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A Mugging Most Foul

Jerry Farlow

Professor of Math
at the University of Maine
Orono, Maine
Rolfe High School Class of 1955

At the time someone tried to console me with, "Don't worry kid, in fifty years you'll have a good laugh over it." Well, it's been more than fifty years and do you hear me laughing?

My only regret is that I've forgotten the name of a certain woman; else I'd send her a 25-pound turkey, fully cooked every Thanksgiving!

I don't remember the exact year, but I would say 1945 or '46. In those days on Thanksgiving the store owners in Rolfe would organize what today would send any reputable PETA member into cardiac arrest, but back then it involved throwing chickens, ducks, geese, and one fat turkey off the top of Webb's Drug Store. And if you were lucky enough to catch one, you had your Thanksgiving dinner.

I still remember my mother's encouraging words as I left home that cold Saturday morning and joined every other Rolfe-ite on Main Street, hoping to catch our Thanksgiving dinner from atop Webb's Drug Store. To tell the truth, I don't remember what she actually said, but it would have been something like "A chicken son, a simple chicken is enough for the Farlows." In fact, I'm not absolutely sure it was from the top of Webb's Drug Store, only that it was from the top of one of the buildings on the east side of Main Street, between the IGA on the north and Olney's Grocery Store to the south.

But I do remember it was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and Main Street was packed with people of all ages, townspeople as well as farmers. I didn't really think I could get my own bird with all the adults around. I was only about eight or nine years old and didn't provide much competition for a full grown man or woman.

I don't know who provided the birds, I suppose Beckord's Hatchery, but I guess the whole affair was a way to get people to come to town to shop. There was music coming from a loud speaker somewhere, giving the place a festive atmosphere. I could see men on top of the building getting everything ready to go.

Finally, the crowd let off a roar as someone on top of the building threw out the first chicken. The chicken acted like it was being re-released into the wild and flapped all the way across the street to Rickard's Hardware, where some man grabbed it in mid-air, whereupon he received a big applause. The bird must have had its wings clipped since I was surprised it didn't fly off into the sunset. Just then another chicken flew the coop and the crowd roared again. The poor bird must have thought it was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List as the entire town swarmed down upon it. And again, there was another lucky winner. Not me, I was too small for big-time chicken snaring.

Over the course of the next hour or so, fowl after fowl was pitched off the building. First, it was the chickens, then the more meaty ducks, then the fatter geese. And the grand finale was one fat turkey for one lucky person.

Now, I don't claim to be an aeronautical engineer or even a student of birds of flight, but I did make a simple observation that seemed to elude some. It seemed that the lighter chickens flew farther than the heavier ducks, which in turn flew farther than the even heavier geese. So, when someone said over the loudspeaker that some lucky person was going to be the recipient of a very fat turkey, a couple of wheels in my brain started to turn. If a chicken could fly all the way across the street, and a duck halfway across the street, and a goose a third of the way across the street, then how far could a real fat turkey go? Well, duh!

So when the drum roll started and everyone was standing in the middle of Main Street awaiting their Thanksgiving dinner, I was standing on the sidewalk directly under the launching pad. So, with a lot of fanfare atop of the building, a couple men slung the grand finale off the roof. The massive bird spread its giant wings as if to soar to the clouds, then it momentarily sputtered, and well, dropped like a rock. I couldn't believe it! The turkey fell right into my arms! It was mine! My turkey! A turkey for the Farlows! No more oatmeal at Thanksgiving for the Farlows!

But, before reality sunk in, a lady appeared before me and said (actually I don't know what she said), but she grabbed my turkey and took off! I just stood there dumbfounded. I didn't know what to do. Was I supposed to cry? Shoot her? What? There would be no turkey at the Farlow house this Thanksgiving. It would be another Thanksgiving of oatmeal!

A couple people yelled at the woman to give the kid back his turkey, but she didn't stop. She must have been running off to join her fellow turkey muggers. Several people saw the entire episode. Other people were talking about the lady who stole the little boy's turkey. Some people patted me on my head and consoled me. Even the man who said I'd laugh at the whole incident in 50 years. I wish I remember his name too!

News travels fast in a small town. By the time I got home someone had phoned and told the whole story to my mom, who was talking to a neighbor lady. The neighbor lady made some unflattering remarks about the "turkey woman", and said the whole thing didn't surprise her one bit. I think the woman who took my turkey must have paid dearly for it.

Now, 60 years later, when my wife and I go to the grocery store every Thanksgiving, and when I look wistfully into the meat case at the frozen turkeys, my wife has to feign interest once again listening to the latest rendition of the turkey that got away.

Editor's note: I called a few alumni and other people who would have been familiar with Main Street life in Rolfe at the time that Jerry alleges this foul event happened. Some of my contacts had heard of the foul caper, others had not, but none of them knew of the source of the birds.

Anita Miller Beckord (RHS class of 1936), who owned Beckord's Hatchery with her husband George, was one of those who recalled the event. She did not think that the family business had provided the foul for the Thanksgiving give-away. However, when she said that the Beckords raised birds, including turkeys, it made sense that they may have provided the poultry for this occasion.

I also called Mildred Lehman, who had moved to Rolfe in 1945 with her husband Joe to run Lehman's Produce Station. She did not recall the foul give-away. Interestingly, Mildred said that when she and Joe and their n10-month-old daughter, Mary (RHS class of 1963), arrived in Rolfe, there were seven produce stations. However, within a couple of years, all of those had gone out of business except the Lehman store and Bobby Hunter's store.

Many people remember Bobby's store as an appliance store that sold Maytag washers, but his had also been a produce store. I have a street address for Mary Jane Hunter Dow (RHS class of 1938), who is Bobby and Lucerne Hunter's daughter, but no email address nor phone number. If I am able to get in touch with her, perhaps she could help shed more light on this matter.

Both George Beckord and Bobby Hunter were men of great humor as well as dedication to the Rolfe community. They may well have been some of the instigators of the foul caper.

If someone has additional information regarding this alleged episode, please send us what you know. And of course, as always, we welcome new anecdotes and/or essays. Thanks, Jerry, for yet another wonderful story that reflects the fun and cultural climate of Rolfe from the mid-20th Century. Keep those stories coming.

Helen D. Gunderson
RHS Alumni Web Site Editor

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