Another oldie. No true names this week. I need to protect myself! Hope this doesn’t ruin your Thanksgiving!
We stunk. I mean, Hank and I literally stunk! An almost gagging stench from being covered head to toe in turkey crap. We heard the turkey farm outside our tiny rural Midwest village needed help. It was late August with dried up lawns, haying done, Little League long over, vacations taken and the local muck farm’s produce already picked. We were two fourteen-year-old boys, bored, broke and desperate to make some money, so we called the owner and were told to be there at 8:00 the next morning.
Hank and I promptly arrived to see a long semi stacked high with wooden cages parked next to a huge temporary pen undulating with a white, shimmering sea of gobbling turkeys. Dust from the mass of agitated fowl rose quickly in the already boiling sun. And the smell, well, that was foul too and got worse as the day wore on.
Instructions were brief. With our right hand we were to reach down and grip both feet of the turkey with our middle finger separating their ankles. Simultaneously our left hand was to grab the wing high, as close to the body as possible, and with one smooth movement hoist the bird up to two guys, perched precariously on a plank, who would stuff them into the cages.
The boss made it look easy, while he empathically emphasized: DO NOT BREAK A WING OR LEG! It was easy, but only if the turkeys stood in one place – which, of course they didn’t.
Sensing their ultimate fate, they were not about to stand still. We quickly learned to use both hands to grab their feet, transfer them to one hand, grab the wing and lift. Those turkeys kicked like hell, smashing our thumbs together, scratching our hands and wrists, madly flapping their wings, and lunging with their whole bodies, which threw us off balance. Grabbing and hoisting them upwards became our only focus. Who cared about an occasional broken wing or leg?
Of course, the idiot birds weren’t wearing diapers. Half-blind, eyes already stinging from our sweat and now mixed with turkey excrement, we somehow persevered.
Our job gradually became harder. The more turkeys that were loaded opened up more space for the remaining ones to run around in, sending us careening around the pen, diving for them through the dust and soiled dirt.
At last, the pen was empty. Boss man said he had one more load the next day and would pay us then. We mumbled our assent and headed for our homes, which were right across the street from each other. In stereo, our mothers, after one disgusting look and a quick sniff, hollered at us to hose off at the garden spigots, strip to our underpants in the outdoor basement stairways, then go down and scrub, thoroughly scrub from head to toe. After that, we could repeat the cleansing process upstairs in our main—and only bathrooms.
Hank and I did not return to load the next batch of turkeys, so we never got paid. We decided being bored and broke still beat loading turkeys. Three months later, at Thanksgiving dinner, I was unable to eat turkey. My stomach was queasy, I could barely remain seated through the meal. Apparently three months wasn’t enough time to remove those olfactory memories still seared deep in my nostrils.
What a turkey day!