Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
THE SCHMITT TURKEY FARM
The week before Thanksgiving Day, the Schmitt Turkey Farm near Pennsylvania Amish country was in a dither. Everyone from Mama and Papa Schmitt, the fourth generation who owned this most profitable and bloody of enterprises, down to their three children knew exactly what was expected of them.
The cheerful sun entered their large clapboard house at six in the morning, but by then, Mama had their breakfast spread out on the white linen table cloth.
“Sure is good, Mama,” said her husband in his blue overalls, as he sopped up the blueberry flapjacks with cornbread. “Ida May, you’re gonna make sure the milk machines is workin’ all right.”
“Yes, Papa,” said the blond pigtailed little girl.
“What you doing there?” Mama said to Richie.
He looked up at her guiltily, with a sly look at his father.
“Uh, Carolyn doesn’t like blueberries, so I’m pulling them, uh, out of her flapjacks.”
“And wasting them!” cried Mama.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m gonna feed them to our fish in the aquarium.”
“My land!” cried Mama. “Now I’ve heard everything.
The seventy turkeys had been shooed from the pasture where their low contented sounds – they were talkier than Aunt Martha - could be heard in the house. The whole family would gaze lovingly upon them – the children loved their wobbling wattles beneath their chins – as the birds ate just about everything the pasture had to offer: the smooth green tips of grass, insects, baby birds, and the gravel the Schmitts had sprinkled over the grass to make sure their gizzards could digest the food.
Mama refused to eat any of the turkeys or make turkey soup, complete with gizzards and livers, until Thanksgiving was over and all the hired hands had been paid and fed.
The turkeys made quite a procession to their new outdoor enclosure. The family always wondered what they knew. They were pretty damn sure they sensed trouble as they were especially talkative and collected in small groups, like gossipy women, though these were all male. The females looked over from the pasture. Not to put too human a perspective on the little ladies, they did seem rather sad.
Richie would brag to his friends at the one-room school house that his father had hired “cowboys” to help out. The other children begged Richie to come over and see them. Richie was sorry to inform them his father had so “no.”
“And when Papa says ‘no’ he won’t change his mind, no matter how much I promise that I’ll work harder than ever and give him my second tooth when it falls out, saving him a quarter from The Tooth Fairy.”
The turkeys walked carefully into their new enclosure, like women in high heels. Though automatic feeders and watering machines were now all the rage, The Schmitts kept to their old-fashioned methods – hand-feeding an bowls of fresh water – and had people coming from miles around for their famous fowl. The Action News Channel had interviewed the family several times over the years and proclaimed the product “Second to none. Tender, flavorful, and juicy.”
All the children, with one exception, loved the traditional turkey dinner. They were joined by some customers they befriended over the years.
Carolyn had celebrated her fourth birthday. She loved nothing more than Mama to read to her at night. She loved animal stories. Life on the Farm. The Little Moo-Cow. Poky the Puppy. An obedient little girl, she hated when Papa got mad. His face looked like a red-faced dragon to her, so she never disobeyed. Or rarely did.
The night before the turkey sale would begin, Carolyn peeked out her upstairs window. All was quiet as if the snow had recently fallen. Autumn leaves were shaking on the trees and then whirling to the ground. She walked slowly down the stairs so as not to waken the others and went outside. She shivered in the evening chill.
The turkeys were asleep. She had no idea what she was going to do but found herself opening up the gate. At first the turkeys did nothing. Then with a great burst of noise, they began running from the pen. Freedom! They had no leader so they ran in different directions. Some headed for the house, where the family would feed them table scraps. Others ran for the pasture where the females made a joyful noise and raced toward the doomed birds.
In all the chaos, little Carolyn, in her blue flannel nightgown, had been knocked down by the turkey stampede, and lay on the cold ground.
By now, the household was roused.
“Good God almighty!” shouted Mr Schmitt. “Our lives are ruined. What are we gonna do?”
“Hush up,” said his wife. “We’re gonna round them all up, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
They phoned the hired hands who drove right over from their hotel rooms. The turkeys were loaded onto cars, Jeeps, backhoes, every type of vehicle on the farm. One or two could fit into outstretched arms. Carolyn was lifted up, hugged, and carried a fat one back to the pen.
At 10 am when the Schmitt Turkey Farm unlocked the front gates, Mr. Schmitt, in his overalls and straw hat, was waving in the customers. Each turkey had been slaughtered in the barn, the Kosher way, causing the less stress possible, making for the tenderest and juiciest turkeys this side of Ohio.
T H E E N D