A turkey tale

Published 11:04 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

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In just a couple of weeks, people across America will be gathering with family and friends for the annual feast known as Thanksgiving. Declared generations ago as a national holiday, the observance of this day harkens back to a celebration the Pilgrims of Plymouth first had to thank God for sustaining them through a long and difficult winter. 

The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals is the turkey, carefully prepared and enjoyed by all. Some question whether a turkey was even present at that first Thanksgiving meal at Plymouth, but the well-stuffed bird has certainly become one of our most cherished American traditions. It seems nearly every family has a “turkey tale”; an incident or a funny story about a Thanksgiving mishap involving a Thanksgiving turkey. My family still laughs about the time, decades ago, when my aunt pulled a buttery bird out of the oven and sent it tumbling out of its pan and sliding across the kitchen floor like an Olympic figure skater on ice. My grandmother never forgave her, and from that time on, she zealously stood guard over the kitchen every Thanksgiving.

One of my very favorite turkey stories was told to me by the late renowned Greenville County historian Mann Batson, who had heard it from James Crain, the son of the much-loved Rev. Dean Crain. It involves the legendary Dark Corner lawman Reuben Gosnell, who, late in his career, had been appointed U.S. Marshall by President Roosevelt, upon the recommendation of Senator Jimmy Byrnes. 

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It was close to Thanksgiving and Gosnell, along with James Crain, who was one of his deputies at the time, were transporting a prisoner from Greenville to the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. On the way home they passed a large turkey farm alongside a rural Georgia highway. Gosnell said, in his high-pitched twang, “Jimmy, let’s stop here at this farm and buy Senator Byrnes a Thanksgiving turkey.”

Both men got out of the car and met the owner of the farm near the barn. Gosnell told the farmer, “I want to buy the biggest turkey you have. It’s going to Washington to Senator Byrnes!” 

The farmer went to the turkey pen and emerged with a huge, well-feathered gobbler. “That’ll do just fine!”, Marshall Gosnell said. Crain later laughed as he talked about the difficulty of stuffing a large live turkey into the trunk of the government automobile. Once that was accomplished the pair returned to Greenville, turkey and all. Immediately, they went to the railway station and presented the bird to a surprised railway agent who would be responsible for crating the fowl and dispatching it to Washington.

A few days later a telegram came to Marshall Gosnell’s office from Senator Byrnes. It read, “Dear Marshall Gosnell. Thanks so much for the Thanksgiving turkey, but next time please send a smaller one. We could not find a roasting pan large enough to cook it in.” Crain recalled later that the old lawman scratched his head and whined, “Jimmy! Can you imagine that in all of Washington, D.C. there wasn’t a pan big enough for that turkey? That’s just unbelievable!” And we can only assume that was the last turkey Reuben Gosnell gifted to South Carolina’s senior senator.

Here’s hoping you and your family have a joyous and meaningful Thanksgiving with a delicious turkey dinner and all the trimmings. Just be sure your pan is big enough to accommodate the bird before you get him home! Unless, that is, you want to create a turkey tale that will long be remembered at Thanksgiving feasts to come.