DURING one of our pre-bedtime story hours, feet up on the fender of the Beckwith Round Oak, Grandfather told me they postponed Thanksgiving one year so he'd have time to get home for the feast. For years I thought that was one of Grampie's yarns, but then I found that President Andrew Johnson did hold Thanksgiving over into December so the GAR boys would have an extra week. Abraham Lincoln had pegged the holiday for the last Thursday of November in his presidential proclamation of 1864, but that was too soon for Gramps, who was delayed at mustering out, so President Johnson obliged. Grampie walked up the road on the morning of that post-war Thanksgiving. Grandfather also told me, while on that subject, that our family never had a turkey on Thanksgiving until 1890, and then we didn't eat it.
In those times, things depended on what the farm produced, so Thanksgiving usually saw a roast of pork, or by times some venison. Grampie said that one year when he was small his father had provided the grist for and his mother had made a Thanksgiving squirrel pie, which was considered an exotic delicacy, since Mainers never felt the squirrel was truly a game bird. Southern stuff.
And Grandfather said there were no wild turkeys in our vicinity then, and he and his father never had any success in growing the barnyard kind. They lacked a know-how; something they did wrong. The eggs would hatch all right, under a hen, but when the poults got fledged they began to decline. Hens and ducks and geese, even guinea fowl, did fine, but turks, no. In the meantime, the turkey became the traditional dish for the Thanksgiving feast, and every year Grampie would try to grow one and failed. So he 'd chase down a couple of Brahma cockerels, or revert to a roast of pork.
Then one spring Grampie was over in Bowdoinham, 15 miles away, after some tommycods for pig feed, and he stopped to call on Alonzo Bickford. Alonzo had a beautiful flock of turkeys. Grampie spoke of his disaster record with the birds, and Alonzo gave him some tips on turkey culture, and also gave him a year-old turkey hen.
This hen, already beyond the hazard age, did all right among Grampie's barnyard birds, and while Grampie did nothing special to make her flourish, she did indeed. She laid some eggs, but having no mate her nesting effort came to naught, and as the harvest moon waxed and waned she was in prime condition to attend Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, farm people are not sensitive about such things, but with this gracious lady there was a revulsion to running her through the oven. The children had been hand feeding her all summer, and every evening would make a little ceremony about watching her fly up to roost in the pear tree on the front lawn. Her matutinal squawk had become the family alarm clock.
Marm Turk, Grampie was told, was not to be done in for ceremonial nourishment. Grampie chased down two Brahma cockerels, and Lady Turkey was thankful to move into the winter quarters along with the ducks and geese and hens, and eke the guinea fowl.
Come spring, she resumed her barnyard duties, and this humdrum program continued for some ten years. Then, in her dotage, Marm Turk stayed too close to the gap by the pasture lane, and Master Reynard the Fox intercepted her. Grandfather said he saw the fox spring, and he slung the old lady over his shoulder and staggered into the woods heavy laden. It was, Grampie told me, just two days before the last Thursday in November.
Grampie told me turkeys are crazy, anyway. He had that from Alonzo Bickford. Alonzo said his flock of turkeys would hang around the dooryard, talking amongst themselves, and all at once some sudden noise would frighten them. Like the dog's barking at the mailman, or a shed door slapping closed in the wind. At this, the flock would go into a tizzy and take wing and fly in terror up into the woods. There, the flock would compose itself, and in due time would walk back to the barnyard. Alonzo said he never had a turkey that knew enough to fly back. Returning took all afternoon. So Grampie told me.