Time to talk (lots of ) turkey

Susan Manzke

Our family Thanksgiving moves from year to year. We don’t mind not having everyone together on Thursday. The in-laws get that special day. We’re happy with any day we can all get together even if it’s a week late, or a week early. When we do meet up, my assigned food is dressing. I make it like Mom used to, except I never add walnuts. That’s a no-no with our family.

Because of the holiday, I’ve been thinking about a Thanksgiving of my childhood. It’s the year when no one in our neighborhood bought a turkey to eat.

An unclaimed order of turkey chicks at the local post office changed the Manzke family's attitude towards turkey for a long time.

It all started in late spring. Dad found out that an order of turkey chicks went unclaimed because they arrived too late and wouldn’t finish out large enough for the grower. Dad paid the freight and brought home boxes and boxes of chirping turkeys.

Of course, we weren’t set up to take care of hundreds of turkeys. The best my parents could do was to turn our garage into a big brooder.

Dad and Mom borrowed every feeder, waterer, and heat lamp in the area—all other chicks were large enough to forego the lamps. Our turkeys needed the heat. The trouble was that even though there were many heat lamps, the stupid turkeys congregated in certain areas, squeezing in, smothering many of their cohorts.

I remember Mom, a one-time city girl, down on her hands and knees crying as she gathered up the dead bodies. The carnage really got to Mom and when Dad walked into the garage she let him have it and I mean she really let him have it. She threw dead turkeys at him.

Despite high casualties among the chicks, the Manzke family still had way too many turkeys and began finding ways to share their birds among friends and neighbors.

Our whole family tried to get those stupid birds to move to other areas of the garage. Boxes were used to break up the floor into separate sections. Nothing worked to stop the deaths.

Eventually, the mayhem ended as the birds grew. Still, there were way too many turkeys for us to raise. Dad said we could sell them. They left our place very inexpensively (I can’t remember exactly what we charged, but definitely a bargain price as we wanted/needed to get rid of them.) At that time, I was in agriculture classes in high school and in the FFA. We even brought a box filled with poults to a school FFA show.

Cousins George, Susan and Karen show off their hard-earned ribbons following the 1966 FFA poultry show.

Everyone in the area ended up with a few turkeys to raise. When it came close to Thanksgiving our local butcher couldn’t figure why his turkey sales were down.

My parents had enough of turkeys that year—I’m surprised Mom didn’t give up eating turkey forever. Dad did butcher the last of ours and packed them into the freezer. After all their ‘fun’ experiences with those birds, they couldn’t eat them, at least not for Thanksgiving—maybe by Easter. Eventually, Dad put one on a rotisserie on the grill.

Dad watched that bird turn over the coal for hours. When the turkey was fully cooked, Dad ran into the house for a pan so he could remove it. He wasn’t gone long, but when he returned the bird was engulfed in flames—a turkey’s revenge.

A flock of turkeys visits close to the Manzke house.

My parents never did see wild turkeys near their Illinois home. Dad had hunted pheasants, rabbits, and geese in his younger days, but never turkeys. Wild gobblers weren’t around. He would be surprised by the number that resides on our farm today. Oh, I don’t think he would hunt them. He gave up hunting when I was a teenager, but I think he’d like to watch them from a distance like Bob and I do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Susan Manzke, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;