Column Date 2005-12-14

Pardoning the Turkey

Thanksgiving is here, and our President, as is the quaint American custom, is about to pardon a Thanksgiving Turkey.

Which raises several questions:

First, what crime did the turkey commit? To be pardoned (as we all know from watching old cops & robbers movies on TV) means that the turkey was caught, went to trial, was convicted, was molting on death row and then, at the last second, the President stepped in and pardoned the bird.

Which brings up another question: just why is this turkey being pardoned? Did someone discover new evidence? Was there a last-minute plea from an influential senior turkey? Has the turkey decided to give state’s evidence? Has the turkey suddenly repented and found religion? Done community service? Spent 20 hours a week helping fellow turkeys in their time of need?

Clearly, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

The facts are simple: this turkey (22 weeks old, weight about 40 pounds) was headed for somebody’s dinner table when it was born on a turkey farm, along with millions of other turkeys. But something about this turkey caught the eye of the White House. Something deep and profound, like when President Bush looked into the soul of Vladimir Putin and liked what he saw.

Whatever the real reason, the Presidential Thanksgiving Pardon will save the life of one doomed Turkey.

Well, actually, it will save the lives of two doomed turkeys.

You see, there are actually two turkeys that get Presidential pardons every Thanksgiving. The second turkey remains backstage; it’s a backup turkey, an ‘understudy turkey,’ if you will. It’s lurking in the wings in case the first bird becomes ill or is otherwise unable to fulfil its duties.

No joke: President Reagan was once faced with an out-of-control turkey that went bonkers and started flapping around wildly in the White House. And the turkey handlers were right there with the understudy.

Just for the record, Harry Truman issued the first Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon back in 1947, and pardons have been issued every year since then.

After the turkey is pardoned, it will spend the rest of its natural life (which is about two years) at a 1930’s-replica farm, in a park in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The name of this park -- I swear I am not making this one up – is “Frying Pan Park.” Which means that this turkey is the first creature in history to jump out of the fire and into the frying pan. (Apologies.)

Of course, there are some people like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who say we should stop this barbaric custom of simultaneously consuming millions of turkeys in November, and pardon all turkeys.

And then there are the 56,000,000 Americans who, when they see George Bush standing there next to the Thanksgiving bird, think we’re pardoning the wrong turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

(c) 2004 Peter Tannen