turkeys could ruminate philosophically, they wouldn’t have much
to be thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.
Thankfully, neither the brown- and bronze-feathered wild birds nor
their pale domesticated cousins are overburdened with higher-order
brain function. Anyone who has ever hunted wild gobblers knows they
are wily critters, possessing a keen sense of survival. But unlike
humans, turkeys are not cursed with the cognitive ability to regret
the past or fret about the future.
Turkeys, like those mindful humans who chant and pace their breathing
in meditative practices aimed at achieving nowness, live in the
present moment. That is, until the nation’s giant food-producing
industry begins readying for another Thanksgiving. And then, a Tom’s
time on earth grows shorter than daylight in winter.
From the Civil War to the Cold War, some semi-lucky turkeys at least
got their 15 minutes of fame before ending up being what’s for dinner.
We’re talking presidential turkeys, the chosen few that end up in
the kitchen at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington.
President Abraham Lincoln, who transformed the notion of being grateful
for what we have into a national holiday that grew to become a time
of feast and football, also had the distinction of being the first
chief executive to receive a complimentary turkey from an appreciative
In time, realizing that when you give you often receive, turkey
growers or the lobbying groups that supported the turkey-growing
sector, came to understand that when you present the president of
the United States with a gratis turkey to grace the First Family’s
Thanksgiving table, you get a lot of free ink and airtime in return.
Texas prepared to celebrate its centennial
in 1936, a turkey from McCulloch
County made its way from Brady
to the District of Columbia to provide a generous helping of white
meat and maybe seconds for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. So far
as is known, this Tom is the only beaked turkey from West Texas
to reach the White House.
Rabid members of both political parties might argue that the Brady
bird has not been the only turkey from Texas to go to the White
House, but we’re talking Thanksgiving dinner, not politics.
Here’s how the Nov. 21, 1935 issue of the Texas Centennial Review
reported the news about Brady’s
briefly famous turkey:
“President to Get Brady Turkey
“Brady, Texas —There are turkeys—and then there are turkeys, but
the one that will make the supreme sacrifice on the eve of Thanksgiving,
after having been chosen to grace the table of the President of
the United States on Thanksgiving Day, will be the most popular
bird in all Texas—a martyr to the cause.
“This ‘fine feathered friend’ will represent the most perfect specimen
of ‘Turkeydom’ in the vicinity of Brady
and will be sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the compliments
of that city.
“The title of ‘Texas Centennial Turkey’ will be bestowed upon the
favored bird, who will act in the capacity of a pleasant reminder
of the forthcoming Texas
Centennial Celebration in 1936, as it graces the President’s
table onThanksgiving Day.
“The results of the county-wide ‘Turkey Derby’ will determine the
selection of the prize turkey. Turkey raisers of McCulloch
County are all astir over the possibility of having their respective
gobblers judged the most perfect and being sent to the President.”
Unfortunately for this Mr. Tom Who-Went-to-Washington, the tradition
of presidential pardons for White House turkeys had yet to be established.
It can only be assumed that the turkey that gobbled its way to the
nation’s capital from Texas traveled with only a one-way train ticket.
prevailing view is that Harry S Truman was the first president to
offer clemency to a table-bound turkey, but others say Lincoln emancipated
a gift turkey before the first Thanksgiving Day in 1863. No matter
when the tradition began, every modern president since at least
John F. Kennedy has graciously given a second chance at life to
the lucky bird that gets photographed by the news media while hanging
out with the commander-in-chief the week before Thanksgiving.
Given that three Texans have been elected to the presidency since
the days of Camelot, surely other Lone Star State turkeys have netted
a free trip to Washington for a photo op. Of course, depending on
one’s political persuasion, plenty of not-so-grateful Texans have
wished they could give their president the bird.
© Mike Cox
- November 23, 2015 Column
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