Turkeys by the Dozen

Turkeys by the Dozen

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Dorothy Rieke

I really don’t know why Mother decided to raise turkeys. Maybe, she was hoping to have a treat on holidays, or maybe she just liked the looks of those birds, or maybe she needed money for a special project. 

Whatever the reason, Mother drove to a neighbor’s farm home and returned with nearly 100 large, fertile turkey eggs.  

Hens were selected, nests were prepared, and feeders and waterers were in place. Soon, her setting hens would be setting on large brown-speckled eggs. I could not wait to see those baby turkeys or poults. 

It took 28 days for the hatching. Mother was disappointed that some eggs did not hatch because she wanted live chicks from every egg. From many of the eggs came long-legged poults, larger than baby chicks.  

During those first few days, I’m sure the poults probably had trouble deciding who their mothers were, as my mother was out there multiple times each day checking the hens and the poults.  

Mother always watched to see that all poults had their turn at the feeders. At times, poults starved because they had no turn at the feeders. As they grew older, they were not selective in what they ate. With huge appetites, they not only ate the food provided for them, but other bits and pieces on the ground including berries, seeds, and insects.  

As we watched those active little poults, we saw they were playful, exhibiting unique personalities. They liked to be babied and seemed to enjoy spending time with humans.   

During storms, they apparently had no fear. They cavorted around seemingly unaware of the lightning and thunder. We heard that poults could drown in a storm as some seemed to gaze up at the sky until they drowned.  

As they grew older, they communicated with gobbles, purrs, yelps, and kee-kees.  

It was my mother’s job to provide clothing for my sister and me. This was an ongoing problem as we were both growing fast. Cotton material was expensive; jeans or slacks were not worn. Dresses were “in.” 

Because I was the youngest and the smallest of the family, my dresses and coats were sewn from Mother’s clothes, my older sister’s outgrown clothing, or my aunt’s castoff garments.  

Ordinarily, this was a fine arrangement. However, as I grew into the teens, I began looking at others my age. They had been wearing pretty, stylish “Cinderella” dresses purchased at the local clothing store. I began thinking that I would like something more like what they were wearing. 

One early fall day, Mother said, “Dorothy, we must soon think about your winter coat. That one you wore last year will be too small.” She continued, “I believe that Auntie brought a box of clothing over last week. I think it included a coat. Let’s go look.” 

We walked to the closet. Mother pulled out the box of clothing. She reached into the box and pulled out a heavy black winter coat.  

Oh, horrors! I recoiled at the sight of that thing! I thought it looked like a huge, black, furry animal ready to attack. 

Mother was elated. “Oh, Dorothy, just look at this material. It is a beautiful piece of wool, and see the lining.” 

Maybe, she was hoping to have a treat on holidays, or maybe she just liked the looks of those birds, or maybe she needed money for a special project. Whatever the reason, Mother drove to a neighbor’s farm home and returned with nearly 100 large, fertile turkey eggs.

The lining was satin, but there was an inner lining of flannel-like material. “How warm this will be!” she enthused.  

I whined, “Mama, I don’t like that color. My friends do not wear black coats.” 

She replied, “Oh, don’t worry about that. This is a lovely piece of woolen material. It will keep you warm, and I know there is enough material to make you a tam to go with your coat.” 

Tam or not, I did not want a coat made of that material! “Mama, I do not like that material. I do not want a coat of it!” I asserted.  

Mother replied, “Well, we will see.”  

Nothing more was mentioned about that coat. I was relieved, but I figured that I would soon have a coat made of Auntie’s old coat.  

The turkeys were now ready to butcher, and the holidays were near. Mother began selling her turkeys, alive or butchered. She and my sister dressed quite a few for the Thanksgiving holiday. They delivered and sold several dozen.  

Mother still had turkeys left to sell. One day a member of the Chamber of Commerce of a nearby town called. He was searching for turkeys for a raffle. Did she have a large number of turkeys they could buy? Mother had enough for their purposes, and that was all she wanted to sell. They came one afternoon and loaded the turkeys. Mother had her turkey money.  

Early one evening, we took our eggs and cream to a nearby town. The eggs would be sold, and Mother would use that money for groceries. Dad would take the cream money, some for church, and some for other expenses.  

After the produce was delivered, Mother said to me, “Come on, Dorothy, we are going to buy you a winter coat.” We walked past Penney’s and on to the really nice department store in town, Wessels.  

“Mother, we can’t go to Wessels; they are high-priced.” 

She replied, “We will see.” 

My mother, who “schooled” me on keeping chickens and turkeys.

We entered the store and walked back to the coat section. What a lovely array of brightly colored coats were on racks! Mrs. Granger came forward. Mother told her that we were looking for a coat for me. My heart was hammering in my chest. What were we doing here? This was too expensive! 

I tried on several coats. Finally, Mother saw a gold-colored coat on the rack. “Let’s try on that one.” Mrs. Granger helped me put on the coat.  

I walked over to the three-way mirror. I could not believe my eyes! I was no longer a gawky little girl. I appeared to be a sophisticated teenager. The gold-colored, three-quarter-length coat was perfect for me. It had no buttons, but a wide belt held the front in place. The collar snuggled against my neck bringing a sense of warmth. At one glance, I loved that coat. It was so pretty and stylish! 

I held my arm so I could see the price tag. Oh, horrors, we could not pay $29, for a coat!  I looked at Mother.  

After a few minutes of inspection, Mother told Mrs. Granger that we would take the coat. I could not believe my ears! I would have this glorious coat! 

During the Great Depression, many emotions were displayed. Most displayed were compassion, thoughtfulness, kindness, and caring. At that time, many sacrificed to bring happiness to others.

As we left the store, clutching a box containing the oh-so-special coat, I questioned Mother, “How can we afford this coat? “ 

Mother replied, “This coat will last a long time. Being three-quarter-length, you will not easily outgrow it. The front has a large overlay of material. Also, that material is the kind that will wear well.”  

I felt so elated, and yet I felt disturbed. Mother used most of her turkey money to buy me a coat. What had been her plans for that money? I am sure that money was earmarked for something else. Truthfully, I felt rather selfish. However, I loved the coat, and it wore well for years.  

 During the Great Depression, many emotions were displayed. Most displayed were compassion, thoughtfulness, kindness, and caring. At that time, many sacrificed to bring happiness to others. 

Mothers and fathers often gave up their own dreams to see that the dreams of their children came true. Perhaps, in some ways, the Great Depression brought out the best in everyone. 

Originally published in the October/November 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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