Time to write those Turkey Notes

20 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving time, and that means Turkey Note time!

You may have received Turkey Notes from your kids or grandkids — they’re an eastern Iowa tradition that supposedly originated in Davenport.

If Turkey Notes are new to you, you need an explanation. A Turkey Note, according to a Davenport Public Library website,, “ is a short, three- or four-line poem, using ‘Turkey’ as the first word of the first two lines. Purists use colors for the second word of these first lines, but this is not strictly necessary.

“The poem can be a compliment, an insult or just funny, depending, of course, on your sense of humor. The poem, which is usually left unsigned, is rolled into a tube and wrapped in colored paper, which is tied at both ends with string, yarn or ribbon.”

Turkey Notes then are left by the side of each plate at Thanksgiving dinner or can be passed out to friends or classmates.

According to the library website, Turkey Notes are said to date back to about 1890 and considered to be strictly a local custom.

The site says the origin of Turkey Notes is unknown. One theory is that a large family started them. Another is that German immigrants brought the tradition to Davenport to celebrate their first American holiday. A third theory is that a teacher invented Turkey Notes to keep her students under control prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

“My mother, Genevieve Duffy, made them and taught us to make them, too,” says Katharine Duffy Cook, my second-grade teacher, with whom I reconnected earlier this year on Facebook. “They were given out to classmates, used mostly as Thanksgiving favors and used crepe paper/construction paper for holiday colors. Notes were on white paper.”

Katie – she was “Miss Duffy” when I was 6 years old in her class at Davenport’s Wilson School back in 1955 — says her mother carried the tradition to Creston, Iowa, and family members have spread it as they moved to new locales.

She also says I produced Turkey Notes when I was her student. That would have made her my first writing instructor, something I doubt very much has been noted on her list of teaching achievements.

Now a couple of examples.

A common Turkey Note with a pleasant theme is:

Turkey Red,

Turkey Blue,

Turkey says,

“I love you!”

And one that I remember all these years for some odd reason is:

Turkey Red,

Turkey Blue,

Turkey says,

“Your feet smell, and so do you!”

Now it’s your turn. Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa, as an “Everyday People” column.

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Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


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