Thursday, November 16, 2017

But will they thank the president? -- Nov. 16, 2017 column


A great American tradition is again about to take place -- and I don’t mean overeating, arguing over politics, watching football and shopping.

Before those time-honored Thanksgiving rituals, the president of the United States will issue a couple of pardons everybody can agree on.

If all goes according to plan, two photogenic and well-behaved turkeys from Minnesota will be driven to the nation’s capital. They will spend the night in a luxury hotel before being delivered Tuesday to the White House, where President Donald Trump will exercise his power to pardon. 

The two lucky birds then will make the trip to Virginia Tech, where they will join Tater and Tot, the turkeys President Barack Obama pardoned last year, to live out their lives in a special enclosure called “Gobbler’s Rest.”

Unlike the other 238 million turkeys raised in the United States annually, these turkeys will never grace anyone’s dining room table.

So, naturally, the question on Americans’ minds is: Will the turkeys thank Trump?

This president loves to be thanked. You could say he demands it. He asked in a tweet Wednesday whether the three UCLA basketball players would say “thank you President Trump” for securing their freedom from a Chinese jail.

The young men stupidly shoplifted in three stores in China while on a team trip and got caught. “They were headed for 10 years in jail!” Trump tweeted.

As presidents often do, he intervened and the three were released. They did thank the president and the U.S. government. Trump then tweeted “You’re welcome” and urged them to “give a big Thank you to President Xi Jinping, who made your release possible and HAVE A GREAT LIFE!”

He also advised: “Be careful, there are many pitfalls on the long and winding road of life!”

Speaking of pitfalls, it’s not true that Trump revoked Obama’s turkey pardons and ordered the birds executed by firing squad. A satirical website ran a “news” story to that effect earlier this year and gullible readers have been spreading the fake news ever since.

But it’s not fake news that the feathered fortunates traditionally spend the night before their White House appearance at the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel, where the luxurious rooms cost upwards of $350.

Rolls of brown paper, pine shavings and plastic tape are involved in preparing for the guests, Time magazine reported. No word yet on whether the new hotel of choice will be Trump International on Pennsylvania Avenue.

When it comes to giving thanks, though, the pardoned turkeys should be especially grateful to Virginia Tech.

Yes, Trump will pardon, but it would be news if he didn’t. What happens next to the celebrity turkeys hasn’t been pretty.

The National Turkey Federation started giving presidents a turkey for their Thanksgiving feast with Harry S Truman. John F. Kennedy decided to send the turkey back to the farm in 1963, saying, “We’ll just let this one grow.”

George H.W. Bush was the first president to use the word pardon. He announced on Nov. 14 1989, the turkey had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

Over the years, the freed turkeys were dispatched to Disneyland, petting farms and Mount Vernon. Sad to say, wherever they went, they often died months, or even days, later.

“The bird is bred for the table, not for longevity,” Dean Norton, the director at Mount Vernon in charge of livestock, told CNN in 2013.

Fed a high-protein diet, the turkeys grow large but their organs can’t keep up. They can’t fly or roost in trees like wild turkeys and don’t live as long, he said.

That’s why the turkey federation sends two turkeys every year – in case one falls ill before the big White House event.

The federation contacted Tech last year and said it wanted to start a tradition of sending pardoned turkeys to universities with strong poultry science departments, the Roanoke Times reported.

Tech’s Poultry Science Club built the enclosure in a show barn in Blacksburg and welcomed Tater and Tot about a year ago. Faculty credit the students’ good care with keeping the turkeys alive and thriving.

Thank you, Virginia Tech. And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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