Rim of the Prairie

Sometimes I just can’t beat an ages old story. And this is one of them.
This is paraphrased from the writings of my aunt in Blue Glass Plates by Faye Harris. So sweetly poignant because of its truth and innocence, it provides us a snapshot for a Christmas in the 1940s. A copy of this story hangs on the bulletin board of my own local post office, not so far from where Turkey Tales takes place.

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My Great Grandma Katherine spent hours every day caring for her flocks of poultry, watchful of snakes, stray dogs, and coyotes near her new home, poetically dubbed Rim of the Prairie. In October of 1941, her diary records that Great Grandpa Louis killed a 40 inch rattler on the bunk house step.
In particular, she raised prized turkeys which were capable of short distance escapades. Ageless at 66, Katherine would saddle one of her ponies, Snow White or Pokey, and patiently herd the turkey flock home from their sojourn to the Arkansas River.
The purpose of these fine turkeys were not just for sale, $150 precious 1940 dollars for 80 of the fowl ($1500 in today’s money) but as gifts to her closest family members. Grandpa and Grandma lived in the remote south eastern Colorado town of, yes really, Fowler. So the 1940s answer was simple and straight forward. She prepared ‘dressed’ turkeys by wrapping them first in waxed paper, then in brown paper and tied securely with cotton string.
Then, she mailed them. Parcel post. Mail moved by railway and items were sorted while the train was moving: packages took approximately three days. (Imagine, if you can, the surprise of a postal worker, sorting 5 immense turkeys on board). (Now, imagine the response of such an attempt today at your local post office).
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Great Grandma’s diary records the mailing of one set of Christmas gifts on December 17, 1946. The Farmer’s Almanac reports that during this week, the daytime temperatures were 47 degrees, night temps 30, with no snow throughout the month. The Almanac further reports that Christmas Day throughout the plains of Colorado was 64 degrees. On December 23, my mother’s family, had not yet received their turkey. A family visit to the Postal Service Annex in Downtown Denver’s Union Railroad Station initiated an all out search in a huge, tin roofed building, appropriately sided by chicken wire. The large, lumpy 12 pound package was fairly visible on the top shelf. Apparently, times they were a’changing as modernization crept in. Clearly written on the side was the correct address with the mail carrier’s note, “City carriers do not deliver large packages to your mail box.”

My mother’s family was thrilled by the prospect of the feast as they were all hungry for the ‘fresh’ turkey. All the trimmings accompanied this fresh turkey, as had been done for the one before and the one before that.

Grandma Katherine’s diary does not provide insight for further Christmas gifts, but she lived past the century mark. Makes one wonder, how long did she battle the mainstream, mailing turkeys parcel post?

5 comments

  1. This answers questions our family has had for a long time, we have a letter in which my great aunt writes (Jan. 29, 1919) from Denver and asks her mother to dress a couple of chickens and send from Sidney, Nebraska; now we know it was a common practice. Great story!

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