I was born and raised in Napa. When I was 8 years old, two years after I went to live with my grandparents, my grandfather won a baby turkey as one of his prizes for coming in first at a Whist Card Tournament at the local Grange.
The turkey was just a little fluffy, peeping thing in a shoe box when my grandfather handed him to me and said, “Violet, I want you to feed and raise this turkey so we can have him for Thanksgiving Dinner.” I remember thinking that I had been given a very important task. This turkey would be part of the Thanksgiving Dinner the same way that chickens were often part of our Sunday dinners.
On the Sundays when we were having chicken, Grandpa took one of the chickens from his flock of 1,500. After he killed it, he brought it into the house. That is when Betty and I went into action. Betty was my aunt who had some special physical and mental needs and she was my best friend and helped me with the chicken plucking chore. Betty held the chicken and I pulled its feathers off. When we finished plucking the chicken we put it in the savory pan for Grandpa to prepare it for roasting. When the chicken was cooked, our family enjoyed a very special meal.
As far as I could tell, this turkey I was going to raise with Betty’s help would make our Thanksgiving Dinner a very special meal. That meant I could not make any mistakes in raising him. I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to prepare a home for him.
I found a cage that would serve as his home. I put some newspapers on the floor of the cage and I found a couple of dishes I could use for his chicken mash and his water.
When I finished preparing his cage, I put him it. He did not move toward his food or water. He just stood there. Grandma, who had been observing my actions, suggested that I bring the turkey’s head down to the water so he would know he was to drink it and then to bring his head down to the mash so he would know he was to eat it.
I was a little nervous about doing that, but I gently put his beak in the water several times. Finally, he drank some water. I did the same for the mash and finally he began to eat. I remember feeling very proud of myself for teaching the little turkey how to eat and drink.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to keep the turkey by my bed at night so I asked Grandma. She said “No, the turkey cannot stay in the house. He needs to be outside.” Now that I knew I was raising the turkey outside, I realized I had to find a place for his cage. Grandma suggested that I put his cage somewhere in the garage. That way, the little turkey would have a place to sleep indoors and I would not have to go very far in the morning to feed him and clean his cage. That made sense to me.
All I had to do was find a place in the garage where I could put his cage. As I pondered this issue, a picture of the perfect place flashed before my eyes. The “cowboy’s sleeping room”. That room was in the middle of our garage behind the third stall and at the time, we had no cowboys sleeping there. I brought the cage over there and put the cage on one of the cots. “Perfect”, I said to myself. Then I told the little turkey that this would be his house and that I would come see him in the morning. Every morning after that, before I left for school, I changed his newspaper and gave him clean water and mash. He soon outgrew his cage so I prepared a bigger one for him. When I changed out his cage, Grandpa told me to start giving him regular chicken grains instead of mash. When he outgrew his bigger cage, Grandpa told me I could take him out of the cage and just let him walk around the yard. He said the turkey was “used to us by now, so he wouldn’t run away.”
So I took him out of the cage and put him on the ground. He not only didn’t run away, he didn’t walk away. He just stood there and looked at me. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I started walking away from him. As soon as I did that, he ran right up to me, like a little dog. From then on, whenever I was outside, the turkey followed me everywhere. It was like I was his mother.
When I went inside the house in daytime, he would lie down outside the washroom door and wait for me to come out. For the first few nights after I let him loose, I had him follow me back to the “cowboy’s sleeping room.” I pushed him inside and closed the door so he could stay there overnight. He soon learned, that after I went into the house for the night, he was to go back to the room by himself and find a place there to spend the night. As soon as I went outside in the morning, the turkey ran up and attached himself to me again.
Grandma told me I should ask Auntie Margaret (her sister) to help me straighten out the turkey. Auntie Margaret was a turkey expert. She raised turkeys on her ranch.
Soon after that when we visited Auntie Margaret, I told her about the turkey following me everywhere and asked her what was going on with him. She told me that the turkey had “imprinted” on me. “Violet”, she warned me, “That is not a good thing for a Thanksgiving Turkey or for you. Now that your Thanksgiving Turkey has become a ‘pet’, it is going to be very hard on you when Grandpa kills him for your Thanksgiving Dinner.”
I think I understood what she was telling me, but Thanksgiving was still far away. I was mostly interested in the fact that I now had a pet. Since he had become my pet, I needed to give him a name. The only name I could think of for a turkey was “Gobble” so that became his name. Soon after that, summer came and school was out.
Gobble and I began to spend more time with each other. Gobble literally became my shadow. When I had to go to town with Grandpa, he would watch me get in the car. When we returned and he saw the car coming up the driveway, he would run up to the car and wait for me to get out. Then he would waddle up to me and follow me around everywhere until I had to go into the house for the night.
Gobble became so attached to me that when Grandpa wasn’t looking, Grandma would let Gobble follow me into the house. On those occasions, when I saw Grandpa walking toward the house, I would take Gobble out the front door before Grandpa got inside from the washroom door.
When school began in the fall, Gobble learned to walk down the road with me, He watched me get on the bus then walked back up the road to where Betty was waiting for him. In the afternoon, when he heard the bus coming down Vichy Avenue, he would run down the road to greet me when I got off the bus.
Everything was fine with Gobble until November came and I began to hear talk in the family about our upcoming Thanksgiving Dinner. That talk frightened me. Now that Gobble was my pet, the thought of Grandpa killing Gobble became almost unbearable. I was lying awake in bed at night thinking about it. Finally, one day after school I got up enough nerve to talk with Grandma about my fear for Gobble. I explained to Grandma that since he had become my pet, I didn’t want us to eat him. She said she understood. I asked if maybe we could get Auntie Margaret to give us one of her turkeys for Thanksgiving. Grandma said she would talk to Grandpa about it. That eased my fears a little, but I kept worrying about it until Thanksgiving Day.
Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, I stopped worrying. That morning Grandma told me that Grandpa had decided that we should eat a different turkey. Gobble remained my pet for several years. Then one day, we noticed that Gobble was limping. His left foot was swollen and infected. Grandpa said he had to “put the turkey out of its misery.”
I don’t know how Grandpa “put Gobble out of his misery” but I do know that afterward Grandpa had me look in a wheel barrow. Gobble was lying peacefully in there, head intact.
Grandpa told me to get a shovel and wheel Gobble down to our Flat and bury him. I wheeled Gobble down to the Flat and over to the shore of Sarco Creek. It took me a little while but I finally dug a hole large enough to fit Gobble. I gently laid him in it and covered him with the dirt I had dug up. I sat there for a while and cried. Then I said good-bye to him and pushed the wheel barrow back up the hill.
Our family ranch has since been sold and re-sold. Homes have been built and vineyards have been planted where chickens and prune trees had been. Lots of activity has occurred since Gobble was laid to rest there almost 70 years ago. But to this day, I cannot drive down Vichy Avenue without stopping at La Grande Avenue and looking over the Sarco Creek Bridge and wondering if Gobble’s bones ever flowed under it.