The year was 1974 or maybe ‘75. Lou had only moved to New Haven from Hartford in 1973, right around the corner from yours truly, who was actively interviewing candidates for best friend.
He fit the bill perfectly, and that summer, for pretty much every day on, until the whole family up and drove cross country to call San Jose, Calif. home in 1980, we were inseparable.
Within a year or so, one of his grandmothers moved from Portugal to join the family in good old Morris Cove. Imagine the culture shock!
In the short time before she’d arrived, I’d become accustomed to Lou’s parents’ broken English (they barely spoke any), especially since I had plenty of Italian relatives who did the same thing.
Lou’s grandmother, however, being fresh from the “old country” (that’s all we kept hearing) didn’t speak a lick. We were cautioned, my sister and I, but were curious about this woman, who was always dressed in black and always sweeping or mopping and who’d offer us a shy smile when no one else was watching.
But, what we were not ready for was just a few days before Thanksgiving, when we knocked on the door while opening it — which was what we all did back then — and a freshly-beheaded turkey scrambled out of the house, very bloody yet peppier than ever. It frantically moved past me — even brushing my leg — with grandma in tow, blood-covered blade in hand. I watched, alongside my sister, as the strange headless bird ran in circles in the driveway until it was finally subdued and brought back into the house.
I do not recall struggling over the realization that we’d just seen the main course and that, yes, this turkey we eat so enthusiastically every year was a living, breathing creature just days earlier. We simply dug in, well aware that most of what we ate for dinner was alive at one time. My father worked lobster boats during the summer months, after all. I’d watch as he lowered them into boiling water, elastic bands preventing their claws from snapping.
Besides, even though turkey was the star, Thanksgiving was always about the stuffing to my sister and me.
Still, we enjoy the pre-Thanksgiving rituals that are local traditions here. Gozzi’s Turkey Farm in Guilford, for instance, got the bright idea (pun intended) of coloring their well-fed, well-cared-for birds, for families to gather ‘round and watch the birds flap about in all their glory, bursting with yellow or green or pink feathers. A friend of mine informed that his family has been getting their turkey at Gozzi’s since 1950.
Now, the rarity of this sight is not only not lost on the little ones, whose jaws drop upon seeing birds that appear to have trotted off the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, but also those vehemently opposed to the dyeing and ultimately killing of fowl. Vegans have taken to protesting out front on occasion, their passion evident, even while it does little to slow sales. Especially since, Gozzi’s has been a Connecticut Shoreline staple for more than half a century.
There are many turkey farms in Connecticut, from Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm in Sterling to Silverman’s and Maple Bank, in Easton and Roxbury, respectively. As for the accompanying pies, they’ve got ‘em, but if it’s a Gozzi’s day, you may as well hop back in the car and head for the other perennial Thanksgiving destination: Bishop’s Orchards, also in Guilford.
From the corn maze to picking whatever fruit is in season, I’ve been taking my children to Bishop’s a few times during the fall every fall since before they could walk. These are the very places that make New England such a wonderful, even magical place, this time of year.
My friend Lou visited Connecticut last fall and pretty much said these very words. Despite having moved across the country in 1980, he’d never forgotten the local charms so many of us take for granted.
Lou, now my daughter’s godfather, retold her the story about when the headless turkey made a prison break right before our very eyes through the screen door of his family’s first home in the states.
She asked him why didn’t his family just get a turkey the way ours did — from a local butcher shop, the work already done, bird ready to simply be slid into the oven for a couple of hours while we did our own chirping over antipasto and manicotti.
“I don’t even know if my family knew we could get one that way,” he laughed.
She asked him if he ever had a tough time enjoying the Thanksgiving feast given the fact that he and his five siblings would witness the gory preparations mere days — maybe even hours — before.
“No,” he said matter-of-factly.
She seemed a little shocked by this and persisted: “Did you used to name the turkeys for the short while that they lived with you?”
“Never!” he exclaimed. “Pass the turkey is one thing. Pass me some Frank is another.”