the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Free Turkey


My mother doesn’t like to waste money, and similar to many other Jewish mothers of her generation, she can sense a sale at Loehmann’s from miles away.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving.

Recently, a new supermarket took over in the space across the street.  At first, everyone in my apartment building loved the shiny new store because it was clean, had a brightly-lit produce section, and the check-out people said “Thank You,” something previously unheard of in a Queens supermarket.  The local customers froze in shock upon hearing these words, as if they had just entered an alternative universe.

But these niceties came at a huge price. The supermarket was stingy on sales.  The previous supermarket had a cluttered appearance, like a desk covered in post-it notes.  Everywhere you looked, there were colorful, mismatched stickers and hanging banners screaming out a new promotion, such as “Canned Peas!  Buy One, Get One Free!”

These constant promotions served two purposes — they created excitement and they distracted the customers from focusing on the unorganized shelving and inept customer service.

There were few sales at this new, more upscale store, and never on anything that people really needed as a necessity.  Last week’s big promotion was for “Fresh Halibut at $8.99 a pound.”

The bomb dropped this week when rumors spread throughout the apartment building that the supermarket wasn’t even going to offer a free turkey for Thanksgiving (usually for spending $25 dollars in purchase, with one per customer, of course)!  This had been a Holiday tradition with the supermarkets in this spot for the last forty years.   It was a tradition held as sacred to Queens residents as nativity scenes are to those who live in the mid-West.

My mother was very upset at the supermarket.

Now I can hear some of you grumbling and snickering at home.

“How cheap are you people in Queens?  Why don’t you pay for your own freaking turkey?  That’s what is wrong with liberals — always looking for a hand-out!”

Before you pontificate, let me try to explain this in a language that you will understand.

Imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and go on Twitter, and you are greeted by a smiling cartoon Twitter bird with  the message, “We have finally figured out how to make money with Twitter.  Please pay $10 a month if you want access to your account.  Thanks.”   Are you going to say, “What a clever business model?”    Or are you going to be pissed, used to getting the milk from the cow for free?!

Think about that as you snicker!

You should also understand that my mother is a dangerous woman.  She is strong-willed AND retired, which means she is stubborn AND has too much time on her hands.

“I heard the supermarket on 164th Street is giving you a free turkey if you spend $25 dollars,” she said.

“You want to go all the way to 164th Street just for a turkey?  Is someone driving there?”

“No, I thought we’d walk over with the shopping wagon.”

“That supermarket is over a mile away!”


“Let’s just get it downstairs.  I’ll pay for the turkey.”

“No, it’s the principle of the thing.  Getting the free turkey is an essential part of Thanksgiving.  It’s like the Indians sharing their food with the Pilgrims.”

“And look what happened to the Indians.”

“If you don’t want to go, I’ll go myself and schlep the wagon up the hill, along with the heavy turkey, so everyone in the building will see me breathing heavy, walking two miles, and wondering if you’re sooooo “busy” at home writing one of your porno posts for your blog that you couldn’t help your mother carrying the turkey.”

“Nice,” complimenting her guilt shtick.

“Besides, you did say that you wanted to exercise more.”

I lost the battle.  Off we went to get our free turkey.

When we returned home, we were exhausted, and my back hurt from pushing the shopping wagon, filled with groceries and a 14 pound frozen turkey.

“So, honestly, Mom…” I asked.  “Was schlepping all this way just to get a free turkey really worth it?”

“Absolutely,” she replied, as she placed the frozen turkey in the bottom of the refrigerator to start its long thaw.

(note to Sarah Gilbert.   Next year,  I will try a Heritage turkey, which I never even heard of before until you mentioned it on Twitter!)


  1. slouchy

    thank you for the smile today.

  2. Joie at Canned Laughter

    When my Grandfather retired he decided shopping was his new calling. The man turned coupon-ing into a blood sport. He would walk painfully for miles on his wooden leg for a bargain.He would love your mother’s gumption.

  3. SciFi Dad

    I’m only commenting because you used the word schlep.

    Also? Playing follow the link with that heritage turkey thing? Not the best idea right after lunch.

  4. Mamie

    I saw your tweet about the turkey and felt the same way as your mom. Growing up with the whole eight kids thing, the free turkey was an essential component to t day shopping. I like your mama’s guilt trip too. she sure knows how to work you. Happy thanksgiving, Neil

  5. LZ @ My Messy Paradise

    I see where she’s coming from. My parents would do the same thing, but since they live in the burbs, they’d spend more on gas to go get the free turkey and than if they bought it down the road!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. Tara R.

    A free turkey is a free turkey. I’d schlep two miles for that. Hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving.

  7. songbird

    A lot of stores on Long Island offer the free turkey too — but you have to spend $40 to get the freebie.

