than further south to the road. Thinking it was maybe neighbourhood children due to the fact that we couldn’t see anyone’s heads bobbing along this route, we waited until they, whoever they were, came into view. And as the wave of grasses bent closer and closer to the open area by the drive, we anticipated seeing whom we had (by this time having discussed a variety of options between us), assumed to be some of the neighbours’ kids out on a hike.
Well, were we in for the shock and delight of our lives. We are so grateful we didn’t call out to them or they would have fled in every imaginable direction – never to have returned again, I am sure!
The first to pop his head out from between the grass blades was a very stately wild turkey. I determined him to be in the middle of his years in age. Plumage full and fluffed up to make him look larger than his skeletal body alone, this regal bird stood sentry. As though a human crossing guard near a public school area, he looked left, then right, then left again before moving ever so slightly to the side to grant permission, if you will, to the next surprise – another wild turkey. This one was younger, also a male. And he made the same motions. It was as though ensuring for his own peace of mind that there was safety from both sides before he stepped out from the grasses and onto the gravel drive. He was prompt in his departure from one space, across what would have been to him a vast openness, to the sheltered other side. It was on the west side of the driveway that he then took the second sentry role. It was a few seconds before our third surprise poked her head through to brittle grasses.
A female emerged, with her muted tones and small build. Gathered around her feet were five mini versions of herself. Too young to have taken on definitive gender feathering, they all looked alike from our perspective. The five all had the same small stature and relatively cowering behaviour, at least initially. But then one of the chicks seemed bolder than the others and almost stepped out onto the gravel by himself when the hen made a squawk that had him running back toward her. Nothing happened for a moment. Then, with a head bob by the Eastern Sentry, mother hen and chicks collectively made their way to the other side and were whisked into the invisibility of the undergrowth of bushes beside the Western Sentry.
Bird after bird followed the same path. Each was given permission to cross. Each strutted or rushed or sauntered from one side to the other. We started noticing not only gender differences, but also age variances. Seemed we could tell a teenager from an adult by the confidence or the excitement displayed in its presentation. After the first few appeared, we began to count the number of birds in this family. There were more females than males. And we were shocked to notice that there were several domestic female turkeys in among this family. Likely having gotten out from whatever farming pens they had been caged in, these females had been adopted into the Wilds community and were now part of the collective.
In total we counted 29 turkeys. What an exciting adventure and we didn’t even have to leave the front of the house! C. still tells the tale to this day.
Yet how is it that Mike and I had been living on this property for several months only to find out that we had a huge resident population of wild turkeys? In the days and weeks to come we determined that the clan made exactly the same route every single day, rain or shine, without exception. We followed their trails so that we knew where they called ‘home’ and what paths they took, in order for us not to disturb their daily run. 🦃
P.S. One more for you, this one from Mike’s Auntie. Mike’s grandmother, once married, moved from Toronto to a homestead farm in southern Manitoba. There she raised her seven daughters, and had more than her share of adventures. This is one of them:
I can (dimly) recall an incident that happened on the farm when D. was there. Seems he looked out the kitchen window and spied this turkey strolling through the yard. He says to Momma, “Hey! There’s a turkey out there!” And Momma said (kidding, I’m sure!), “Well, go get it and I’ll cook it for you.”
Well, no sooner said than done, he presents her with the dead bird. Oh-Oh! This was not our turkey (we had chickens, not turkeys!) What to do? What to do? Well, the damn thing’s already dead, there’s no use wasting it. May as well cook it and eat the evidence, right? Best be quick about it and all, so the deed was done, turkey in the oven smelling wonderful and Mom probably wishing it was eaten already but so far, so good. Oh! God forbid, who should come a calling but old John (whose turkey this just happened to be!) Talk about, “Be sure your sin will find you out!” Well, old John parks his fanny like a bump on a log on a chair in the kitchen… and stays, and stays… Mom is seeing visions of him being there until the damn turkey burns to a crisp because she obviously can’t baste it with him sitting there, now can she?
He finally left and I guess we ate the damn thing but I don’t think Mom enjoyed her meal. She wasn’t cut out for a life of crime. 🦃