The presidential pardoning of a live domestic turkey is a 20th century tradition that did not begin until after the end of World War Two. In fact, a slightly different tradition started in 1947, when Harry S. Truman received a live turkey several days before Thanksgiving. That turkey was cooked and eaten, as were the rest of the plump birds that our 33rd president received during his time as President of the United States. The next President, Dwight D. Eisenhower also received a free turkey right before the popular American feast day, and like his predecessor, the feathered creature was the centerpiece on the Thanksgiving dinner table.
On November 19th, 1963, the first turkey was spared by President John F. Kennedy. Tragically, Kennedy was shot and killed three days later, but the tradition of sparing a turkey destined for the Thanksgiving table continued, when President Nixon dispatched several of the big birds to the safety of a nearby farm.
The Turkey Pardon Begins
Next, the story of the turkey pardon jumps forward to the year 1987, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. At this time, he was caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal and so he had to answer questions from the press, as to whether he might pardon Lt. Colonel Oliver North for his role in the Contra affair. Somehow these questions from the inquisitive press were deflected by a reference that the President might pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, who was named Charlie. Reagan did pardon Charlie, the Thanksgiving turkey, but took no action on Lt. Col. North, because his trial did not begin until after Reagan had left office.
Reagan did not pardon any more turkeys, but two years later, George H.W. Bush made the Thanksgiving turkey pardon official, when he granted one turkey, his life. Since then every president has pardoned a turkey at Thanksgiving.
Obama Will Pardon A Turkey On Thursday
Nowadays, the process of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey has grown rather complicated. It all begins a year before, when the turkeys are born. The first selection takes place on the farm of the current chairperson of the National Turkey Federation. Typically, 20 turkeys are chosen. Next, these birds are exposed to loud noises and bright lights, which are a simulation of the press exposure that the birds will receive if they make the final selection. As Turkey Day approaches the two best candidates are chosen. One will actually be pardoned, while the second bird serves as an alternative. A name for the pardoned turkey is chosen by the White House and sometime in Thanksgiving the two lucky birds are picked up by Air Force One and flown to the White House. After the ceremony the two turkeys are retired to a petting zoo or friendly farm.
Thanksgiving Storytelling Time
I once witnessed a very, strange event at dusk on Thanksgiving Eve. It occurred in southern Maine, somewhere back in the late 90s, when I was working as a Christmas season packer at L.L. Beans in Freeport. While driving home from a busy day of preparing out-of-state orders for shipping, I came across a sight of two large birds perched in a tree next to a heavily-used rural road. I slowed down and upon closer examination, I came to the conclusion that they were domestic turkeys. Obviously, they had escaped their big feast day, but somehow I can’t see how they would have survived very long in the wild without becoming dinner for a hungry lynx, fox or bobcat.
Several months later, I began a short story based on this event, but as of present the story remains unfinished. In the story, a guy driving home from work has the same experience, but when he gets home, his wife doesn’t believe him and accuses him of “falling off the wagon”. From there things between the couple go downhill fast. In real life, I lived alone at the time, so nothing like that ever happened. Maybe it’s time to complete the story.
Like many things today, pumpkins carving is a re-discovered art that is reaching new heights. No longer are we graced with just the toothy smile of a Jack O’Lantern, but instead, today’s pumpkin carvers have dedicated themselves to creating strange, eerie nocturnal scenes, like the one visible above.
My 2015 Halloween Rant
I can’t believe it’s Halloween time again. The frost may not yet be on the pumpkin because of global warming and the World Series may still be playing live on your flat screen TV, because of increased TV revenues, but the calendar actually says October 31, which means its All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. And to make things better for those who like to party on the evening proceeding All Saints Day, Halloween 2015 happens to fall on a Saturday.
Like everything else in America and the world, Halloween is changing. Of course, our world is changing too, so it not at all unexpected to see evidence of these changes on this popular holiday that occurs right before the popular Celtic holiday of All Saints Day. Evidence of these changes can be seen just by viewing the new array of costumes that are released every year right about this time.
On The Dark Side
Images like this one are all over the internet and it is not inconceivable that the recent transformation of this nation’s beloved Olympic star is not playing well among the general public. Perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg or maybe just an overzealous outburst of the holiday season.
