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Saturday, November 24, 2007
THE HISTORIC SHOWDOWN AT GRANDPA'S FARM
It is hard to imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without a good old traditional juicy, plump turkey sitting on the table. When your family drives for miles over hill and dale to Grandma's farm in order to celebrate that one festive day each year, you sure don't expect a rather ordinary chicken to grace the table
Such was the Thanksgiving of ‘72. A holiday still spoken of around the Johanson holiday gatherings, lest the younger generation be doomed to repeat the same mistakes perpetrated that infamous day not so long ago.
This mess all started when my Grandfather Nels decided not to go the route of buying a frozen turkey from Jerry's Red Owl grocery store that year. He had a score to settle with his brother. This particular feud started the previous year when great Uncle Donald bagged the 12 point buck that Grandpa had in his rifle site. The exact moment he was ready to pull the trigger he realized the log he sat upon to steady his aim was also home to a colony of red ants, who were quite angry for being disturbed once they settled in for the fall.
Being caught under fire from behind caused Gramps to heave the rifle onto a rock pile, which in turn set off the firing mechanism, which then caused the bullet to find its mark in Ralph Peterson's prized Holstein. The good news is the Holstein survived but walks with an unfortunate limp. The bad news is the buck darted into my great-uncles pasture and straight for the barn.
Now poor old Donald couldn't see more than a stones throw, or so they say, but bagging this deer was a cinch. The next week's Prairie Times had a large photo of Donald holding back the head of that wonderful freezer full of venison. From that moment on a feud began that always left everyone in the family very uncomfortable. Just one word of the red ants could set off a barrage of Swedish vulgarities that could cause Eric the Red to blush like a Sunday School teacher.
It may be true the argument went all the way to the grave but long before that occurred, battles would erupt, like the time at our family barbecue when my Great Uncle Donald nearly gave Gramps a coronary when he bragged about how he had to stalk that deer for miles. The plate went to the ground and away they went. I truly believe that in reality they loved each other, but their staunch Northern European manhood would never admit it.
NOW THE STORY
Grandpa Nels stopped by to visited Jim Nelson who had an aluminum fishing boat he been talking about selling, though he wasn't all that sure he would actually let it go. Nels really didn't want to buy the boat, but instead sought an excuse to run off for the afternoon, drink coffee and hide from Grandma. You see Grandma was on his back about cleaning out the mud room, so it once again resembled the enclosed back porch she had built on to the farmhouse. Well Nels didn't feel up to it, but then he never did.
Jim Nelson farmed the piece opposite the old Gunderson place about three miles out of town on the blacktop leading up to Eagle Lake Lutheran Church. He and his wife, Irene, raised wild turkeys and every year they would sell them off around the first of November.
Jim's wife laid out lunch for the men then departed to finish her chores. When she returned Irene pulled out her "angry finger," and suggested to Jim, with a dead on wagging finger that he should forget about selling that stupid boat and wait ‘till spring when it will bring a decent price. She reminded him that turkeys needed to be sold in two weeks or they'd be stuck feeding them all winter.
Inspiration stuck Grandpa like a bolt of lightning. He would buy one of those 35 pound feathered beasts and serve it for Thanksgiving. His mind laid out the whole story for his brother to see who was the big hunter. The way Nels would tell the fearsome story would be the encounter he had with the crazed bird while out partridge hunting. Suddenly he walked by the turkey when a life and death battle ensued. After the dust settled he laid the bird out flat with his trusty 'thirty-ought-six'.
Nels reached down into his bibs and pulled out a crumpled ten dollar bill, grabbed the Tom, tossed it into a cage then drove off in his rusted out International pickup after filling up his pipe with a fresh bowl of Prince Albert. His mind raced with wild stories of hunting and victory.
Grandma was furious. When he walked back from the barn she stood there, arms crossed in the still cluttered mud room and declared in no uncertain terms she had no desire what so ever to butcher a thirty-some pound turkey for Thanksgiving. She muttered a few words in Swedish and turned around and slammed the door. Gramps just took the pipe out of his mouth, tapped it on his shoes and turned away from the house until things cooled down. He knew she would soon allow him back in the house.
Nels went to the workshop, threw some scrap lumber in the barrel stove in order to take the chill off the autumn air, turned on the on the old Emerson radio to the Yankovich Polka Hour, then dug out a rusty old ax and proceeded to sharpen it.
With less than two weeks remaining before Thanksgiving, Grandpa thought a corn and wheat diet should go along way in fattening up the tom but it didn't take long before the turkey ruled the barnyard and consumed everything in sight. It looked as if he put on at least ten more pounds.
