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McCallum: Carving The Turkey

11/26/09 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(HOST) Tomorrow, many people around the country will participate in the second annual National Day of Listening. As part of that effort, commentator Mary McCallum has a family story in which the phrase "carving the turkey" takes on an entirely new meaning.    

(MCCALLUM) This is a Thanksgiving story It was told by my father each year when the holiday rolled round, and we children winced at every telling. It is less about seasonal thankfulness and more about the perils of inexperience. Before you listen further I warn you that I cannot honestly use the phrase we see on theater screens that states, "No animals were harmed in the making of this story." As in Shakespeare, this tale is a tragedy, but also a comedy of errors.

It was 1941. My father had two small children and a job at a defense plant, and thus was spared having to enlist. My parents rented a bungalow on Long Island with Dad's brother, his wife and their two toddlers, so it was a full house. Both men were city boys born and raised in Brooklyn, and were struggling to make ends meet in lean times.

But that year they had a windfall: a week before Thanksgiving my father won a turkey at the plant where he worked, which was like winning the lottery. But there was a hitch. Instead of a nicely packaged dead bird, he brought home a live gobbler. He and his brother put the tom down in the small cellar until the day of reckoning arrived, and for a week the upstairs of the house echoed with turkey talk.

Suffice it to say that neither of the two city slickers knew a lick about farm animals or the dispatching thereof. The day before Thanksgiving my father and uncle steeled themselves and went gingerly down the cellar stairs armed with a carving knife - unfortunately rather dull - and began what turned out to be a prolonged execution. The women paced upstairs, trying vainly to ignore the racket of the poor turkey squawking at the two knuckleheads.

Eventually they prevailed, but it was an ordeal for all. For her part, my mother dutifully roasted the bird on Thanksgiving Day but could not eat a bite. She stuck to the side dishes and swore never again would they take in a live turkey, free or not. My uncle went on to keep chickens later in life and learned the proper way to harvest them. But after that luckless war-time bird, my father, bless his heart, never again took a carving knife to anything still moving.


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