World War II

The turkey shoot

 ... a bird in the hand is worth...well almost

Steve Johnson

Do you remember back during World War II when just about everything that was good was rationed? Eggs were rationed, sugar was rationed, butter was rationed (but we had margarine), and my mother's nylon stockings were hard to get. My grandfather, who was a traveling salesman, could occasionally get tires and gasoline for his car, but he had to give up his valuable rationing stamps to do so. Meat was rationed also; we'll get to that later.

I remember my grandfather's car had little black "hood" things over the headlights so they would not be so visible to airplanes at night. We had big black curtains that we pulled over our windows in the house at night for the same reason. This was 1944 in Melrose. I was in the second grade at Lincoln School that year, and we were worried about airplanes at night. Enemy airplanes.

My Uncle Bud, the raconteur, who was between wives at the time, had an official looking identification card that he would show to girls which read, "I am an Air Raid Warden. Lie down and do exactly what I say." My older cousin had to explain to me what that was all about. I thought Uncle Bud was cool.

My Dad was overseas with the Army and my mother and I made out as best we could with the help of my Aunts, Uncles, Grandmother and Grandfather. With the rationing situation, we didn't have lavish meals very often. The "Victory Garden" in our backyard at 55 Gould Street provided a lot of vegetables including rhubarb, (which I still love), but no meat. As I said earlier, meat was rationed, and even if you had the stamps for it, meat was hard to get.

My mother was a good shot. She belonged to the Saugus Gun Club and was a member of their traveling competition rifle team. She owned a very big, long, heavy Winchester .22 target rifle that she kept in the front hall closet and I, of course, was not allowed to touch it. It was from Mom that I learned how to target shoot, and that precision-machined Lyman peep sights were the best. I experienced, for the first time, and still remember well, the distinctive smell of Hoppe's Number 9 Gunpowder Solvent. I often looked at that gun, but I never did fool around with it. This was 1944 in Melrose and, in those days, most children minded their mothers.

One day in the fall of 1944, a small, wild turkey landed along side of the brook that ran across the street from our house. The brook ran south toward the Malden line toward where the old Rubber Shop was located. Groveland Road, Black Rock Road, Converse Lane, Shadow Road and all their houses were not yet constructed. In light of the wartime meat rationing, that turkey was in great danger.

Seeing the wild turkey land, and thinking of a great Sunday dinner for the whole family, my mother ran to the closet for the Winchester 22. It was against the law to fire a weapon within city limits in Melrose and my mother swore me to secrecy. From the off-hand-shooting stance, she took one shot and dropped that turkey from our front hall doorway at a distance of about 100 yards. Then she ran to the fireplace, disposed of the spent .22 cartridge shell among the old embers, cleaned the gun immediately, and put it away. She must have listened to a lot of detective radio programs about hiding the evidence. We got away with it, my mother and I, partners in crime.

After waiting to be sure that we had not been discovered, I was given the job of running across the street, through the field and along the brook to retrieve the dead turkey. But I was not the first to arrive at that unlucky bird.

This could have been a "happy ending" story with the whole family around the dinner table that Sunday afternoon enjoying a sumptuous turkey dinner, but it isn't. A large pack of hungry dogs had arrived at the dead turkey before I did, and had enjoyed our potential dinner. There was not much left for me to bring home (except this story). That Sunday afternoon we had our usual fried Spam and "Victory Garden" vegetables dinner, with rhubarb pie for dessert. But we did win the war!

February 6, 2004

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