When American Indians from the West first encountered American photographers and their bulky cameras, the natives often referred to the picture-making device (and photographer) as a shadow catcher. And as a matter of fact, cameras can capture a person as well as their shadow. Furthermore, shadows can be portrayed in all sorts of ways from sinister or ghastly to benign or even humorous. Just a quick look through the annals of fine art photographers will reveal quite a few images of people with all types of dark forms following the main subject around.
When I made the above picture, I was concentrating on the actual names on the wall and the small American flags displayed in front of the wall. The appearance of the shadows and the reflection of the people inside the wall gave this picture a supernatural atmosphere that was totally unplanned. However, over time, I have grown to like both the shadows and the reflection, as I now see these dark shapes as being more transcendental than any thing else.
Not The Real Thing
If you look closely at the people standing next to the Vietnam Wall, you might notice that they make the wall seem small. This is not an illusion, because this is actually a half-scale replica wall that is set up at various places around the country, so people, who do not have the time or money to travel to the nation’s capitol, can see a very accurate replica. This picture happens to have been taken in Old Orchard Beach, Maine almost ten years ago. This situation also underscores the sad fact that our need to remember the war dead can barely keep up with our ability to put soldiers in armed conflicts.
A Brief History
Memorial Day occurs tomorrow on Monday. OK it’s not the real Memorial Day. That occurs on May 30th…this coming Saturday. But the New and Improved of Memorial Day does come around this Monday….And as always, it is a good time to remember those who have sacrificed their life in armed conflict. And don’t forget remembrance of the war dead should not be limited to national holidays.
The custom of placing flowers on the graves of soldiers probably exists for as long as there has been organized warfare. However, our Memorial Day seems closely tied to our very own Civil War (or War Between the States as it is sometimes called), for during this bloody conflict advances in military weapons and techniques outpaced improvements in medical treatment. The result was over 600,000 dead and for both sides the task of remembering the dead was monumental. For the rest of the 19th century each side had its own Memorial Day. Then came the 20th century with more wars and war dead and so the custom merged as one and became a national holiday.
Today we have the exact opposite situation, as we faced during the Civil War. Medical treatment has taken giant strides forward, while our ability to maim and kill seems to have taken a big step backward, especially with the rise of car bombings and other terrorist techniques in the Middle East…….at least that’s the way I see it in this current year (2015).
Today, is the 17th of March, better known as St. Patrick’s Day. Here in Montana I got the day off, though not because my employers love the popular saint from the Emerald Isle. I got the day off because it snowed. It was only an inch, but that was enough to keep my crew that worked at the local landfill from fulfilling our duties on this beloved holiday. So it’s off to a local pub for some green beer and a chance to get lucky on a keno machine. Hope everyone out there has a good time also.
A Few Images To Get Your Prurient Interest Going
No joyous holiday would be complete without a few provocative images of people out celebrating and having a good time. Here are few that I found on the web. Enjoy the holiday.
Winter is 13 weeks long….and depending where you live – this can be a short 13 weeks or a very long thirteen weeks. Also part of the equation is whether you enjoy outdoor winter sports……or not. For an avid skier, a warm winter with no snow can make for a very long winter and an economically bad season, as well, especially…. if he or she happens to be employed with the ski industry. However, for the most of the rest of us, it is a long ways from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. Perhaps, this explains why there are so many joyous holiday within this time period. Without Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, this quarter of the year would be a whole lot, less bearable.
Strangely enough, two of our most offbeat holidays occur right at the midwinter mark. In fact, this year they fall on consecutive days. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhogs Day, which just happen to respectively occur on the first and second day of February. The combination of the two just might maks for a great way to revel in the fact that winter is half over.
Bad Year For the NFL
A recent news story about the jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial illustrates just how low the NFL has fallen during the current season. Judy Garsh, judge for the Hernandez trial, has ruled that the jurors can watch the Super Bowl, only if the name of Aaron Hernandez is not mentioned. And, if one of the newscasters has a slip of the tongue, then the unlucky viewers will have to turn the game off. Now that’s bizarre. Combine this situation with all the sex abuse allegations and the recent deflate-gate controversy surrounding the Patriots victory over the Colts and it becomes quite clear that the NFL commissioners (and many fans as well) with have very good reason to celebrate Groundhogs Day on Monday. Yeah!!!! the season’s finally over.
