Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Buck’s Big BirdThere was no question in my mind about the correct answer. But just to be absolutely, positively, 100 percent certain, I telephoned my cousin in Auburn, Alabama, shortly before Thanksgiving.

“What kind of bird are you fixing on Thursday?” I asked.

“A turkey,” Ruth Spencer Hairston replied.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. Still not going to be adventuresome?”

“No way.”

Thus, “Uncle Buck’s Turkey Delight” would remain dormant for yet another year.

Buck Spencer, who died in 1980, was Ruth’s daddy. He and my mother were siblings. Buck would’ve turned 101 this year, which blows my mind, because he was forever young-at-heart.

Century-old people are supposed to be doddering old croaks who chew their gums and grumble. You’d have to have known my uncle to understand how markedly he would defy such a stereotype.

Buck Spencer was the original good ol’ boy. Every family needs someone just like him. Anytime I picture him in my mind and recall his riotous “hee-hee-hee-hee” laughter as he told stories of mischief and misadventure, I start grinning.

(Quick background: Buck and my mother enjoyed a dichotomous upbringing. Because their daddy—my grandfather, R. R. Spencer—was an L&N engineer stationed in the remote Campbell County outpost of Chaska, Tennessee, their formative years were spent in two radically different worlds. During the school year, the family lived in a modern house in Knoxville. All summer and on weekends and holidays, their home was a converted boxcar in Chaska. Dirt roads, no electricity, no running water. Nonetheless, Mother and Buck always remembered their Chaska days as idyllic. They loved the mountains and mountain people.)

It was during one of those hillbilly stays that Buck’s turkey tale came to fruition. I learned about it at a Chaska railroad reunion after Buck died.

“We were just kids,” Raymond Sullivan told me at the time. “Me and Buck and Johnny Gamble were out in the woods one day in the fall, and Buck shot a turkey.”

None of the boys had ever seen a turkey in the wild, of course. That didn’t matter. They were going to feast.

“We took that turkey back to the rail yard and steamed the feathers off of it with a hose from the engine. Then we plucked it and dressed it and started to cook it.”

What emanated from the fire, however, was not a delectable aroma. I can still see Raymond wincing as he told the rest of the story:

“That’s when we discovered it wasn’t a turkey. It was a buzzard.”

Too bad there wasn’t one of those holiday meal disaster contests back then. Buck and the boys would’ve won enough money to spray Lysol from one end of Chaska to the other.

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at