Laura Dean Bennett
I came across a picture by Norman Rockwell the other day, titled, Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey.
It put me in mind of an old family story from way before I was born – about the year everyone had Thanksgiving at Aunt Lizzie’s.
Aunt Lizzie was my Granddad’s sister.
She and Uncle Lester lived in Greenbrier County.
Back in those days, it wasn’t very often that Granddad and Grandmom could get away from Cass for a visit.
But this one year, Aunt Lizzie had had some pretty serious surgery and Uncle Lester had written to Grandmom and asked her if she could come and help take care of her because she was liable to be laid up for a while.
Granddad had eleven brothers and sisters and when the word got around that Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Lester were going through a hard time, several families decided to surprise them with a visit.
So, Thanksgiving turned into a big family reunion that year.
She and the rest of the kids – and there must have been about 10 of them – and their parents all stayed at Aunt Lizzie’s, and she and Uncle Lester had several of their own.
Now, I’ve seen that old house and I can’t imagine how all those people managed to fit in there, but I guess they did okay, because as my mom remembered it, it was one of the best Thanksgivings they ever had.
And certainly the most exciting.
It was the day before Thanksgiving when Grand-dad and Grandmom went to Roanoke to fetch Aunt Lizzie home from the hospital.
Aunt Nola and Uncle Gilbert had come down from Cass, too, and they were going to stay home with Uncle Lester and the kids.
The rest of the family was expected to arrive that evening, so the kids all promised to scurry around and help Aunt Nola get the chores done.
Uncle Lester had been “batchin’” it for a while, and he really wasn’t very well himself, so there was plenty of work to do – clothes washing, dusting, sweeping and mopping floors, setting the table with the good china, and cleaning and peeling bushels of potatoes, apples and pumpkins for mashed potatoes and pies.
Uncle Gilbert went to Williamsburg to fetch Great Granddaddy Hinkle, who would be bringing three big, fat geese, all dressed and ready for the feast.
There had been some grumbling about not having turkey that year, but Granddaddy Hinkle was the oldest and he insisted on having goose.
But Aunt Lizzie’s kids didn’t want goose.
They had their minds set on turkey.
And one specific turkey had come to mind.
Old Tom was infamous at Aunt Lizzie’s.
He was a big old bird – and mean.
He liked to chase people, especially kids, around the yard and give them a hard time on the way to and from the outhouse.
If he caught you, he’d peck you with his sharp beak or rake you with his claws.
So, while the kids were helping Aunt Nola with the chores, the big boys were figuring how to have Old Tom for Thanksgiving dinner.
The housework was almost done and all the laundry was hanging on the line, when the boys set their scheme in motion.
The big boys snuck around behind Old Tom, where he was peckin’ at some apple peelings the little boys had thrown out to bait him.
While Old Tom was trying to decide whether or not he was going to have a nice game of chase with the boys, the big boys were sneaking up on him with a big burlap potato sack.
Well, Old Tom was just too fast for them.
He took off running and ran right smack dab up onto the front porch and into the front door, which was open because Aunt Nola was carrying the rugs back in.
That turkey ran through the house – over the top of the couch and the coffee table, under the dining room table and through the kitchen with Aunt Nola and the kids hot on his heels.
There was plenty of “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” but somehow, Uncle Lester slept right through it.
Finally, when one of the kids came in the kitchen door, out flew Old Tom.
He launched himself off the back porch, landed in the mud and then up he flew – straight into the laundry on the clothesline.
Old Tom slid down a sheet, leaving a streak of muddy turkey tracks as he went, and landed in the laundry basket.
Aunt Nola yelled, “Oh, no!”
The boys yelled, “Grab him!”
The girls yelled, “Don’t hurt him!”
And the boys pounced.
They fell on the giant turkey, but Old Tom was having none of it.
He flapped and raked and gobbled, tipped over the laundry basket and got away.
The boys were left behind as Old Tom took off like a rocket.
Now, Tom was used to roosting in the black walnut tree in the back yard so he knew how to fly.
He was flapping his wings to beat the band and it was almost as if he was aiming for it when he headed in the direction of the old truck parked by the woodpile.
Uncle Jim Dean and Nadine, the lady he was courting, had just parked in the yard when a giant, white blur came flying straight at them.
As Uncle Jim opened the door, Old Tom landed inside on the lady’s lap and deposited a wet pile of, well, something unmentionable on the front seat.
I guess Nadine wasn’t used to turkeys sitting on her, because she started screaming and jumping around and maybe put the truck in reverse, because it started rolling down the yard, finally stopping when it hit the woodpile.
Old Tom scrambled out, unscathed, and sailed up out of harm’s way to the safety of his walnut tree.
Thanks goodness, Nadine must have seen the funny side of it, because she did finally marry Uncle Jim.
But the back bumper on the truck hadn’t fared so well, and by the look on his face when he saw the dent, Uncle Jim wasn’t too happy about it.
Aunt Nola was looking from the boys to Old Tom, back to the muddy clothes on the clothesline, over to the woodpile and at the crashed truck.
Her thunderous gaze finally rested on the big boys, who had dropped the burlap sack and were trying hard to look like they had no idea how it had all happened.
Old Tom flew to a higher and steadier branch in his tree and gobbled something that, for all the world, sounded like, “That’s what you get!”
Aunt Nola made it clear that the mess had better be cleaned up before Grandmom and Aunt Lizzie got home, or she would tell them the whole story.
The wood got stacked back up while Uncle Jim pounded out the dent in his bumper.
The dirty laundry got washed and re-hung, the house got cleaned up and the potatoes, apples and pumpkins were peeled by extremely helpful and cheerful children.
Thank goodness, by the time they heard Granddad’s truck coming up the road, it was as though nothing had happened.
The next day, as everyone sat around the dining room and kitchen tables and on the stairs to enjoy their delicious goose dinner, up piped the little voice of young Henry, who exclaimed:
“To tell you the truth, I’m glad Old Tom got away. I like this goose meat.”
Well, the whole story came out and if they hadn’t been eating Thanksgiving dinner at the time, the proverbial fur would probably have started to fly.
Thank goodness, Aunt Nola stepped in.
“Well, boys will be boys, and remember, you all were kids yourselves once,” she said.
So there might not have been any turkey that year, but there was no spankings either.
And no one ever forgot the year that the turkey got away at Aunt Lizzie’s.
Oh, and Old Tom lived several more years, still spoiled rotten, but he never chased the kids again.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
May you spend the day eating home cooking, enjoy some exercise out in the yard, have a few good laughs and may it be a memorable day with the ones you love.