A Thanksgiving Cornucopia of Good Reads and Videos
By Anna Daniels
This year many of us will be thankful to sit around tables laden with wonderful food in the company of friends and family. And for many of us, a dinosaur will be the main dish. Seriously. We accept the fact, with a few stubborn creationist holdouts, that dinosaurs died out millions of years ago before humans were on the evolutionary scene. No more T Rex, Velociraptors or Stegosaurus.
But those were the non-avian dinosaurs. The dinosaurs that didn’t die out are the avian dinosaurs, more commonly known as birds. This is a fun fact for the kids at the Thanksgiving table, but it’s a heavy lift to mentally shift from the lifeless, plucked Butterball on the table, even if it’s a twenty-five pounder, to memories of Jurassic Park. A marauding wild tom turkey however is quite another thing. It may be a much scaled down tyrannosaurus, but admit it- it’s a dinosaur.
There is a whole niche genre of wild turkey attacks on youtube. In the essay Revenge of the Turkey, by Taylor Plimpton, he posits that “If we are what we eat, then as Americans, we are turkeys.” Plimpton serves up a lively combination of turkey history and turkey harassment.
Michael P. Branch explores the surreal, relatively recent tradition of the President of the United States “pardoning” the Thanksgiving turkeys in Freebirds.
The tradition of the presidential turkey pardon has continued to evolve in surprising ways. In the early years the exonerated gobblers were sent to Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo in northern Virginia where, as turkey rock stars, they lived a life featuring excessive drug use and media attention but only the brief fame their overbred and steroid-addled condition would allow. Since 2005, however, the ritual has become more surreal: the pardoned bird is now immediately flown to Disneyland or Disney World, where it serves as grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day parade at the creepily self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth.” And if the idea of Americans spending their Thanksgiving holiday at a theme park watching a fat bird lead a Mickey Mouse parade seems depressing, it is encouraging to note that the birds are flown to their new posts first class, so while in transit they enjoy a comfortably wide seat and a lot of free gin-and-tonics. It beats the hell out of that cramped poultry yard with its hormone-dusted cracked corn, and since the birds are so overbred as to find it barely possible to waddle (pardon the pun) much less fly, their trip to the Happiest Place is in fact the only flight they will ever know.
Branch’s article turns serious when he asks why a turkey needs to be pardoned. What crime did the turkey commit that demands our communal forgiveness? Why is the executive power to pardon so seldom exercised upon our fellow citizens?
Of course the National Turkey—which, for all we know, might wisely prefer death to Disney World in any case—doesn’t require our mercy in the slightest. It is we who need the bird, desperately so, for through it we are permitted to express our deep human desire to grant amnesty to those who would otherwise suffer. From where I sit it is difficult to determine whether the granting of a pardon constitutes an assertion of power or a relinquishment of it. But for allowing us a momentary, if symbolic, reprieve from our role as judge and executioner, we have ample reason to give thanks to these turkeys—so many thanks, in fact, that it probably is a good idea to be on the safe side and pardon one every now and then.
It should come as no surprise that Vice President Biden also plays a role in the annual act of pardon.
In keeping with a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition, Vice President Joe Biden ceremonially pardoned a 4-pound yam today at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. “Under my authority as vice president of the United States of America, I hereby grant this yam full and unconditional clemency,” a smiling Biden declared as he gently patted “Spud,” a Beauregard sweet potato grown in Louisiana and selected from millions of candidates yielded by this year’s harvest. “May he never find himself in a casserole. Right, little guy?” Like yams reprieved before him, Spud will ride as an honored guest aboard the second float of the Disneyland Thanksgiving Day Parade before spending the rest of his life in the comfort and safety of a tuber petting zoo. (The Onion, of course.)
The decision to travel long distances to be with family at Thanksgiving is often made with trepidation if not full scale anxiety and pharmaceutical support. The ensuing holiday events are the stuff of great stories. In Chris Radant’s “Home for the Holidays: A survivors frightening account,” she reminds herself before the trip to her parents’ home in Pittsburgh that “They’ll do things they’ve always done to drive me and nuts and I won’t go nuts. I’ll translate every single thing into a gesture of love and concern.”
Unsurprisingly, these thoughts are thoroughly dispelled immediately upon her arrival.
My assimilation into their home life continued from there. And so did the riveting conversation. Mom actually read me a form letter from their insurance company. Dad reminded me again that all women on his side of the family had eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease and were full-fledged legumes before signing off. Then he played “Dark Town Strutters’ Ball” and “Anchors Aweigh” on the organ—melody only. And with the aid of that foot pedal, he created the sense that the Wurlitzer was actually lunging in my direction and then recoiling only to come for me again and again. Like a large, throaty cobra. This menacing effect added a hallucinogenic quality to the gathering, which didn’t seem to bother anybody else.
I fled to the upstairs bathroom where my suspicions were confirmed: I had gotten a nosebleed. It’s a wonder that’s the only thing that had ruptured.
Radant’s story is one of going nuts, being loved and loving back, and of course returning for more of the same the following year.
OK. Family can make you nuts, but cooking a turkey shouldn’t do the same. Tante Marie provides a refreshing, but alas NSFW (language) perspective on turkeys and ovens.
NSFW Just Put the Turkey in the Oven
Just a final word about leftovers….