Turkey talker

An interview with Mary Clingman, 60 Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Director, Naperville, Ill.

Interview by Jenny Mero, Fortune reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- The idea of an 800 number was fairly new 26 years ago when the Turkey Talk-Line started, yet 11,000 people called. At the time there were only seven phone representatives.

I've been here for 22 years. I was a homemaker with a home ec degree when I saw the job posted in a bulletin. Last year 55 operators handled 100,000 calls, and over 10,000 on Thanksgiving Day.

Ever since President Lincoln proclaimed the holiday in 1863, the Thanksgiving meal has been the most popular family feast. Today we eat 47 million turkeys for Thanksgiving and 22 million for Christmas. To handle the calls, we're equipped with four-inch binders containing the latest trends.

This year we know brining and cooking in oven bags are popular. All operators have cooked turkey dozens of ways at Butterball University, and we've heard it all. One year a lady from Colorado thawed her turkey in a snowbank because she had no space in her fridge. She called to find out if it was okay to eat. It had snowed heavily overnight, and she couldn't remember where she'd placed it.

A caller from Atlanta wanted to know if the kitty litter her husband had put on the grill to keep it clean was harmful.

We also get calls each year from people who had turkeys thawing in the tub and their kids put bubbles or soap on them.

We even got a call about a Chihuahua stuck inside a turkey - I figured it was a prank. -Interview by Jenny Mero  Top of page