I come from a large extended family: my mom’s the oldest of eight, dad’s the oldest of seven. Holidays at my grandma Kit’s house (mom’s side) are crazy: cousins, animals, aunts and uncles all running haywire. Stories are told and retold, children are in and out of the house all day followed by the dogs, cats are hiding in terror, and horses are hitched up for rounds of sleigh rides. It’s all loud insanity and it’s wonderful.
When I was about five my grandparents lived on a large farm in northern Minnesota, outside of Cloquet. It was more than a hobby farm, less than a farm-for-a-living spread. After all, they had seven kids still at home (four of them teenage boys) to feed so anything they could supply from the farm was much more cost effective for a second grade teacher and a heavy equipment driver for the county. In addition to the herd of horses, cats and dogs for fun, I remember cows, chickens, goats, sheep, guinea hens, and turkeys. There were probably other random animals from time to time…I know one of my aunts had a pet raccoon for a while.
One turkey in particular took an instant disliking to my small five-year-old form. He decided I was a blonde devil and for months I couldn’t walk near the barn without him attacking. In case you didn’t know, 25lb turkeys fully live and loaded have VERY STRONG wings: he’d extend them out to each side and run at me, screeching and beating his wings at me until I was cornered against the barn. I loathed that stupid bird. My aunt Elyse, only seven years older than me, had to beat him away from me with a big stick. That bastard gave me nightmares every time I stayed at Grandmas for the entire summer.
Thanksgiving came and we were all sitting around the large kitchen table. It was a cacaphony of children and adults all talking at once, passing food, slipping treats to the dogs under the table, and laughing. I, being the oldest (and therefore exalted) grandchild, sat next to my Grandpa, a big, gruff man who was really a big softie with the grandkids. He watched me take a big bite of turkey and waited until I swallowed. Then he told me that was the big nasty tom from the barn. To this day I think he was telling me just to see how I’d react, being a girl mostly sheltered from the more unpleasant farm duties (we never went there on butchering day after the chicken incident).
I cheered and asked for more.