Oregon Tavern Age: Talkin’ Turkey

It was a Friday afternoon and sunshine shellacked the windows of Turkey’s. I sipped a local lager and soaked in the ambiance of the greatest tavern in Oregon, which happens to be roughly the size of Thoreau’s cabin.

I almost forgot. Out the window, I could see turkeys crossing a bridge.

The latest preposterous Turkey’s story was Gary’s attempt to fix a portable heater from a resident at a nearby trailer park. She had brought it to the joint, put the damn thing right up on the bar. Gary, a retired electrician, inspected it, diagnosed the problem, and said he would get the part in town, bring it back to Turkey’s, and fix the heater right there! An OTA electrician service call! They set up a time, Gary bought the part, he and Linda showed up, but the woman didn’t and they never saw her again.

An OTA man walked up to me and offered me some beef jerky he’d jerked himself. I had to decline. I told him I was a vegetarian. There was suspicion in his eyes.

Gary told me that in his former life he was a falconer! A falconer! I was sitting next to man who had handled falcons and hearing his stories of falconry! (I might also add he was wearing a $300 Western shirt at the time.) Gary also mentioned that he knew a man who once carried around his money in a pouch he’d made from the scrotum of a big horn sheep.

A man entered Turkey’s and ordered a beer. Outside, his pickup had four flat tires in the bed. He was on his way to get them pumped up at a gas station. Turkey said he he had an air pump in his shop and could rig him right up. The man took up Turkey’s offer.

A rumor is floating around that a hair stylist is going to start cutting hair in Turkey’s kitchen. Cash or barter only. A secret OTA salon. I dismissed this absurd notion at once, but I do need a haircut.

Somehow, because this was Turkey’s, the subject of water witching came up, and Kip or Gary said that Turkey was a bonafide water witcher! And quite a famous one! The word was out in Curry County. For a hundred bucks, Turkey would visit a property, wield his magic willow, and divine where the water lurked in the deep. “He’s never failed,” said Kip. I asked Kip if I might accompany Turkey on a water witching gig because I simply had to see such a sight. “I don’t see why not,” he said.

Linda directed my attention toward a painting of turkeys that was resting on a shelf, above the canned corn and pear halves. I got up to inspect it. Most unusual. The artist, a local man, painted the turkeys on what appeared to be a mushroom of some kind scraped off a tree. “A conk,” Linda said. “They’re called conks.”

I’d never heard the word before or seen it in print. Now Turkey’s was teaching me new vocabulary!

Gary asked if I wanted to hear the story of the time he pulled his friend Bruce’s tooth in the parking lot outside of Turkey’s.


Sure. I’d always wanted to hear a tooth pulling story in OTA country. There was one?

So the story goes: Bruce and Gary were at Turkey’s when Bruce said, “Will you do me a favor and pull my tooth?”

Gary agreed and they went out to the parking lot where Bruce wrapped a string around one of his teeth, and tied the other end to the handle of Gary’s open truck door. The plan called for Gary to slam the door shut and rip out the tooth. Just like in the screwball silent comedies and cartoons.

Everyone in Turkey’s watched from the bar.

The first attempt failed—too much slack in the string. The second attempt succeeded and the tooth rocketed out of Bruce’s mouth and ricocheted off the truck’s bumper. Bruce didn’t scream.

He went back inside Turkey’s and announced that anyone who found his tooth would receive a free beer.

Turkey’s emptied. The tooth was never found. It’s still out there and I suspect I’ll find it one day after a hard, sluicing rain. Or maybe a turkey gobbled it up.

Linda told me about the local chicken with her 11 yellow chicks and two black ones. A cat had swiped a couple, but at least it wasn’t a fox. She also mentioned that recently a regular had lost a beloved Labrador and walked into Turkey’s and broke down crying. He got hugs from the bartender and patrons. He rang the bell and bought the house a round to honor his dog. I should have done that when my husky died.

I was thinking about my great dog when an OTA man walked in carrying paper plates of sandwiches and cookies and set them on the counter. His wife trailed behind him. They both sat down and he ordered a draft beer and she ordered a Keystone Light in a can and glass of ice. A few seconds later she opened the can and poured the beer into the glass. In all my years of roaming OTA country, I’d never seen such a thing.

They had brought the sandwiches and cookies in because it was a semi-regular Friday tradition with them. I asked Linda what kind of sandwiches—tuna—real tuna off a local boat that the woman had canned herself. And, naturally, the cookies were homemade.

I was starving and asked for a sandwich and cookie. The tuna sandwich was the best I’d ever tasted and had hard boiled eggs in it and a delicious and mysterious relish. The cookie was superb, too.

The sandwiches went fast, and two were wolfed down by a young male firefighter covered in soot and grime who didn’t say a single word or fiddle on his phone the entire time he was in the bar.

As I neared the end of my beer, Turkey’s whiteboard food menu captured my attention. I’d never noticed it before. Chili dominated the choices.

I asked Linda about Turkey’s chili. Linda said it was legendary, concocted from a secret recipe handed down to Turkey from his family. Apparently, folks came from miles around to taste the legend and the joint typically ran out. I suspected roadkill found its way into the pot. There might even be wild turkey in the mix.

Turkey chili in Turkey’s made by a man named Turkey, eaten while turkeys come into view.

One day I will figure out what that convergence means, and when I do, I’ll rule Oregon.

I hadn’t tasted meat in over 25 years but the prospect of a Turkey’s roadkill chili dog roiled my imagination and titillated my palate. I felt my stomach could handle the fresh meat in the chili but that an Upton Sinclair hot dog would probably kill me.

My mind drafted a scheme. I would sneak a tofu dog into Turkey’s and then replace the death dog during a diversion of some kind. It would be a perilous undertaking in Oregon tavern age country. I might get beat up or shunned.

But I had to try the chili.