I spent most of life as a child running around a small farm. We had land enough for three horses, two goats, two dogs, a donkey, one cow, six sheep, two crows, sixteen cats. And in November each year, one hundred turkeys. Innocent yellow balls of fluff that chirped.
It was cold at this time of year on the east coast of Scotland, so we put the chicks immediately under some infra-red lights to keep them warm. They would bunch together under the lamp and absorb the heat.
When they were large enough to avoid the jaws of foxes, we let them run around a large outdoor pen. I can still hear their excited squeaks and squeals.
And every now and then we’d let them loose in the field among the horses, donkeys, sheep, goats and cows. Within seven weeks, they were fully grown…
…and ready for slaughter!
Turkeys have strong neck muscles. My mum would place their necks under a stick and stand on it. She’d then yank the turkey up by its feet, snapping its neck with a crack. I don’t know how she managed it, physically or mentally.
Working outside in the cold under a few low-hanging harsh white lights, she ripped the feathers from the warm dead birds, one by one, painstakingly by hand.
Plucking by hand doesn’t bruise or damage the skin, so my mum would get a better price at the market. She also knew that the hand-numbing temperatures would speed up rigour mortis or simply freeze the bird. Either way, she had to work as quickly as possible.
But… I was slowing things down and making her work more difficult…
One grim, cold evening while my mum worked hard plucking turkey after turkey, I was inside our nice warm Christmassy house. Gold foil stars dangled from every wall and ceiling light. Red and green tinsel hung around an oil painting of two scraggy farm dogs curled up in a stable with a horse peering over them. A six-foot tree twinkling orange-yellow cosied in the corner with presents keeping its feet warm. But I was arguing with my brother and sister.
My sister ran out to tell my mum I was being naughty. My mum charged into the house and dragged me outside in a flurry of chalky dust and feathers. She forced me to stay with her. Although I could have helped her pluck the turkeys, I didn’t. Instead, I climbed into the rafters of the building and perched on a beam above her. I watched my mum struggle for hours. I sulked and complained, then sulked and complained some more.
The little profit she would make from selling the turkey meat would buy us the cosy Christmas presents under the tree next year.
How selfish and inconsiderate I was!
Turkey farming wasn’t the only way my mum showed entrepreneurial grit. She also sold telephone services. She farmed rabbits and geese. Painted little Christmas teddy bear figurines. Sewed purple velvet cases to hold darts. Imported oil paintings from China, framed them and sold them in local galleries…
She even created 8-foot tall birthday cards that she would then have to deliver overnight or early morning, placing them in a garden or yard so they’d surprise the person when they woke up and looked out the window. She called them, “Gotcha Cards”. My mum was a serial entrepreneur.
My mum worked while we were at school or while we were sleeping. She was always there in the morning to see us out the front door, and she’d be there when we got back from school. She raised me, my brother and my sister. She did all the hard work. She was always there for us.
My mum’s serial entrepreneurialism is one of my strongest memories. But it was only recently I realised how my childhood and mum, has influenced my working life.
Do you have any family entrepreneurial memories from growing up?