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November 1890, the day before Thanksgiving
Riley’ parents, Robert and Carrie, trotted up to Memory Creek ranch right on time, just as the sun was going down on Tuesday. I held supper just in case the train was on time, and it was! Chicken pot pie is one of my better cooking triumphs, and I reckon they were so hungry that they enjoyed it. At least, they praised it up one side and down the other. Riley smiled, pleased as punch, since this was the first time his mother and father had come for an extended visit.
I love Mama Carrie so much! She took fussy Lilly and calmed her in no time, just like my own mother does. It is wonderful to have an extra set of arms for the twins over the holiday. Riley’s pa made much over Jared and they are already fast friends.
As much as I would like to say that Wednesday went well, it did not. I think if Mama Carrie had offered to watch all three kids, Riley, his pa, and I could have had those four turkeys butchered, dressed, and hanging in the spring house in short order. But Riley’s Uncle Sid showed up bright and early. I expected his daughter, Ellen, who is a little older than Melinda, to accompany her father. What I did not expect was her husband. I didn’t even know Ellen was married (I’m not sure Sid knew it either). Riley sure didn’t know. Her new name is Ellen Hill, and she married some city slicker named Harold. Ellen had no interest in helping with the turkeys. She came to Memory Creek dressed like she was going to the Governor’s ball. However, she did take an interest in Lottie. At first I was happy to have that extra set of hands to watch the twins, but later in the day, it backfired.
Sarah, Uncle Joseph’s daughter, is about as prissy as they come. Aunt Rebecca (if she was still with us) would heartily approve of this thirteen-year-old young lady. She came slightly less dressed than her cousin Ellen. Riley rolled his eyes at the whole thing.
Sarah and Ellen, our guests
Sarah Sophie Benson
Ellen McCoy Hill
The Butchering of Our Thanksgiving Turkeys
With Jared under the watchful eye of Mama Carrie, and Ellen hovering over the twins, Riley, his father Robert, Uncle Joseph, Sid, and I headed for the pen, where we were keeping the turkeys for two reasons. One, to fatten them up with scraps and another to keep them from running away or getting eaten by a coyote, bobcat, or worse, a mountain lion. When Sarah saw us, she hollered, “Oh, my! May I help? I’ve always wanted to be part of the Wild West adventure.”
Wild West adventure? Really?
“Of course, dear,” Joseph said, smiling at his daughter. I had the feeling that Sarah’s father said, “Of course, dear,” to everything his daughter asked. Riley and I looked at each other and grinned. Boy, were they in for a surprise.
“I have an extra pair of old work skirts,” I offered. Sarah wasn’t tiny, so I figured she could fit into one of my split skirts without too many adjustments.
She shuddered. “No, Andi. I never wear old clothes. It’s just too, too rough, really.”
“You’d better today,” Riley warned. He checked the huge pot of water simmering on a tripod over an open fire. The turkeys would be plunged into the water to loosen their feathers so I could pluck them, not a pleasant job, by the way. But so long as Riley killed and gutted the turkeys, I could steel myself to pluck them. Then into the springhouse they would go to hang until bright and early tomorrow morning.
“I don’t need to,” Sarah insisted. “I don’t plan on getting dirty. What could possibly be dirty about turkeys that we plan to eat?” She jammed her hands on her hips and lifted her chin in an I know better look.
I opened my mouth to tell her to change her clothes, but Riley shook his head and grinned at me. I reckon he figured she needed to learn a little lesson about the Wild West. “At least borrow an apron,” I suggested, slipping a canvas apron over my head. I tied it around my waist. I have butchered chickens before, and it is not a pretty picture. This was my first time butchering turkeys, and I anticipated that they would be ten times the work of a chicken.
Sarah shook her head. “No, thank you.”
Oh, well. This oughta be fun. The flock (six) was preening themselves, strutting around to impress the female, and gobbling . . . as usual. The four toms were destined for the ax, but we’re keeping one hen and one tom so we can have pullets next year to grow up into turkeys.
So Goliath, Samson, Tommy, and Judah will fall under the ax. Then they will go into the roasting pit that Riley and the hands will start late tonight. The dense oak wood will burn down to coals all night in readiness for the turkeys. The pit is the only way I can roast even one turkey. The Black Beast inside is not quite big enough for Goliath, much less three other turkeys.
