Rainy Side View: Presidential turkey pardons

Thanksgiving is approaching once again and we all know what that means: a month-long celebration of food and festivities. I could call it a national orgy but before anyone accuses me of being Mr. Scrooge, (especially after my Halloween column), let me just say that I too enjoy cooking, baking, guzzling, gorging, shopping, wrapping …

But one question arises in my mind every year around this time and it has to do with turkeys. Who amongst us does not relish a turkey dinner in November and when else do we enjoy cranberries? But the Thanksgiving turkey story that gets my attention is the one that involves a presidential pardon. I am puzzled by this liberation of one solitary bird when a few days later, the rest of us consume some 45 million of his brothers and sisters.


While there are stories of earlier presidents pardoning turkeys at Thanksgiving, our American birds can credit George H.W. Bush for nailing down the Chief-of-State pardon, even though research suggests that the 41st president was merely reacting to animal activists picketing the White House. Even so, this absolution is now enacted every year a few days before Thanksgiving. In one of several monumental decisions in the Poppy Bush era, that reprieved bird and others over the next 15 years were released to a refuge near the Capitol, although were I a turkey, I would sleep with one eye open at this sanctuary named Frying Pan Farm.

Turkeys can thank the second Bush president, George W. (aka 43) who moved them to a warmer clime when he declared that the absolved bird’s new home would now be Disneyland.

Turkeys today are justified in their deep gratitude to the Bushes.

But why the reprieve? Here are some possible reasons: Guilt and remorse for 1. Passing over this awkward, inelegant bird in favor of the sleek and soaring eagle as national symbol; 2. Naming a goofy dance with short jerky steps the Turkey Trot; 3. Calling someone not too bright and referring to a theater flop as “a turkey;” 4. Teaching children to sing “Turkey in the Straw” at the top of their lungs accompanied by harmonica.

Perhaps we should ask the turkey to pardon us.

On the other hand, maybe there is no need to atone because don’t we express admiration for our fowl friend when we “talk turkey,” or bowl three strikes in a row and declare it “a turkey,” or go “cold turkey” when trying to quit a bad habit? And who doesn’t love turkey leftovers? In my family, our holiday weekend doesn’t end until we have chuk, a thick, Chinese rice soup made with the Thanksgiving turkey carcass, so we say a sincere mahalo nui loa to Mr. Turkey for four glorious days of binging!

Last year, our current president pardoned two turkeys named Peas and Carrots, but you will have to google and read about it for yourself because I have neither skills nor space to summarize 45’s actions. Just know that two fat turkeys were rescued, thanks to President Trump’s decision to issue not just one, but two pardons.

In Hawaii, we have no trouble embracing Thanksgiving, this all-American holiday of turkey stuffing, basting, roasting and overeating. After all, a wide table overflowing with food is among our favorite local traditions, not just for one day out of the year, but every day. In fact, a big clue that the 44th president was born and raised in the Islands is because before Obama issued his first pardon, he was, and I quote, “planning to eat this sucker.” I cheered his being true to local form and my one regret is that Barack didn’t dig an imu in the White House lawn to kalua his turkey. But his Chicago-born daughters intervened and we know the rest of the story: One lucky bird soaking up sun in California; millions of others soaking up sauce in the rest of the country.


In this contentious day and age, perhaps the one thing we can all agree on this Thanksgiving is that American presidents sometimes commit inexplicable and bizarre acts. Turkey pardoning is just one of them.

Rochelle delaCruz was born in Hilo, graduated from Hilo High School, then left to go to college. After teaching for 30 years in Seattle, Wash., she retired and returned home to Hawaii. Rochelle welcomes your comments at rainysideview@gmail.com. Her column appears the second and fourth Monday of each month.

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