But I remember this day like it was yesterday: It was November of 1967. My Kindergarten class at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chester PA had been abuzz for a week anticipating our upcoming Thanksgiving Field Trip. My teacher, Mrs. Kelleher was a stout woman who always found creative ways to teach us the basics of reading, simple math, and organized playtime. She lived on a farm in the southern end of the county with her husband and four children, whereas all of us dozen or so students lived in or around the urban city of Chester, PA.
Mrs. Kelleher told us a week prior Thanksgiving that we would be going on a special Thanksgiving Field Trip. Imagine the excitement leading up to this. As a 5 year old is there anything more exciting than a day out of the classroom? And, Mrs. Kelleher helped feed that excitement by way of the projects we were given associated with the upcoming trip.
We first learned of the Indians (that’s what we called them before political correctness took over the classrooms), and the offerings they gave the pilgrims. Then we learned about the Pilgrims struggle in the new world. We learned Thanksgiving songs, “Come Ye Thankful People Come”. Can the world have been anymore simple and beautiful?
During the final days leading to our amazing journey we were asked to choose roles. Did we want to portray Indians or Pilgrims on our trip? I never wanted to be an Indian for anything. They always got shot by the cowboys, so I knew right away I was going to be a Pilgrim. I made a big pilgrim stovepipe hat from construction paper, and a shiny buckle made of card board and aluminum foil. Robin was my girlfriend back then. We were going to be married. She and her friends made ladies bonnets out of tissue paper. Boy was she nice. I was thinking about sitting next to her on the bus if she’d let me the day we went on our Field Trip.
The day finally came and we were so ready to have the ultimate Thanksgiving experience. The bus pulled up in front of our little church school and made a big hissing sound as the doors swung open. We were dressed in our finest Pilgrim/Indian attire singing our Thanksgiving songs. I was the tallest kid in the class. Since we always lined up shortest to tallest, I was the last one in line to get on that bus. How unfair! I could barely contain myself and was pushing those in front of me to get on the bus so my adventure could begin.
As I stepped into the vehicle and climbed the steps to get to the seating, my only thought was “Where is Robin?” Then as I looked through the line of classmates in front of me, I heard that beautiful squeak of a laugh.
There she was…smiling as I approached. I was getting ready to make my move when my total view cleared and there right next to her was not an empty seat, but Scotty Myer? What? And she’s smiling at him! Heartbreak! Scotty Myer? Sitting next to my Robin? He’s a poopy head! This day was not starting out well.
The bus rolled out and the trip had begun. I soon forgot about Robin and Poopy Head and turned my thoughts to what lie ahead. Mrs. Kelleher told us we were going to see the Turkeys. Real. Turkeys. Honest to goodness live turkeys. What could be more appropriate on the day before Thanksgiving?
I couldn’t tell you how long we were in that bus, but as we rolled up the gravel driveway we came upon a fenced in structure with a low ceiling. Inside, as far as we could see, were white gobbling live turkeys. We filed off the bus and made our way over to the holding pens that held our Thanksgiving birds. There were hundreds of them. All scurrying about, making all sorts of noises. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I never have seen so many animals in one place before in my life. What a sight! We walked around the perimeter and were able to get close enough to look into their eyes. At the edge of the fencing there would be feed that had fell out of the pen so we picked it up and got the Turkeys to eat from our little hands. This was a thrill. We all felt we had our own pet Turkeys. I named mine Tom after the story of Tomas Turkey we read. This was truly an amazing thing.
Next we were brought into a work shed adjacent to the Turkey pen. The inside was all thick wood beams and a large wooden table in the center of the room. We made a circle around the inside perimeter of the room with that big table in the middle. Why in the world was that sitting there? There weren’t any chairs around it to sit on. Then a man came out who must have been an artist, because he had on one of those painter smocks that we made out of an old shirt from Dad’s closet for Art class.
His smock had paint splattered all over it so he must have been a real artist. I also noticed that this man was holding onto a funny looking hammer with some sort of flat end on the back of it. I couldn’t figure out what kind of picture he was going to paint with that?
The man, let’s call him Hank, welcomed us to his farm and asked if we enjoyed the ride and meeting all the Turkeys. We were gleeful thinking about our new pets, and I was hoping this artist would maybe help me paint a picture of my new pet Tom. But, that wasn’t the case, because Hank had an assistant walk into the room, let’s call him Herman, carrying not paint, or brushes, or even paper for our pictures.
Herman was carrying in each had a fully plucked, steaming wet turkey, holding it by the neck as they swung in his hands to the cadence of his walk. Herman would toss the bald Turkeys onto that big wooden table and Hank would take that funny looking hammer and raise it high above his head and slam it down on the neck with that funny looking flat end making a loud chomping sound tossing the severed head onto the floor.
Oh My God! That’s not paint on Hank’s smock, that Turkey blood!!! Then Hank would pick the headless turkeys up by their feet and place the legs into a kind of lever device attached to one of the support beams and lower it making the crunching sound of a handful of twigs as the legs fell to the floor. Chomp, Crunch, Chomp, Crunch as the lifeless heaps of turkey were tossed onto a cart and wheeled out by Herman as he was bringing in two more carcasses for massacre. Chomp, Crunch, Chomp Crunch.
This went on for a long time as me and my fellow Pilgrims/Indians stood with our mouths agape at the carnage. Robin started to cry, and Poopy Head ran outside to throw up. Hank was nice enough to offer us juice and cookies after the kill and before our trip back to school. I don’t think a bus load of 5 year olds was ever so quiet as it was on that ride away from the Turkey Slaughter House.
I had Turkey with my family that year for Thanksgiving and did for all the subsequent Thanksgivings since. It was about 15 years later that I looked back on that day and thought What The Hell?!?
So, this Thanksgiving like all those before it as I gather around the table with my family, I will give special thanks to Hank, Herman, Mrs. Kelleher, Robin and Poopy Head for providing me an early lesson that life isn’t always going to be fair. Happy Thanksgiving!!!