Turkey Triflings

the Shaw boys driving the turkeys in from the fields at Garden of Spices, the processing business we use in Greenwich, NY


by Mary Mackey

One November
a week before Thanksgiving
the Ohio river froze
and my great uncles
put on their coats
and drove the turkeys
across the ice
to Rosiclare
where they sold them
for enough to buy
my grandmother
a Christmas doll
with blue china eyes

I like to think
of the sound of
two hundred turkey feet
running across to Illinois
on their way
to the platter
the scrape of their nails
and my great uncles
in their homespun leggings
calling out gee and haw and git
to them as if they
were mules

I like to think of the Ohio
at that moment
the clear cold sky
the green river sleeping
under the ice
before the land got stripped
and the farm got sold
and the water turned the color
of whiskey
and all the uncles
lay down
and never got up again

I like to think of the world
before some genius invented
turkeys with pop-up plastic
in their breasts
idiot birds
with no wildness left in them
turkeys that couldn’t run the river
to save their souls

“Turkeys” by Mary Mackey, from Breaking the Fever. © Marsh Hawk Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.

the special cover Jim made for the bed of the truck for driving our turkeys to Garden of Spices

At this point I would like to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you to my friend Kerry & her willing son Tristan for their generous and spirited, giving hearts.  They both volunteered in the dark of night to assist me in a solo-loading job before the adventurous drive last weekend.  At Kerry’s suggestion, we took advantage of the subdued turkeys to eliminate the stress of a daytime disruption.  It was a brilliant idea.

Turns out the most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole job was trying to get the anchor-points to release on the side of my truck so that I could attach the cover with bungee cords.  Between Tristan’s little engineering mind, Kerry’s tenacity and my willingness to hammer away at the darn things as well as liberal applications of 3-in-1 oil, we finally got them to cooperate.  The anchor-points are on some sort of spring-mechanism and store inside the truck-bed wall.  You’re supposed to be able to simply depress them to get them to release up, revealing the handy-dandy hitching post.  But those babies were stuck, stuck, stuck!

Well, at the end of the next day I had taken my truck to the carwash and washed it twice before loading for the homeward trip, transporting 504 pounds of dressed poultry. Part of the reason I like working with Ben Shaw & Garden of Spices is that they are a very clean outfit.  Pretty important when you’re talking about the main course for families.  As soon as I got home, I took the turks from the iced coolers in my truck to the 35 degree refrigerators at a local apple orchard which is closed for the season…yet more generous neighbors, willing to help me out and support me by allowing me to use their facilities for the proper storage of so many big birds before they go to their final destinations.  Dawn & Fritz don’t mind me popping in and out of there several times a day to select birds that are going to be going in many different directions.  For example, today I had to deliver a 22-pounder which is going to Ohio and a 15-pounder to Rupert, VT, my sheep vet’s home.

And so to be sincere, it wouldn’t be a very good endorsement if we didn’t “test” the product ourselves.  The 23-pounder that we’d cooked for our own pre-Thanksgiving dinner passed the test of deliciousness, moistness and depth of flavor that a free-ranged turkey is reputed for.  I wondered if I’d be able to taste the pumpkins and apples that the gobblers had been enjoying all fall…but that would’ve been a stretch!  A surprising note is that though the turkey should’ve been in the oven for about 4 hours, it was done in a little over two.  The same was true last year that the birds cooked more quickly than conventionally raised turkeys.

Today the air had turned sharply colder and my son, home from college, convinced me to play hooky and go fishing for a couple of hours with him.  With so much to do on the farm, how could I make it work?  Well there are more important things in life than work and when opportunity calls, you answer.  So I went fishing with Jody.  We had a great time even if we froze our butts off!  I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours in the quiet of nature with my son, catching up.  It was a well-timed reprieve, as it turned out.

Jody shared tips from the bow of the boat on November angling

Raising turkeys is not without a certain amount of anxiety from beginning to end.  The associated stress of the past week had me nursing a headache and exhaustion everyday.  There is a good amount of physical labor, especially in the final days, and my back won’t be right for a few weeks. However, it goes without saying that there is a beautiful reward in all of the work when you are passing off the fat bundles, looking new and old customers in the eyes and being able to personally wish them a blessed Thanksgiving.

7 responses to “Turkey Triflings

    • Oh so do I love that poem – and a great children’s book to read that I think Tristan would enjoy is “The Great Turkey Walk” by Kathleen Karr. We have it and I can loan it to you sometime. Very amusing, especially when you have first hand experience with them.
      And thank you again and again, Kerry.

    • Gee, Carolyn, you are TOO sweet! Do give your mom a Thanksgiving hug from me, and hope your day is blessed! Thank you for the kind, kind reply.

    • Thank you for sharing! Yes, I love that poem, also. A long time ago I read a book to my children, “The Great Turkey Walk” by Kathleen Karr, and often since I have been raising turkeys, I think she depicted very accurately their habit and charm as domestic animals. I shall share with my birds their fame across the world, now! It will be good for their self-esteem! 🙂

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