Amazingly Grandma took a liking to the old tom, especially when he walked about puffing himself up with prideful air making himself seem so big and important. She said he reminded her of Elsie Norberg down at the Rexall store who always took the gossip and turned it into a mission to mend everyone's problems, therefore looking like she actually meant to be something great, other than a transmitter of cheap talk. Ol' tom finally found redemption when Grandma named him Sinbad the Tom. He was now a pet and people don't eat pets.
Thanksgiving week arrived and the battle still raged on concerning Sinbad's destiny. My grandmother insisted he lived here on the farm and like the dog or cat, there would never see an oven. Grandpa disagreed. He planned to outfox his brother Donald and at 72, Gramps knew he did not have a lot of years to pull off the ultimate victory.
Wednesday morning Grandma warned Nels several times he had better get to town and buy a fresh turkey or there would be no thanksgiving dinner. The wagging finger in his face reminded Gramps she meant business. Her position on a store bought turkey was final.
Grandpa headed into town on the cold November day and no sooner did he hit the blacktop and the windshield fogged up. He grumbled about why he didn't fix the defroster fan when he had the chance. When he got to town he stopped by the International dealer to get a new fan and switch, then he drove over to Sig's Bait and Tackle where the coffee was always hot even though the fishing wasn't. He got to talking about how the late fall fishing was panning out and looked at the new selection of rods that just arrived.
Bill Lundgren stopped by and was talking about the bear that tore up the municipal campground down at Eagle Lake and how someone should bag him before he returned to do more damage. Well, the three warriors discussed the bear and a few other issues when Nels thought he should head over to the drug store and get some more pipe tobacco and the latest Boxing World Digest. He then went over to fill up the gas tank at the Deep Rock where he met Dale Sutherland who was about to put in an order for a new hybrid seed corn at the Dekalb dealer. Nels told him the extra cost might prove to be a mistake since the Farmers Almanac said it looked like a dry summer coming up next year and Northrop King makes a better seed corn for dry seasons.
He finally headed home since his stomach started to growl. He was contemplating cleaning off the porch before the family arrived tomorrow, but decided his bones couldn't take the cold damp air, besides they could use the front door if Grandma thought the back way looked all that bad. He turned on the truck radio on to hear the five o' clock news. As he pulled onto the gravel road leading home he had a nagging feeling something was wrong, but just what, he couldn't put a finger on it.
When Nels walked into the steamy kitchen and took off his glasses he saw Grandma standing there with a roasting pan and that look on her face. His heart sank. Yes, readers, he forgot the turkey and the Red Owl store closed 15 minutes ago.
Grandpa's first thought was Sinbad. His second thought was his wife's temper. In order to save his hide he started to ramble on about a last minute run on fresh turkeys and all that was left was a sick old goose and how he knew she wouldn't want to cook that ol' bird. Grandma didn't but a word of it and Nels knew it.
Nels grabbed the gun down from the closet and headed for the barn. He had the look of a frontier hombre on his face. Sinbad the Tom was about to become dinner and Gramps had to pull off the coup de grâce. Grandma just about turned the gun on ol' pa but she knew the family would be here in the morning, hungry for turkey.
Grandpa Nels threw on the barn light and there stool Sinbad the Tom. Somehow that turkey knew the only thing between him and the roasting pan was the Winchester. Sinbad made a lunge for Grandpa, knocking the rifle to the ground and in a mysterious moment of déjà vu, the rifle fell to the ground, misfired and struck the power box. The barn went dark and Sinbad the Tom was never seen again.
The next day our family sat around the dinner table preparing to devour fresh rolls, candied yams, mashed potatoes and chicken. My younger cousin Marie Anna crinkled her nose and asked why we weren't having turkey.
This now became Grandpa's shining moment. He became fully animated while telling the chilling story of how this 50 pound wild turkey attacked him from behind and threw him to the ground. He tried heroically to regain his footing but the turkey developed into a rabid fowl and flew over to his gun and somehow fired it, missing his head by inches. The bullet, he said, hit the power box and if nobody believed him he would take them to the barn and show them where the turkey shot the box.
The grandchildren listened with awe–their eyes as large as the pies sitting on the buffet. Great-Uncle Donald just looked over to grandpa and said, "Keep trying Nels, you ain't goin ta outdo me and ya know it by yolly!" Just as Grandpa felt Donald should be kicked in the shins, Grandma looked over to Nels and smiled. "Pa, will you please pray the blessing."
"I Jesus namn vi sitta ned på borden och fråga God's välsignelsen på det mat - och behaga förlåta Donald för varelse sådan en dåre"
Roughly translated: "In Jesus name we sit down to the table and ask God's blessing on the food. And please forgive Donald for being such a fool.
Happy Thanksgiving from the staff (?) of Shelly's Cafe