Articles & Stories

Thanksgiving 1967
In 1967 I was 17 years old and living with my parents and maternal grandmother, Malissa Azbill, at Clover Bottom, Jackson County, Kentucky. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and I had planned to get a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. My best friend, Cecil McGuire, told me about a turkey shoot that was going to take place at Lynn Brumagen's store.
Growing up in the small, rural area of Clover Bottom, we didn't have all the finer things in life, but we never went hungry. Most of our meals were vegetables that we raised in the garden. Our main meat was chicken, especially on weekends or when we had company, and it was boiled, baked, or fried. We had pork during hog-killing time and occasionally fish and beef, but we never had turkey until Thanksgiving, which made that meal something we looked forward to all year. I remember overhearing Mom telling Grandma that we were not going to be able to have a turkey for Thanksgiving that year. She said that we would find something else to cook. This made me want to win that old bird at the turkey shoot that year more than anything I had ever done.
I got up the morning of the turkey shoot, about 8:00 a.m., and cleaned my old 20-gauge shotgun. I remembered Dad telling me that Grandpa Hiram Dean went to turkey shoots all over the county, and he won almost every time. He said that Grandpa ejected his shells with castor oil and that this made the shots stick together and hold a tighter pattern. I didn't have anyway to eject my shells because they were furnished, but I oiled the inside of my gun barrel and make it as slick as I could.
The event was to be held around 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, and it seemed like the day was standing still. I was having a hard time finding something to do to make the day speed up, so I went to the post office where Dad was the postmaster and hung out until 10:30 a.m., listening to the old men tell jokes. (This got me into trouble later on when I repeated them in front of Grandma.) I went back to the house and told Mom I was going to go to Cecil's house to shoot our guns.
After I arrived at Cecil's house, we went up the hill to the Clover Bottom Baptist Church parking lot and stepped off what we thought was a distance of 100 yards. With our short legs it may have been one-half that size. We stuck a piece of paper on a fence post in the northwest corner of the parking lot and shot eight to 12 times at the target. The most shots I could get in the paper were maybe 10 to 12, and Cecil shot about the same. After about an hour, we thought we were ready for the big turkey shoot.
Cecil and I cleaned our guns again, and I made sure once again that I had a slick and shiny gun barrel on the inside. I put a little extra oil down the inside of my gun barrel and left it as wet as I could without it running out. I thought the oil might stick to the shots as they were coming out the barrel.
Cecil and I arrived at Lynn's store about 1:00 p.m., and I bought a pop and some pickled bologna with crackers. As people started to gather in, I noticed that Leonard, the knife trader, had been hitting the bottle a bit and was well on his way to getting drunk. This was going to make an interesting day, because he wanted to be everyone's best friend. As it was getting time for the turkey shoot to start, we moved to the north end of Lynn's barn. It was about 40 degrees and cloudy with a slight mist of rain in the air. Someone had dug a small trench across the drive leading out of the barn, and this would be the line we would shoot from. The person had nailed a board on a fence post about 200 feet north of the line. By this time a lot of people had shown up, and some of them were there to watch and some to participate in this big event. Some of the people I remember being there were Kenny Davidson, "Sweet" Willie Lunsford, Charlie Abney, Wayne Brumagen, Wayne Lunsford, Rickey Davidson, Billy Wayne Abrams, Cecil McGuire, and Eugene Webb. We each paid $2, and the knife trader wanted to hold the money for us. He said he would make sure that if someone happened to run off with the turkey, the money would still be there. I thought he might leave to get something else to drink with it, but Billy Brumagen said he would keep an eye on him.
When the entries paid the money to enter the turkey shoot, we all received an 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet of paper with an X drawn on it for our target, and we put our names on the back of it. We also wrote our names on pieces of paper and put them in Lynn Brumagen's hat. Our names were drawn from Lynn's hat after all the money had been paid. After the drawing, I was going to shoot third. As our names were called, we gave our sheet of paper to someone who would stick it on the board, come back to the line, and give us our shell. Everyone had different guns, but they were all shotguns, and we all had to use the same number of shot. I remember Rickey Davidson had what they called a Cherokee Long Tom shotgun with a 42-inch barrel, and everyone was saying that it would be the gun to beat. I had my old 20-gauge Stevens that I bought from Johnnie Powell for $8. It was a single shot with several nicks on the stock and forearm, but otherwise it was in very good condition. When my name was called, I walked to the line and was determined to win the turkey. I took careful aim, pulled the trigger, and that old gun fired. When the smoke cleared, I had put 19 shots in the sheet of paper. This went on until the last person was to shoot. I had the turkey won, because no one came close to my score. It was Eugene Webb's turn to go last, but he didn't have a gun. He had planned to use Billy Wayne Abram's gun, but since Billy almost missed the whole paper, he was mad at himself and went home. I told Eugene he could use my gun. I knew there was no way that he could beat me, because he had not shot my gun before, and no one had come close to beating my score. I could taste the drumsticks already.
Eugene asked me how the gun shot, and the only thing I told him was to point and shoot. He walked up to the line while everyone else was congratulating me on my score of 19 shots. Eugene fired my gun, and everything seemed to go into slow motion. Eugene put 21 shots in the target, and I thought I was going to die. I couldn't believe that I loaned my gun to someone who had never held it or shot it before, and he beat me with it. This was a sad time for me, because I knew we were not going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner that year. I could have almost cried.
After I had received all the crap from the guys, Eugene said he didn't want to keep the turkey. He needed the money and was going to put it up for another shoot off. My eyes lit up, and I said I would get in on it but there would be no way that Eugene could use my gun. Since I lost to Eugene, I had the first shot, and everyone else drew for position. I was so nervous and was breathing harder than an old Western windstorm, but I walked up to the line, took a very big breath, and shot. Cecil McGuire retrieved the target, and I had put 23 shots in it. I must have smoked a pack of cigarettes waiting for Rickey Davidson to shoot that old Cherokee again, because I knew that he was the only one who could beat me. After everything was over, I won that big bird.
The turkey was a big Tom that had been tied up in the barn during the shooting. He was very active and didn't want anyone to come around him. Somehow we were able to put him in my 1954 Chevrolet.
I took Cecil home and pulled up to our house. I was so excited when I got out of the car and went into the house and told Grandma and Mom to come out and look at what I had. They didn't know anything about the turkey shoot. I opened the trunk of my car and Grandma said, "Oh, my God! We got us a turkey!"
Mom got up around 4:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and started to prepare the turkey for cooking. It was a big bird, maybe 25 to 30 pounds or more. Grandma came down the stairs and started to help her, and it seemed like they cooked all morning long. Then it was time for dinner which was our noon meal.
On the table was that big old bird cooked to a golden brown with cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, dumplings, cornbread, biscuits, and banana pudding. This was one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember.
God bless you and your family and may all your Thanksgivings be ones to remember.
Joe Dean
2211 S. Mullinix Drive
Greenwood, IN 46143

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