Good Bones

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I went down to Connecticut for Thanksgiving with my cousins. We were many and there wasn’t much left over by the time the roasting pan had been scrubbed and the last counter wiped down. But there was the carcass and I begged to bring it home with me, a request that was gladly granted. Everyone said, oh gosh, that’s tough duty, getting all those bones out. It is, but I think of it as a fair trade. And so, in the trunk, in the basket that carried pies down to the feast, the carcass traveled home with me to New Hampshire.

When I got home, I put the turkey remains into the big pot, covered it with water, dropped in a bay leaf and some salt and set it on the back burner of the cookstove for a good long simmer. In some ways, the soup is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast. I add turnips and parsnips, carrots and onions, plus a jar of tomatoes put up from my garden. The only thing I change is whether I’ll choose rice or barley or noodles, broken up and added at the last. It’s true that removing the bones is unpleasant but once every last splinter is gone, the reward is a week’s worth of meals. Soup and good bread, and don’t forget the grated cheese — what more could a person want?

While the soup was simmering on the back of the stove, I read up on a lot of newspapers that had piled up while I was gone. My eyes fell on an article in the Wall Street Journal about a woman in Pennsylvania who makes jewelry and toys out of turkey bones. I read it with interest, since I had thought of the bones as being nothing more than a nuisance. Friends bring her their carcasses after the holidays and she stashes them in her freezer, later boiling the bones and fashioning vertebrae into broaches and neck bones into red-eyed dragons. Apparently she does not stop at turkeys but also works with other skeletons — even woodchucks and snapping turtles. The article also mentioned a man, now dead, whose turkey bone art, which consisted of elaborate towers and miniature thrones, now sells for upwards of $70,000 at galleries.

It’s not the first I’ve heard of things like this — a man named Willard Richardson lived in this town all his life. He died some time ago but he left behind him a vast amount of “folk art.” Among the objects were coin purses and pencil holders made from the mouths and the accordion, gator-like necks of snapping turtles. I could not bear the sight of those purses but I liked the snapper’s shells that he painted with fanciful scenes. It struck me as the kind of thing an old farmer might do on long winter nights. But I don’t think his primitive art ever sold for very much or went much beyond the boundaries of this town.

I thought about all this the next morning while I dug around in the soup in search of every last bone. I studied the leg bones, big and knobby, and wondered what could be made of them. They made me think of cross-bones and cannibals. I sifted and tossed until I came across a little bone that looked like a fan, small and delicate. I studied it and actually found it to be pretty, but I’m in that phase where I try to stop myself from saving every little shell from the beach and stone from the woods. So I tossed it into the garbage with the other bones.

Then I came across another one, almost identical. I dug back into the garbage to find the first one and brought it out. They looked like a pair, perfect for earrings. The ends are feathered out, almost like small, reaching hands but they are hard like bone. I think they might have come from the wing. I set them on the shelf above the burners and finished making the soup.

I don’t really know how to go from there. The bones need to be bleached — and how to fasten the necessary earring hardware is a puzzle for someone like me who is craft-challenged. But they are on the shelf, drying, which keeps those earrings in the realm of possibility.
All very interesting, what we can do if we are able to create art from something that most of us consider garbage.

The only thing was, the article never said whether or not she ever makes soup from the carcass. I suppose not. But I wonder if she knows what she is missing.

  • Oh, I can smell the soup simmering on the stove! Nothing better than home-made turkey soup with a slice of warm bread. Bone jewelry-well, one man’s (or woman’s) trash is surely another’s treasure. Happy Holidays, Edie

  • patricia

    You are spot on the soup is the best part. Just finished my last bowl. How about a hot glue gun to attach the bones to make the jewelry?

  • Turkey soup is delicious! I’m not sure the turkey bone jewelry is up my alley but I’m all for reusing anything and everything!


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