Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
December 25, 1996, Page 16 (Section B)
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
“A Memorable Christmas”
By Dee Zimmerman
Christmas is a special time of the year, a time when many of us celebrate our Lord’s birth, God’s great gift to us and a time of sharing with others.
When we think about the past seasons, I’m sure each of us has a special Christmas memory that stands out amongst the rest.
One of my Christmas memories goes back to my childhood when we lived in South Dakota. The word “turkeys” usually means Thanksgiving to most people. Well, I think of a “special Christmas” in reference to “turkeys.”
My parents were in the business of crop farming during the depression and drought of the 30’s, not6 a lucrative business in that era. However, as a youngster, I had no worries as long as we were together as a family that seemed most important.
In the spring of ’36, mom decided to give a try at raising turkeys. She ordered 50 turkey poults from the hatchery in Mitchell. She received a card in the mail when the day old poults could be picked up. Preparations were made to care for the tan, dark brown striped fuzzy little fowl. I liked holding them, they were so soft. Mom had to remind me to put them back in their pen where they had to be kept warm and dry until they grew some feathers. They were fed dry oatmeal and cornmeal in the beginning.
Gradually, as the poults grew bigger, they were let out of the pen, free to wander about the farm and eventually looked for their feed elsewhere returning to the farm yard for shelter in the evenings.
That was the start of mom’s turkey raising venture. The following years she kept laying hens. Each spring, after the snow was melted, in early April, the turkey hens would start looking for suitable locations for nests to lay their eggs. Mom would watch from the kitchen window, as one by one, each hen would take off, on her own, leaving the flock, each going in different directions. The fence lines were favorite nesting areas. The weeds, last year’s sun flower stalks and tumble weeds would collect along the fence. The round tumble weeds, once dried, would break off at the roots when pushed by a strong wind and roll until hitting a barrier such as a fence line where they would stop. Each hen would look in the tangled collection of weeds to make her nest.
After a nest was made, each forenoon, the hen would return to her nest, to lay one egg each day until she had laid an average of twelve to fifteen in all. However, with the threat of predators eating the eggs, mom would make a daily trip out to the turkey’s nest, later, and pick up the egg putting it in a cloth lined basket to be carried back to the house, her reason for watching where each hen went so she could find the nests. Mom would place a fake, glass egg in the nest to assure the turkey hen that the nest wasn’t raided or she would move out to look elsewhere. Often, on Saturdays, I would accompany mom and wonder how she could find those nests that I could never find.
When the turkey hens would each start staying on the nest ready to set, mom would return an equally divided number of eggs to each nest, ready for incubation. After 28 days, the baby turkeys would start pecking their way through the egg shells. In a day or two, they would be running beside their mothers.
The year of 1938 was a good year for a bumper “turkey crop.” A suitable spring, all conditions were right for the flock’s growth. Conditions had been good for the corn crop too; it was looking great, to the point of beginning to tassel, when on one mid-afternoon dad called us outdoors. The sky had a dust like appearance and a whirring sound in the air – grass-hoppers were landing on the beautiful corn plants and through the night, we could hear the chewing. The next morning all that remained on the big corn field was about six inches of stalks near the ground, except in one corner of the field, where they took off to attack someone else’s field. A consolation was turkeys ate grasshoppers.
That fall, two weeks before Thanksgiving, the turkey flock was herded into the large granary where they were kept and fed small grain and some corn to be fattened up for market. On market day, friends helped mom and dad catch the turkeys which would have made a humorous video taping if there had been such a thing back then. Some hens were saved for the next year.
My dad’s sister, Rosy and Uncle Adolph had a turkey harvest ice as large as ours that year. A month before Christmas, Aunt Rosy sent a letter inviting us to be their guests on Christmas Eve. We always went to grandpa and grandmas on Christmas Day, my mom’s parents.
On that Christmas Eve, my parents, brother and I, left in our ’29 Dodge sedan. Traveling the twenty plus miles was fine as there was only a wisp of snow on the ground. Arriving at their home about five, we entered the house smelling the aroma of food, especially roasting turkey. As we walked past the dining room table, all set for the festive meal, we were surprised to find the parlor door closed. The door was locked, as well as the door’s entrance from the downstairs bedroom to the parlor.
After eating the delicious meal and clearing the table of dishes, we kids heard bells outdoors and some banging, “It had to be Santa.” Having to wait for a few minutes, my aunt unlocked the parlor door for us all to enter. There in the opposite corner of the room was the biggest most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen! It nearly reached the ceiling, all decorated with candles, ornaments and tinsel. Uncle Adolph climbed a step ladder to light the candles held to branches by a clip-on holder while Aunt Rosy stood by with a bucket of water to throw if the tree started burning.
We stood in awe as the last candle was lit, the only light illuminating throughout the room, what a beautiful sight I had never before seen. Then after a minute or two, all the lighted candles had to be blown out before they burned down too far, a threat to the tree. Not until then did we notice the many gifts under the tree.
My cousins each received a new winter coat, new pair of shoes, and sweaters. There were some toys and a special big present hid behind the tree – a gift to be shared by my cousin, Sophie, a year older than me, and her brother, Arnold who was a year younger than me – a new shinny red and white Schwinn bicycle with a batteried light! Wow! I learned to ride bicycle on that Schwinn the following year. The two younger cousins, Elmer and Arlene got a red Flyer wagon and tricycle.
That wasn’t all, either; Uncle Adolph took us outdoors to the lean-to on the granary – turning the flashlight on a brand new black 1938 Chevy sedan, bought for the price of $500! The following summer I was able to ride in that car – the car I remember the family having for many years after.
It was a joyful Christmas. We all shared in the joy at a time when there weren’t many material things, such as not always sufficient necessities. There was that year – as well as some of the extras. I don’t remember of being envious - just happy for everyone. My cousins, Sophie and Arnold and I shared many fun times together when we were youngsters – so our family shared their happiness that Christmas. A year of plenty provided by an excellent turkey harvest!
An 1890’s view of the O’Neill House dining room that was located on the intersection of 6th and Hewett Streets, present site of the Neillsville post office. Note the Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling, the Holly décor on table cloths and napkins with Christmas tree in the background, and the caned dining tables. The wood burning heater at the center of the room with stove pipe from it running up and across the back of the room to the chimney. (Photo courtesy of the Clark County Historical Jail Museum)
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