Iowa Writers' Collaborative.  Linking Iowa readers and writers.Thanksgiving is big business in Buggy Land. My Amish neighbors Abram and Bertha raise turkeys—free range, no chemicals or hormones—hot produce for the Iowa City folks who love to drive down here to pick up their fresh birds the night before their holiday dinner.

The Yutzys call all of their adult children back to the farm to help with the processing, which spins the feather plucker (adapted from an old Wringer washing machine), powered by an air compressor.

“Welcome to the gizzard factory,” Martha Yutzy yelled from the processing room one morning, tossing offal 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 until the rush rolls onto the Yutzy farm on Wednesday night.

Still, many of their customers are at a loss about how to communicate.

“How should I place my order?” they ask me. “No cell phone? No internet?”

“You can send them a postcard,” I reply. “Or you can just tell me what you want and I’ll go over and tell them.”

“There’s only one thing dumber than a turkey,” the Amish have told me, “and that’s the person raising it.”

In the past, I’ve raised a handful of the golden-bronze creatures in my pen along with my ducks and geese. The Yutzys always warn me about such mixed marriages, but I brush it off.

Cohabitation in the barn is usually fine for about two weeks, when the chicks are huddled under the heat lamp and their tiny beaks are picking at the feeder pan. Trouble starts when the birds are big enough to roam and I let them loose.

First, they have trouble staying in the pasture. Instead, they like to roam freely on the road while buggies and cars curve around them. Then they like to snuggle up on my front steps, a raucous welcome party for the postman or delivery truck.

Then they like to follow the ducks. Once out of the coop, the ducks go to the neighbor’s pond, their little bodies squeezing through the fence. Launching from the shore, they twirl and swirl through the water with grace. Born to float, their webbed feet propel them across the cool farm pond.

On the other hand, turkeys are born for the mainland, but they happily follow anything that comes their way. And that means ducks. Several times the turkeys ran right after the ducks, jumped into the water, sank to the bottom of the pond and drowned. More than once I had to run to the water and fish out the turkeys with a butterfly net. Wet and muddy, I tilted their heads to the side to drain the water from their lungs—just like I learned in my CPR class years ago.

(Photo by Mary Swander)

By the time turkeys reach adulthood, they are usually nice and plump. The image of Plymouth Rock. But sometimes they’re too big, so I’ve cut my turkeys in half in a year. A 20-pound turkey is way too much meat for one person, I reasoned, putting six halves in the freezer.

Then I ended up inviting some friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. And the two brought two more who brought two more. Finally I had a group of 12 people. A few days before Thanksgiving, I was rummaging in the freezer for meat to thaw. Half a turkey certainly wouldn’t be enough to feed my company, so I grabbed two halves.

Thanksgiving morning came. I woke up early and made the stuffing, but by the time I was ready to put the bird in the oven I realized you can’t stuff half a turkey and make it look like Thanksgiving. What to do? I pulled out a darning needle, threaded dental floss, and slowly, using large, thick stitches, sewed the halves of the turkey together.

Then I stuffed in the stuffing, and when my guests arrived I pulled a golden brown turkey out of the oven, a turkey so perfectly basted and roasted that from a distance it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. Up close, it had a, well, Franconian turkey look with its bites.

My guests coughed politely and marveled at the meat, and as we sat down to mashed potatoes and cranberries, baked bean dishes and pumpkin pie, we all bowed our heads and flossed our teeth in thanks to the wholeness of our lives.

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