A Cult Movie Accents an Offbeat Holiday
Look through the comedy section of any movie DVD store (or online site) and you will see hundreds of listings with catchy titles that fail to deliver. Strangely enough, one of the perennial favorites is Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. When first released in 19992, the movie was well received and got favorable reviews. Since then the film has grown in stature, so that nowadays, the popular fantasy fare is consistently listed as one of the top ten comedies and sometimes even included as one of the ten best films ever. So if you have yet to see this film, you might want to give it a viewing. And if one of the announcers slips up and mentions Aaron Hernandez’s name, you can show solidarity with the 18 jurors and turn off the sports contest and put on the groundhog movie.
Jolly is one of those strange words that only seems appropriate during week long holiday period that occurs at the end of each year. In particular in seems tied to one particular fellow….and that is ole Saint Nick, himself. Burl Ives tied his own rotund self with the word, when he released “Holly, Jolly Christmas”, way back in 1965.
Too Much Horror
I enjoyed writing my little Christmas horror story, ( here is the link ) but now that Christmas is almost here, it is time to share a little joy and humour. After all that is what the holiday is all about. (my apologies to anybody that believes that Jesus was actually born on December 25). Besides, there is way too much horror going around in the world today and we may need a break from all those gruesome headlines. This may be fertile and lucrative ground for horror and suspense writers, but the everyday “Joe” ( or Jill ) needs some fun in his life. Following is my small contribution to the holiday mayhem.
1. “One thing I learned from drinking is that if you ever go Christmas caroling, you should go with a group of people. And also go in mid-December.” — Louis C.K.
2. “Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year.” – Victor Borge
3. “Tis Christmas I’ve decided to put mistletoe in my back pocket, so all the people I don’t like can kiss my ass.” from Pinterest, author unknown
4. “What I don’t like about Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”- Phyllis Diller
5. “Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know the birth of Santa.” Matt Groening via Bart Simpson
6. “The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.” – Joan Rivers
7. “Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer…? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ upon his lips should be boiled with his won pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
8. “There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.” – W.J. Cameron
9. “I don’t mind fruitcakes. They’re the one thing during the holidays I’m not tempted to eat.” – Melanie White
10. “The two most joyous times of the year are Christmas morning and the end of school.” – Alice Cooper
11. “I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying: ‘Toys not included.’ ” – Bernard Manning
12. “I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas.” – Sylvia Plath
13. “It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” – Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales
14. “The Four Stages of Life.
a. You believe in Santa Claus.
b. You don’t believe in Santa Claus.
c. You are Santa Claus.
d. You look like Santa Claus.” from Pinterest, author unknown
No not really, but Christmas time is a great occasion for storytelling and all those stories need not be about nutcrackers and sugar plum fairies. In fact, if you step back and take a close look at some of the tall tales that circulate on these longest of winter nights, you will find that quite a few delve into the darkness of men’s souls. From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, innovative storytellers have been more than willing to celebrate the Yule time with a grisly tale. And guess what……they have been very successful at capturing our attention.
Recently, Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted a Christmas Flash Fiction challenge. In this quest, he suggested that interested participants write a 2,000 word horror story about Christmas. To put things in his own words: “The holidays are in fact ripe with horror — meat and candy, mythological creatures who spy on you, winter hellscapes, animated toys. So many options for terror!”
My response ran a little over the suggested 2,000 word limit, but here it is anyway, a dark Christmas tale from the Canadian North Woods.
Le Loup Garou (the French-Canadian Werewolf)
a Short Story by Henri Bauhaus
The old timers said that the winters in the spruce forests of Northern Ontario were not as cold as they used to be. According to these elderly gents, there once was a time, when the Wendigo River would freeze solid as a rock from Thanksgiving till Easter. The frigid winter would even solidify Jim McKenzie Falls, a twelve foot high rock ledge that ran the breadth of the northward flowing river. They also often lamented that on some nights it would get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground.
But there was no need to tell Sam Wiggins that…for he learned all about the awesome North Woods winter, the hard way. The unfortunate event took place on an icy December night, when the trees of the forest were going snap, crackle and pop, as the temperature plunged well below zero. So cold were these solstice nights that not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Sam’s boss man, Patrick Munster, had given Sam and his crew both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. But in the year of our Lord, 1925, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so for the Monday following the most revered holiday, Mr. Cargill expected all twelve loggers to be present and accounted for at 8 a.m. at the Wendigo branch of the Tamarack Paper company. It mattered nil that Monday was Boxing Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen was nigh. To the delight of the paper bosses, Christmas had conveniently fallen on a weekend and come hell or high water Patrick Munster was going to get a week of work from his hardy gang. before the new year rolled in.
