One Tough Turkey
If I’ve learned anything in this life of mine, it is that holidays are made happy and joyous because of family, not golden brown turkeys or a carload of presents. To be honest, I can’t remember the meals or the gifts, but I have a vivid recollection of the family gathered round, sitting on every available chair, armrest, stool, all balancing plates of fired chicken on their laps with glasses of tea or buttermilk sitting on the floor beside them while they laughed and joked about old memories.
When I was a kid. We never had turkey. Once, though, we had rooster out at my grandparents’ farm. Yep, that’s right, a big old white leghorn rooster that was meaner than sin.
Descended from hardy pioneers, Mama Holley never discarded anything. She always found a use for it, and that’s where the rooster came in.
The year after the war, we arrived at Mama and Papa’s a couple days early. My cousin Ed and his folks lived on the farm. Ed could do everything about the farm better than me, milk cows, gather eggs, feed stock. But the one skill of his I most envied was his deadly accuracy with the slingshot, you know, that Y shaped weapon that has gotten more than one mischievous boy in a heap of trouble.
Ed could knock birds out of a tree. I usually missed the tree. He could pop a cotton ball from the branch. I couldn’t hit the cotton field itself.
The only time I hit something was when I was aiming at something else.
One holiday we went hunting with our slingshots. To my chagrin, Ed got a barn pigeon. I missed the barn—from inside. Now they had an old rooster that was cock-eyed, but he was Papa’s prize rooster. Several times, the rooster charged us, but Ed always stopped him with a rock at the rooster’s feet.
Next morning, after Ed left for the last day of school before Thanksgiving, I set out to sharpen my slingshot skills.
By now, the whole clan had gathered from five hundred miles around, around thirty or so. I had some other cousins there, but they were several years older, so I was all by myself. But that was okay. I had some practicing to get in.
Keeping my eyes peeled for the old cock-eyed rooster, I spent the morning stalking pigeons and sparrows. Once, I sent some tail feathers flying, but that was it. I did send a few cows and hogs scrambling, and soon I was able to hit a tin can two or three out of ten shots. Never saw the rooster.
Then, on the way to the house for dinner, that sucker jumped me, flailing his wings and flashing those spurs of his. I whipped off a shot at his feet, and hit that cockeyed bird in the head.
He did half-a-dozen somersaults, staggered around like some of my uncles after too much celebrating, bounced off the ground more times than I could count and finally flopped down into a ditch by the end of a culvert.
I looked around in horror. No one had seen me. My heart pounding, I jammed a couple tumbleweeds over the still twitching rooster, then hightailed it back to the barn where I remained the rest of the day, waiting for my reckoning. Just about the time I began to relax, Mama Holley suddenly appeared in the barn door, the rooster in her hand.
Grabbing me my the ear, she led me into the house where, with the admonition that was my meal the next day, she ducked the rooster in scalding water, then into the sink and put me to plucking.
The whole family teased me, warning me about how tough that old rooster would be after Mama baked it.
Well, our family was so large, we ate buffet style. You can imagine my surprise when next day, instead of the baked rooster, Mama set a large bowl next to the platter of fried chicken. In the bowl reposed the old rooster, cut up and stewed until the meat fell off the bones.
Heaped over a bed of mashed potatoes, that was one tasty rooster, as roosters go. In fact, the stew disappeared faster than the chicken.
After dinner, Papa took me aside and told me I had to buy him another rooster. Since I had no money, we struck a bargain. I could clean out the stalls in the barn.
I wanted to argue, but one look at my Dad, and I agreed.
That was sixty-three years ago. I can still smell those stalls as if it were yesterday.