Sarah hurried over to the pen and leaned over the top of the white railing. “So, Riley, where do we start?” She swung the gate open wide. “I can’t wait.”
“Sarah, no!” Riley and Sid hollered at the same time. I was too shocked to do anything but stare. Riley was faster. He slammed the gate, nearly severing Goliath’s head in the process. It was that close. The last thing Riley (and I) wanted was six turkeys on the loose. “We will go inside the pen and catch them one at a time,” Riley said between clenched teeth. His face was red with suppressed annoyance.
“I’m sorry, Cousin,” Sarah said meekly. But her eyes were sparkling with excitement. “Please, Riley, could I catch the first one?”
My eyebrows shot up when Riley shrugged and said, “Sure, Sarah.” He pointed at Sir Tom-tom and the female, Lady Victoria (named for the queen of England). “Don’t catch those two. They are the parents of next-year’s turkeys.”
Sarah nodded and slipped through the gate, skipping toward Goliath, the largest tom.
“Riley,” I whispered, “do you really think this is a good idea–“
A shriek high-pitched enough to shatter an eardrum sliced the air and cut off my concern. Sarah was running away, or trying to, from Goliath. He headed for Sara’s high-buttoned shoes, his neck outstretched and gobbling his fury (or excitement). Riley stood stock-still, as did Sid. Riley’s Uncle Joseph gasped and dashed to the rescue. Soon, another turkey–Samson–went after Joseph.
“Don’t run!” Riley, Sid, and I shouted at the same time.
“Stand your ground and chase the gobblers,” I added. Even Jared, at only three and a half years old, knew how to handle a stick and keep the turkeys in line. Just last week, I caught my little man riding Goliath. He fell off, of course, but Goliath dumped Jared and ran. Howling, Jared went after him with his stick yelling, “Come back, come back!” And he tried to catch him again. But Goliath is too smart to fall for that a second time.
Disgusted, I pushed open the gate and headed for Goliath. I didn’t even need a stick. I needed only a low, threatening voice and stomping feet. “Get outta here,” I hollered, honing in on the giant bird. “Go on!” Goliath took two steps toward me (no doubt heartened by his success with terrorizing Sarah) and gave me those creepy, beady eyes. His red wattle vibrated as he gobbled. I paid him no mind and swung a foot in his direction. He backed off.
Sarah, completely overwhelmed with terror, ran for all she was worth toward the gate. Riley was laughing, but Uncle Joseph was not. His ashen face told me that this grown man was also afraid of the gobblers. I reckon the only turkey he’s ever seen has lain on his plate as a slice of breast meat. I was just about to giggle, when tragedy struck. Sarah didn’t make it to the gate. She tripped over Tommy and fell on top of Judah, who raised his wings and beat a swift retreat, but not before his wings became tangled in Sarah’s hair. She lay on the ground in a heap, covering her head and screeching for all she was worth.
I waited for Joseph to rescue his daughter but he did not. Calmly, I reached down, snagged her arms, and hauled her to her feet. “Stop that!” I ordered. I spun her around to face the six gigantic birds. “Don’t turn your back on them. Just kick your foot and yell, and back out at the same time.”
In the end, I half-dragged, half-coaxed the traumatized girl out of the turkey pen. She flew into her father’s arms. “There, there,” Joseph comforted her. “We shall get the last laugh, my princess. That beastly bird will be lying on your plate tomorrow.”
Sarah’s cries ceased. She spun around, eyes wide, as if suddenly realizing we were going to eat Goliath. With a half-choked cry, she fled to the house. No doubt her cousin Ellen and her Aunt Carrie would soothe her and clean her up. She needed cleaning up. Grit and dirt covered her from her neatly combed hair and pale yellow bow to the soles of her fancy dress shoes.
Peace descended. Riley and Sid got those four turkeys killed in about ten minutes. They plunged turkeys into the hot water for half a minute then hung them from their feet tied to a low-lying oak branch. Riley’s mother appeared with Jared at her heels to help me pluck the four big birds. That took awhile and feathers flew everywhere, Then one, two, three, four. Four turkeys in the springhouse, and it was only noon. Things were looking up.
Until I went inside the house to nurse the twins. Lilly was in the crib, just stirring from her morning nap. However, Lottie was nowhere to be found. Neither was Ellen.