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– Editor’s note: Due to reader requests, we are reprinting this Remember When column, which was originally published in the Nov. 19, 2006, edition of The Lancaster News. The story of Jim the turkey has indeed become a Thanksgiving tradition at The Lancaster News.
I don’t know if it was tradition or custom, but a couple weeks before “Big Thursday” or Thanksgiving Day, me and Daddy journeyed down to Tradesville to pick up our big ole gobbler.
There was a man my daddy knew who raised turkeys just for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, they didn’t come all plucked, dressed and oven-ready. These were honest-to-goodness strutters that looked right at you and lowered their wing feathers until they touched the ground. The toms, or male turkeys, were proud fellas and couldn’t resist showing you just how important they were.
One time, when we went down in the Ford Model A coupe to pick up our turkey, the man had a big one in a coop, ready and waiting.
Daddy placed the turkey and coop in the rumble seat and we headed back home. The man also gave us a croaker sack of dried and shelled yellow corn.
As we unloaded the coop in the fenced-in section of the back yard, I suggested to Daddy that we name the turkey, rather than calling it “the turkey” all the time. Daddy thought we should call him Jim, since there were hundreds of Toms out there.
That turned out to be a big mistake – you should never name something you plan to eat.
My job was to keep my temporary pet watered and fed every day. That shelled corn sure made him nice and plump.
The sack got lighter and Jim got heavier.
As the days moved toward Thanksgiving, old Jim and I got to be good friends. He was always eager to see me, especially at mealtime. Sometimes, I opened the coop and let Jim walk around that part of the yard.
It was easy to get him back inside the coop; all it took was a handful of corn.
The Monday afternoon before Big Thursday, Daddy instructed me to increase Jim’s corn rations because it was getting time to chop off his head.
For some reason, the announcement came as a shock. I knew that Jim’s fate was sealed when we placed him in the rumble seat back in Tradesville.
The thought of losing Jim saddened me. I just couldn’t stomach the idea of my feathered friend ending up on a big white platter in the center of our dining room table.
Now, Daddy was pretty predictable. He went to work early every morning and came home about 5 o’clock.
But before walking into the house, he would stop off to check the coop and Jim.
Two days before Thanksgiving, he didn’t like what he saw during his daily coop inspection.
Daddy stormed into the house, roaring that Jim was gone and looking for me. Maybe I left the coop raised up just a bit and Jim “slipped” out. Boy, what a commotion. The scene was getting ugly and I found something to do in the front yard.
Daddy, Mama, Aunt Bess and Uncle Harry went running across the yard looking for dinner.
They found gentle Jim nestled over by a peach tree in search of the corn he had grown accustomed to.
Old Jim made his last great gobble that day and met his Waterloo on the old apple tree stump.
I saw Jim one more time, on Thanksgiving afternoon. He was sitting in the middle of the dinner table wearing the best tan ever. His head and feathers were gone, but Jim was still big and proud.
I ate lots of ’tater salad, dressing, rice and gravy that day, but I just couldn’t take a bite of old Jim.
Old Jim was gone, but not forgotten. For a long time, my desire for turkey waned and it seemed that every time I put a single bite of turkey in my mouth and chewed, it doubled in size to the point that I almost choked.
Right now, there are two turkeys in my freezer waiting for Thanksgiving and Christmas and I dare anyone to rename them. They already have a name – I call them both “Eye of Round Roast,” which works just fine.