The Sad Tale of Tom Turkey

Warning: The following is not about woodworking, so if you wish to limit your reading to that subject, you may prefer to substitute an installment of Routers I Have Loved (my personal favorite was my 1980 Elu) or wait for Chris’s next post about Roman Workbenches (which I am, in all seriousness, eagerly anticipating). This anecdote was excised from Making Things Work on the grounds that too much of a good thing is, well, sometimes too much. It will be included in a future collection. Also, you probably won’t want to read this story while eating.

A few days after Thanksgiving, my phone rang. “Oh, hello, Nancy.” It was Andrew, my client at the time. His tone was suspiciously cheerful considering our recent contretemps over the installation of his 1.6 gallon per flush toilet.*

“Look, I hate to ask you, but there’s no one else I can call. I had an accident on Thanksgiving morning. I know…it was stupid of me, really. Should have known better. I was on the top of a ladder cleaning leaves out of the gutter on the garage when I leaned over too far. The ladder collapsed and I broke my ankle.”

“Oh no! I’m so sorry,” I replied.

“Thing is, the accident happened when I was defrosting a turkey in the kitchen sink. I didn’t have a chance to get it out before the ambulance arrived. So it’s been sitting there for several days….

“As I said, I hate to ask, but since you have a key, would you be willing to go by the house and get the turkey out and put it in the trash?”

This assignment would have proved challenging for the most dedicated carnivore. But for me? I had been a vegetarian since the age of nine; the smell of even the most delectably seasoned turkey roasting in an oven can send me to the brink of nausea. Still, I felt sorry for him. I mean, who wants to spend Thanksgiving in the hospital?

“Sure!” I said. “Don’t give it another thought. I’ll take care of it.”

“Um, Nancy?” he added. “You might want to take a candle and some matches. It might be smelly.”

“Smelly” does not come close to capturing the miasma that hit my nostrils as soon as I cracked the kitchen door. I found the hapless turkey stranded in the half-filled sink. The sight was so pathetic that I could almost hear the bird addressing me: “Damn. I spend my whole freaking life crammed in a barn with a million other birds only to get slaughtered, plucked, and frozen. Then this clown doesn’t even have the decency to eat me?”

Just as horrifying as the stench was the bird’s sheer size. It reminded me of a story my sister once told me about a photo she’d seen of a pig in South America that was as big as a VW bug. She was so repulsed by the image that she swore she’d never touch pork again. Of course, the pig couldn’t help its gigantic stature. Nor could the turkey. But Andrew was a confirmed bachelor He was cooking for one person. Why couldn’t he have purchased a quail or a Cornish hen?

“It’s all problems,” I told myself, feeling a little like Dorothy chanting “There’s no place like home” but without the prospect of being magically transported out of Andrew’s kitchen. Holding my breath, I rummaged under the kitchen sink and found a pair of Playtex gloves. I quickly pulled them on and plunged my hands into the still, cloudy water, only to feel the stinking broth gush into the glove on my right hand. So much for Plan A. I ran outside, retching. It was a cold, overcast late-November morning, but the fresh air tasted so sweet that I felt lightheaded. I pulled off the useless gloves and threw them on the ground. This turkey and I were going to have to get up close and personal.

I ran back inside and pulled a blue bath towel out of the linen closet. Then back out to fill my lungs. Inside again, I threw the towel over the turkey to keep my hands from having to feel its cold, stubbly flesh; the thought of touching it almost made me vomit. I heaved with all my might and lifted the sodden carcass out of the sink. A trail of fetid water flowed from my arms as I carried the mass out the back door and lowered the terry-shrouded turkey as respectfully as I could into the jumbo Rubbermaid trash can.

After half an hour of mopping with disinfectant to clean up the floor and sink I went home and dove headlong into the shower. Maybe, I thought, I should make my peace with cabinetmaking instead of trying to make a go of it as a remodeler. At least a workshop smells better, even if the shop cat occasionally presents me with a disembowelled headless mouse first thing in the morning.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*See “It’s All Problems” in Making Things Work

15 responses to “The Sad Tale of Tom Turkey

  1. Congratulations, Nancy. That drew a long and low “uuuuugggghhh” out of my mouth.
    Eww, etc.

  2. Oh man I couldn’t stop laughing 😂.

    • Yay. That was the intended effect. The only way to get through such experiences is to see the humor in them.

      • Anyone that deals with the public in a retail setting knows what it takes to get and keep a good, repeat good customer (seems like the bad ones never leave ). I work at an auto dealership. You have seen the various states a person’s house can be in. Trust me, a car is just an extension of the house. Nuff said on that subject. Needless to say, Tom’s predicament almost hit too close to home, almost, to be funny. Here’s to many more L.O.L.’s from your out takes in the future. Thanks.

  3. As a paramedic I’ve smelled some smells. Your report was scarily familiar. Thank you, miss Nancy.

  4. Persistence at its best… or smelliest!

  5. You are much stronger than I. I wouldn’t have gone in there without a pre-dose of antibiotics and a hazmat suit. And maybe some Valium.

  6. Why didn’t you take the trash can in the house…..

  7. I have a friend who has retired from teaching at inner-city schools. She told stories about home visits. Probably the best was from a cable installer, who when moving a sofa to get to the wall, found a decayed (decaying?) carcass of a dog. He backed up and pointed it out to the residents. “Oh, we wondered what ever happened to Buster.” Ummm, the smell didn’t give it away????

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