The loggers had put in a good day on the Friday before Christmas, so Patrick gave the whole crew the latter part of the day off. The earnest penny-pincher even had a modest cash bonus for all the men, including the ones, who had only been on the crew for just a few months. It had been a good year for the Tamarack Paper Company and the seasoned foreman had been given a small wad of cash and told to disperse it evenly among the crew. Patrick did so without fanfare or keeping even a token amount for himself, an unselfish decision that was rare amongst the company foremen.
Not only did Patrick know the woods well, but he also understood the ways of his men very well. For he knew that sooner or later many of them would end up in the same tavern and that one of the first subjects of conversation would be about their Christmas bonuses. When the subject did come up, Ole Patrick wanted it to be known that his crew got the best bonus possible. For his Christmas kindness, the old Irishman knew that he would reap the benefits in the springtime, when the work gangs were just getting together for the upcoming year.
With only an hour or so of daylight left in the gray, December sky, Sam and several of his fellow loggers headed straight for the Laughing Loon Saloon, which was located just a few doors down from the office of the paper company. From the twelve man crew, only Sam and two of his buddies, Gil McHall and Emit Harding, made it through the front door of the busy drinking establishment.
Once inside, they were promptly seated by an overworked barmaid, who quickly set the trio up with a round of O’Keefe’s Ale and a couple shots each of Seagram’s Canadian Whiskey. Sam lead the first toast.
With glasses raised he said: “Here’s to the overworked lumberjack and the cheap-ass timber company that can’t afford more than a couple days off for its dedicated employees.”
“Aye, aye,” said Gil and Emit in unison, as they clanked glasses together.
“And here’s to the two month furlough we got coming after the New Year,” said Emit, as he raised his second shot glass. “May God rest our weary bones.”
This time Sam and Gil chipped in with a hearty, “Hail, hail.”
After setting their empty shot glass on the round wooden table, each man instinctively started sipping their brew.
“So I hear you plan to spend the winter break up here on the river,” said Gil.
Sam responded. “You got that right. The company offered me some part-time employment and a bed in the bunkhouse until we get going again in the spring.”
“No shit,” said Gil. “Whatcha goin’ to be doin’?”
“Repairing snowshoes, sharpening axes and shit like that,” said Sam.
“That won’t last very long,” said Emit.
“I hope not,” said Sam. “Cause I was planning to set out some traplines, so I can catch me a bunch of snowshoe hares and maybe a lynx or two.”
“There’s always money to be made, ain’t there,” said Gil.
“One way or another,” said Sam, as he took a moment to down the beer from his heavy, glass mug. Then Sam summoned the barmaid, a sweet young lady named Heidi, who was aged somewhere around 30.
“You guys want another round,” asked the shapely lady, as she whirled by the table.
“Just the ale,” said Sam.
“No more whiskey,” inquired the barmaid.
“I’ll do another shot,” piped in Gil.
“Me too,” added Emit.
“One more shot all around,” asked Heidi, as she lay her hand on Sam’s shoulder and swung her long blond braids near enough the tired lumberjack, so he could catch a whiff of her spruce shampoo.
“Hell….make it two,” said Sam. “We got a lot to talk about tonight.”
“Be right back,” said Heidi, while swooping up the empty shot glasses and placing them on her circular tray.
Then she left the table and disappeared behind the bar.
“That’s one foxy lady,” said Sam, as he watched the barmaid fix up a new round of drinks for the hard-working timber cutters.
“You can look all you want to,” said Gil. “But that lady’s spoken for.”
“I can dream, can’t I,” replied Sam.
“No harm in that,” said Emit. “Just don’t get any nutty ideas as the night rolls on.”
“Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m headed up to Moose Crossing for the holiday,” said Sam.
“You ain’t goin’ up that ways tonight, are you?” asked Gil.
“I was kind of thinkin’ of it,” said Sam. “You have a problem with that?”
“No way,” said Gil. “It’s just that it’s a good five to seven miles on a three-foot snowpack.”
“I can handle that,” said Sam.
“Just checking,” said Gil.
“You’re not going to pass on some nonsense about the Loup de Garou,” said Sam.
