Drunk turkey for the Methodist preacher
Today you will hear an old family story that bears telling one more time, a story commemorating both Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving.
The time was Nov. 24, 1919, World War I. The soldier, my father, Russell Linnell. It took place on Grandpa and Grandma Louie and Elza Gossell's farm three miles east of Hewitt.
Grandma's house was never hampered by having walls, it always stretched to include one or several more. Her dining room table had been worked on to accommodate at least 3 or 4 more leaves.
You'll remember hearing when the new doctor in Hewitt, a young Dr. Lothian, lost his wife with pneumonia the week after they landed in town, complete strangers, leaving two little ones 2 and 4 years old.
Grandpa went in with stuff Grandma had baked and came home with the toddlers until the young doc could see straight again. Didn't look like a good place for kids, Grandpa said. They stayed five years, until doc remarried, had a home for them again. Imposition? Naw, little kids don't eat much or take up much room.
I never saw another like grandma's stove. It come out into the room, six lids on top with a reservoir next to the wall. Instead of a warming oven on top, it had a hearth in front where bread propped up with a fork could be toasted. The oven had two big doors, one going out on each side, to eliminate having to reach into a cavernous hot oven.
On this particular Thanksgiving, Grandma outdid herself turning out a bounty of a dinner for her son-in-law returning soldier, too thin and a bit jumpy, with ugly scars still red. One ran from shoulder to shoulder across his back where a shell ploughed a furrow in what didn't fit in a foxhole in the Argonne Forest. Another made a ditch on top of his shoulder. Several years later I remember running my fingers across them.
The day before a big dinner was hectic, when the bird Grandma had chosen from her several dozen flock of Minnesota Bronze turkeys was captured, decapitated and made ready for the big oven early the next morn.
Louie sharpened an ax and all was about ready to do the dastardly act when one of the grandkids ran in saying: "Grandma, one of your old turks don't look too good, kind of staggery. You better take a look."
Dropping whatever she was doing, both grandma and grandpa ran for the turkey pen. Sure enough, the big beauty, with a tail span of 3 feet, pick of the liter, was leaning on the trough for support, eye half-closed, almost dead it seemed.
"Well, I never!" Grandma breathed. "What in tarnation? Haven't lost a bird all year."
Louie stood there, speechless.
"Kill it quick, Grandpa, before it dies," a grandkid urged.
"No, no, can't feed people a sick bird. I ain't a'goin to do that," Grandma said, twisting her apron. "I don't think the ham will reach ..."
"I hate to mention it, ma, but look at that one. It just laid down with its feet in the air. Never saw a turkey do that before, an' I'll be darned if it don't look like the rest are staggerin'. That'n looks like it's tryin' to dance."
The screen door slammed and Russell joined them, leaning over the fence in the turkey pen. Tears over-flowing her eyes into her apron, Grandma explained their dilemma.
One of the last birds on its feet waddled up to Rus, laid down with its head on the toe of his boot, closed one eye, and gave a squawk sounding like neither bird or beast.
After watching them a bit, Rus said: "If this was at camp, I'd say these birds had been on one whale of a party. They're all dead drunk. What have you folks been feedin' stuff around here anyway? Why'd you wait 'til I was gone?"
Dead silence took hold. Everybody knew the Gossells were teetotallers. Hardly ever even took cough syrup.
Then Grandma, leveling an eye on Grandpa, said, "Louie, what'd you do with that two quart jar of boozey rasberries I told you to get rid of this morning?"
Shoving his cap back, Grandpa muttered: "Well, put it in the turkey trough, 'course. Can't waste stuff. They was crazy about it."
Rus said, "Ma, shame on you, gettin' poor innocent turkeys drunk!" Grandpa tried to keep from smiling.
"Go ahead, laugh yourselves in stitches," Grandma said to her grandchildren and Rus. "T'aint none of you that's got to figger out what to do for meat."
Throwing an arm around her shoulders, Rus said, "I really don't think it will taint the meat.
"Put him out of his misery an' get him in the oven. Never expected to see anything drunk on this place. War sure changes folks. I bet the preacher will take three pieces."
Grandpa grabbed the gobbler and headed for the choppin' block. There was one last off-key gobble before the ax descended.
Grandma turned to the kids. Hands on hips, she said, "If any of you rascals ever, ever breathe a word that I fed the Methodist preacher drunk turkey for Thanksgiving, you're goin' to be in real trouble."
They never did, but the soldier never let ma forget.
And that was the Thanksgiving of 1919.