  8. BLOGitse

    In our life here in Egypt,
    no turkey (free or not),
    no thanksgiving,
    good food at home + red wine
    local Eid Fri-Sun,
    my hubby at home,
    what else you need?
    Nothing! Life is good! 🙂

  9. Andria

    Does your mother buy the canned cranberry sauce? Please say she does– I hate that congealed wiggly mess, but get upset when someone forgets to bring the Ocean Spray can. It’s all about nostalgia, I suppose.

  10. Heather

    “And look what happened to the Indians!”


    I love your mom more and more daily…

    Happy Thanksgiving Neil.

  11. Danny

    Love it. I just spent $50 on a free-range fresh turkey and I bet your mom’s will taste better. What else do you guys have for Thanksgiving? What kind of stuffing? Do you have a crowd coming? Inquiring minds want to know…

  12. Tuck

    C’mon…at these prices, no wonder Mom was looking for a bargain.

    Anyway, I want to know how much she spent on booze.

  13. Neil

    Andria – yes, she does buy the ocean spray, and I love that stuff.

  14. Lucy Cooper

    This makes me glad we’re serving meatballs Thursday. My husband’s go-to comfort food. and, as he says, “Turkey is just too easy to fuck up.”

  15. mamatulip

    My husband travels out-of-country to get a turkey at .19 cents a pound; he would probably walk to the end of the earth to get a free turkey.

  16. mepsipax

    Hilarious. But seriously, it is a fucking mile. A mile. You sound like my kid. So lazy what the hell. A free turkey… I would walk miles for a free turkey, I love your mom.

  17. mepsipax

    By the way, I am not Jewish but have been called one.

  18. caron

    I might go to NYC for a turkey next year. My local grocer makes you earn points on a “Turkey Card” – at $10 a point. You need 49 points to earn your “free” bird.

    I’ve seen round trip fares for $150. Hmmm,$150 airfare, $25 for earning my bird in NYC, and even if I have to pay an extra fee for heavy luggage, I’ll still be money ahead!

  19. sarah gilbert

    please don’t tell your grandmother how much the heritage turkey cost, ok?

    here in Portland, you now have to pay $100 or $150 for a free turkey, depending on the store (Fred Meyer, now owned by Kroger, is $100). I saw the $25 and was shocked! it hasn’t been like that since I was a kid in the 70s.

    but no one gives away a free-range heritage turkey. what an idea for the superfarmermarket of the future.

  20. Chris

    I like how your mother calls your blog posts “porno”. This was great, Neil! I really enjoyed it.

  21. 3boys1mommy

    Did you know there are only 25,000 heritage turkeys a year compared to 200,000,000 industrial turkeys? You better tune up that shopping wagon and start looking now 😉

    Happy Thanksgiving Neil

  22. Kelly

    This was great, the indian comment was gold. I usually don’t trust free food (too paranoid) but will rethink. Happy Thanksgiving!

  23. Danny

    I’m in L.A. Farmers Market and just saw some heritage turkeys for sale. Only 10 lbs. (who wants a turkey that small?) and costs a whopping $91! Yikes, what do those birds taste like? I guess it’s the Kobe beef of poultry…

  24. TorontoPearl

    You’re a good son, Neil!

    I’m sure your mom will save you the best part of the turkey: the “wish bone” — to help make all your wishes come true.

    Have a great Thanksgiving. And do save me a piece of pecan pie.

  25. MommaSunshine

    You Americans know how to have your holidays! I’ve never heard of any free turkey giveaways here in Canada…

  26. nonlineargirl

    Wow, talk about culture shock. I have never heard of free turkeys. Then again, I live in Sarah’s neck of the woods. One coast has free turkeys, the other free-range, I guess.

  27. teahouseblossom

    This makes me think of when we took bowling in junior high gym class. Our teacher told us that the term “Turkey” for three strikes in a row developed from the old tradition of giving someone a free turkey when they achieved that goal. Mmmm..turkey.

  28. V-Grrrl

    Dammit, I came all the way over here for the porno posts and all I got was a free turkey.

    Guess I’ll have to troll through my e-mail Spam box and look for a message with the subject line “Let’s try this tonight!” My luck it will be an ad for a free turkey. 🙂

  29. Denise

    Good for your mom! I understand the point of it, I really do. I hope the turkey was delicious.

    Next year you should treat her to a fresh turkey, they are fabulous!

  30. gray matter matters

    I must say, I admire your mother’s “pluck.” Pluck, get it, turkey, pluck as in feathers…oh forget it.
    Yeah, I have to say, I embraced my inner yuppie and got one of those spa-raised, hormone free, organic, happy-until-they-slaughtered-it FULLY COOKED turkeys from Whole Foods. $80 well spent.

  31. M

    Gotta get that free turkey! The free Turkey (or ham if you so choose to go that way) is like your reward for putting up with those surly supermarket workers for the first 10 months of the year! I freeze mine and eat it after the holidays.

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