52 Sundays; November 21, 2010

‘Where are those damn turkeys?!’

Those words were first spoken by Uncle Dan, an uncle I didn’t have the good fortune to meet as he passed away before The Professor and I were married – but I know I would have loved him because Uncle Dan liked to cook.  The turkeys in question, are the turkeys pictured above; they were made by Dan’s older brother Jack, in shop class sometime around 1940. The turkeys were then painted by The Professor’s grandmother who proudly displayed them on the Thanksgiving table every single year until she passed them on to her daughter, The Professor’s mother and my mother-in-law . . . and we are now keepers of the damn turkeys because Thanksgiving is always at our house.

So how did they become known as ‘the damn turkeys?’ Well . . . the story goes that as an adult, Uncle Dan would return to Indiana for a Thanksgiving visit and because he loved to cook, would stay up all night preparing the meal. My mother-in-law says that the house smelled soooooo good when she got up in the morning – her brother would have turkey roasting in the oven, coffee brewed and some sort of sweet pastry purchased for the morning’s breakfast.  My mother-in-law hosted Thanksgiving dinner for many, many years and the entire family would all gather at their house: grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings – always lots of laughter, lots of love and lots to eat.  And every year, the turkeys would find their place of honor somewhere on the table . . . until one year . . . someone forgot to put them out . . . Uncle Dan looked around and said, ‘Where are those damn turkeys?!’

And that’s what they’ve been known as ever since.

I’ve always loved the story behind the damn turkeys and I’ve never forgotten to place them on our table at Thanksgiving. As I mentioned earlier, Uncle Dan passed away before The Professor and I were married but the oldest brother, the maker of said turkeys, is still living in California. I love that the tradition of the turkeys has survived 70 years – but what I love even more is that while we said goodbye to two of my mother-in-laws’ brothers last month, these brothers and the rest of her family, will always have a place with us during the holidays. (By the way, my mother-in-law is the little girl on the left in the black and white photo above – how cute is she?!)

We have always been, and continue to be, connected through the food we serve during times of gathering: weddings, Hanukkah, birthdays, Christmas, Seder Passover, Easter, summers at the lake, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving and a multitude of other celebrations.  It’s why we serve the same recipes time and time again, year after year – because they connect us to generations before us, to family members who have passed, and to moments of our own history . . . and we carry on the tradition.  And I love that my fabulous nieces and nephew start talking about Thanksgiving long before November arrives – wonder what stories they’ll tell?

Take a moment to look around you this coming Thursday – what are the recipes you’re sharing with your loved ones – you know, the recipes that show up on your table year after year? Are there plates, silverware, linens or other heirlooms that have been passed on from another generation?  Do you have damn turkeys sitting on your table somewhere?

The Damn Turkeys have already been removed from their storage box to be placed on our table again this Thursday where we will gather, remembering the brother who made them, the grandmother who painted them and the brother who named them.  And we will tell the story once again.

You might also like:

How to Make Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins with Your Crazy Children – The Yummy Mummy

Emotional Baggage About A Bag of Nuts – David Leite

The Gathering – Wenderly

Oregano Chicken with a Regal Air – La Pomme de Portland

She Got Out A Skillet – Orangette


  1. Debra, what a beautiful beautiful post and don’t tell me that you aren’t a writer! I love the story of the damn turkeys but you have hit a chord with families and traditions around the holiday table. Beautiful (or did I already say that?).

  2. Oh how I wish we had damn turkeys for our table. A lovely tradition!

  3. Oh, I love your beautifully told Thanksgiving story and how well it sums up what this holiday means to us: family, friends, sharing, tradition, remembrance, and gratitude for being alive. My family also eats almost exactly the same Thanksgiving dinner every year — the only wild cards being the green vegetables — and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each dish brings back shared memories of, and such lively discussions about, family members long gone and missed.

  4. I love the turkeys! Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. What a wonderful family tradition. The fact that they’re made my someone in the family makes them even more endearing. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

  6. I just love the traditions that come out over the festive season and love your ‘damn turkeys’ – you’re right, the food we all eat at these times connects us to family members present and past. What a nice thing to be thankful for. Thanks for sharing.

  7. What a wonderful post. I can imagine your husband’s Uncle staying up all night long to prepare a wonderful feast for those he loved…that image alone made me smile! And then of course, I laughed when I heard about those “damn turkeys”. Once again, you have reminded me to stop and savor all the beauty around me. Food is one way to bring family and memories together. Thank you for capturing that so well.

  8. I absolutely loved this story and have been thinking a lot about the “must have” foods of Thanksgiving and actually blogged about mine (gulp!).

    I love those turkeys BTW – what a wonderful way to adorn your table for Thanksgiving!!

  9. Those are so cute. I love the family holiday heirlooms! You can tell the story over and over and we’d love it everytime!

    I have some ceramic salt and pepper Santa shakers that were my mother’s. We haul them out every year and someone always makes a comment. But nothing as funny as those damn Santas. (Oh. I guess that would be a bad idea.)

  10. This is what it’s all about. What makes holidays special. The connection of those who we once knew and now miss with those who we love and are still here to celebrate the day. Everyone should have some of “them damn turkeys,” figuratively speaking. Maybe yours is an old tea kettle or an ancient flat iron. Maybe it’s a beautiful old handkerchief. The object itself doesn’t matter so much as your carrying on its story and passing that to the new generations in your family.

    Absolutely beautiful story and I thank you so much for sharing it with your readers. A very blessed Thanksgiving to you and all your family!

  11. On our Thanksgiving menu is a casserole that Aunt Jane made one year, and we now make frequently, even at the request of my extended family. I call it Aunt Jane’s casserole since I don’t know its real name. It’s California blend veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots) with cream of celery soup and Swiss cheese. And I don’t even have a recipe, I just throw it together and it always tastes good. And I make dressing like my Mom did (simple and traditional). But I’ve adopted a Rachael Ray recipe for the turkey. So old and new traditions go together for our holiday meals.

  12. Oh, Debra-you’ve captured exactly what makes holidays so special. Love those turkeys, and the story behind them!

  13. I love your “Damn Turkeys” they are gorgeous. But what I love even more is that this has been a tradition for so long in your family. Not very many people can say that now a days. Thank you so much for sharing that amazing story. Uncle Dan sounds like he was one a heck of a man 🙂

  14. I have lived with the “damn turkeys” for the last seventy years, and I must say that it wouldn’t be a perfect Thanksgiving without them. The began as a joint project for my mother and my brother, Jack. Our family had little money coming out of the depression, and these craft projects earned a little extra money. Dan, who named the turkeys, is the little boy on the right in the picture. He grew up to be a perfectly lovable old curmudgeon! Thanks, Debra, for documenting the story so beautifully.

  15. And that’s Uncle Dan on the right in the photo 🙂 Lovely post Debra.

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