(Photo by Mary Swander)
Thanksgiving is big business in Buggy Land. My Amish neighbors Abram and Bertha raise turkeys — free range, no chemicals or hormones — hot items for Iowa City folks who like to drive down here to pick up their fresh birds the night before their holiday dinners.
The Yutzys call all their grown children back to the farm to help with the processing, the feather plucker (adapted from an old wringer washer machine) whirling, run by an air compressor.
“Welcome to the gizzard factory,” Martha Yutzy hollered one morning from the processing room, dropping organ meats into large stainless steel buckets. A sign on the door read: DO NOT ENTER.
During Thanksgiving week, the turkeys are all plucked, cleaned and secured in plastic bags by the time the Wednesday evening rush rolls into the Yutzy farm.
Yet many of their customers are perplexed about communications.
“How am I to place my order?” they ask me. “No phone? No internet?”
“You can drop them a postcard,” I reply. “Or, you can just tell me what you want and I’ll walk over and tell them.”
“There’s only one thing dumber than a turkey,” the Amish have told me, “and that’s the person who raises them.”
In the past, I’ve raised a handful of the golden bronze creatures in my coop right along with my ducks and geese. The Yutzys always warn me against these kinds of mixed marriages, but I wave away their concern.
Coop cohabitation is usually fine for about two weeks with the chicks huddled under the heat lamp, their tiny beaks pecking the feed pan. The trouble starts when the birds have grown big enough to roam and I let them out to free range.
First, they have trouble staying in the pasture. Instead, they like to free range right out into the road, with buggies and cars swerving around them. Then, they like to huddle together on my front stoop, a noisy greeting party for the mail carrier or delivery truck.
Then, they like to follow the ducks. Once sprung from the coop, the ducks head for the neighbor’s pond, their small bodies squeezing through the fence. They launch themselves from the bank and swivel and swirl through the water with grace. They are born to float, their webbed feet propelling them across the cool farm pond.
On the other hand, the turkeys are born for dry land, but they like to follow anything that strikes their fancy. And that means ducks. Several times, the turkeys have run right after the ducks, jumping into the water, sinking toward the bottom of the pond, drowning. More than once, I’ve had to dash over to the water’s edge and fish out the turkeys with a butterfly net. Wet and bedraggled, I’ve tilted their heads to the side to drain the water from their lungs — just like I’d learned in my CPR course years ago.
Once the turkeys reach adulthood, they are usually nice and round and plump. The picture of Plymouth Rock. But sometimes they’re too big, so one year, I cut my turkeys in half. A 20-pound turkey is way too much meat for one person, I reasoned, and deposited six halves in the freezer.
Then I ended up inviting a couple of friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. And those two brought two more who brought two more. Eventually, I ended up with a party of 12. A few days before Thanksgiving, I rooted around in the freezer for meat to thaw. A half turkey certainly wouldn’t be sufficient to feed my company, so I grabbed two halves.
Thanksgiving morning arrived. I woke early and made the stuffing, but when I was ready to put the bird in the oven, I realized, you couldn’t stuff half of a turkey and make it seem like Thanksgiving. What to do? I got out a darning needle and threaded it with dental floss, and slowly, with big thick stitches, sewed the turkey halves together.
Then I tucked in the stuffing, and when my guests arrived, I took out a golden brown turkey from the oven, a turkey so perfectly basted and roasted that from a distance it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. Up close, with its stitches, it had a, well, Frankenturkey appearance.
Politely, my guests ooed and awed over the meat, and when we sat down to the mashed potatoes and cranberries, the baked bean dishes and pumpkin pie, we all bowed our heads and, picking pieces of floss from our teeth, gave thanks for the wholeness of our lives.
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