Debby Summey:Turkey tales

  • Friday, November 16, 2012

Why did the turkey cross the road ... on crutches?  You’ll find out at the end of this column.  

In the meantime, the photo you see here is of me, nearly 62  years ago, sitting outside my grandmother’s kitchen door gnawing on a turkey leg at Thanksgiving.  
Looks like I mean business ... nothing much left but the bone.
I set out to find material for this column by searching for Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving turkey on the Georgetown County Digital Library website.  What I found surprised me.
First of all, I searched every reference available in the 1890s.  The most prevalent reference was the S.C. Governor’s announcement each year as to which day Thanksgiving would be celebrated, and each year it was different.

Further research showed that it wasn’t until 1941 that a unified date was set for the entire country to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November.  This federal legislation was mandated under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Actually, I found very few references to Thanksgiving on the GCDL website, except for announcements from various churches about services being held on the designated date.  

The only other activities noted were the hunts the men participated in on Thanksgiving Day.  
There was mention of fox hunts, deer drives, and duck hunting on Winyah Bay.  
I suppose they shot their turkeys the day before so the meal could be cooked while they were in the woods.

I guess they didn’t have designated seasons for hunting at that time.  
Imagine leaving your duck blind with your birds and going straight into the woods to try and bring a buck home for a venison roast.  

Imagine, also, a Thanksgiving Day without football games!  
The men were in the woods, not glued to televisions as the women cleaned the kitchen.
In 1895, the local paper offered advice on fattening up those turkeys before the big day.  One article recommended starting three weeks before market.  Turkeys were to be fed all the cooked corn meal and potatoes they could eat for the morning and noontime feedings, as well as plenty of grain at night.  
And don’t forget the ‘pure water’ and ‘rich milk’ to be made available at all times.
An article in May of 1897 told of a ‘turkey pen’ in Kentucky that sent 20,000 to 30,000 turkeys to market each season.
If you’re squeamish, or think that Butterball turkeys grow on trees, don’t read the next few paragraphs.

The turkeys were driven into the turkey house where they were placed upside down in boxes which were attached to the walls in rows.  
There was an opening at the bottom of each box where the head and neck protruded.  Workers with sharp knives walked up and down the rows slicing open the necks so the turkeys would bleed out.  
The article states, “Death does not seem to be painful.”  Oh, yeah?
The bodies then went to the ‘picking room’ where they were suspended with twine cord for picking.
Men, women and children picked (plucked feathers) for three cents per turkey, sometimes picking 50-60 birds a day.
Sounds gruesome, doesn’t it?  The next story should make you feel a little bit better about the fate of the poor turkey in those days.  
In December of 1884, the local paper published a story about a Captain Bridge in California who was known for his fine poultry.
One season, he noticed swelling in the legs of his turkeys that prevented them from roaming, their favorite pastime.  
He used hot water treatments which seemed to work, but the process was too slow.

So ... he fashioned pairs of little wooden crutches, seven inches in length, and secured them under the turkeys’ wings.  
In each case, it only took the turkey a few hours to master the crutches and they were able to happily hobble around the yard.  
I’m not making this up, I swear.
To the GCDL ... thanks for the memories.

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at djsummey@gmail.com.



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