“You mean the French-Canadian werewolf,” asked Gil.
Just then Heidi returns with the next round of drinks and sets them on the table.
“Here you go guys.”
“Thanks Heidi,” said Sam. “You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Just doing my job,” said Heidi. “By the way I didn’t overhear you talking about le Loup de Garou, did I?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emit. “That ghastly creature, which only comes out on the longest nights of the year.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Gil.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” replied Heidi.
“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you,” said Gil.
“I used to think like that,” said Heidi.
“What changed your mind?” asked Sam.
“A few midnight stragglers with the fear of death in their eyes.”
“Here at the Laughing Loon,” inquired Emit.
“Every winter, one or two show up with some weird tale about being followed by a strange creature. I used to pass it off as some drunken nonsense….but I just can’t do that no more.”
“Why’s that?” asked Sam.
“Some of them were stone cold sober!”
Heidi walks away leaving the three men to their drinks.
One hour later, Sam, Emit and Gil were outside the Laughing Loon strapping on their snowshoes, which had been left out in the snow, while the three men were inside drinking.
“You’re not serious about trekking up to Moose Crossing night,” asked Emit.
“Sure am,” said Sam. “And I hope you’re not serious about that French werewolf bullshit.”
“Of course not,” said Emit. “It’s just the night is turning into a real cold one and a lot can happen in five miles of night walking.”
Sam finishes lashing on his webbed walking contraptions and then stands upright.
“Don’t worry, Emit. I know where I’m going. Besides I got a rising full moon to guide me.”
“I’m sure Sam can take care of himself,” said Gil.
“Alright then,” said Emit. “See you bright and early on Monday.”
With those words, Sam left his two companions and began following a packed snowy trail down to the banks of the Wendigo River. The rising moon cast its rays across the frozen tributary, creating a spectacularly beautiful scene that rivaled the best paintings ever done. Sam reveled in the beauty of the wintry, nocturnal scene, for the white bark of the river birches sparkled in the moonglow with an eerie iridescence, unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed.
About half way to Moose Crossing, Sam heard some heavy breathing that seemed to be coming up the trail from behind. At first, the solitary walker thought that there was another person out on the trail……after all it was a popular path that connected the two wilderness outposts.
But every time Sam turned around, there was nothing visible.
Another mile along the river trail and the breathing seemed to be closing in, so Sam increased his pace….not a good idea on a sub-zero December night. Soon, Sam came to a top of a knoll, where the snow was particularly deep and the shoeing was overly strenuous. Naturally, Sam stopped to catch his breath. It was at this juncture that Sam noticed a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark forest and he thought he could dimly make out the condensation of someone exhaling amidst the thick cover of spruce trees.
In no time Sam resumed his march through the December night, but now a new urgency pumped his body full of adrenalin and pushed him onwards to his final destination at an alarming speed. The heavy breathing did not stop, as Sam kept his eyes fixed forward…..too terrified to turn around.
As the trail descended from the small knoll, Sam used the downward slope to propel himself forward underneath the frozen canopy. Another incline and Sam was sweating profusely, as he made his tired legs lift his long, wooden walking aids along the snowy path. Each step seemed harder and harder and instinctively Sam knew he would not last long in this arctic environment at his present pace. If the phantom behind did not get him, his overexertion would. There was no way out.
Then at the top of the next hill a glimmer of hope appeared. It was the glow of an occupied cabin that seemed to be situated about a mile in front of him. Sam did not trust his own eyes, but he had no choice….And that was to propel himself forward, as best he could, and hope that his vision was real and that he would reach the place of human habitation before being consumed by the spirit behind him.
The last mile was the most physically excruciating and mentally terrifying minutes that he ever experienced in his 45 years on the planet. The breathing from behind got heavier and heavier. At times it seemed like the breath of the monster was all around him.
Finally, Sam was a hundred yards away from the lighted cabin. He couldn’t believe it. It seemed so real that he could smell the woodsmoke pouring out the chimney and he could barely distinguish the muffled sound of human voices. They were joyous sounds like those that might come from a merry party.
At last, Sam reached out for the metal latch that kept the cabin door closed tight and separated the warm heated interior from the frigid night. Sam wholly-expected the whole building to be a figment of his imagination, but it wasn’t, as he released the latch and stumbled across a finished maple floor with his snowshoes still attached to his feet.
Immediately, the joyful banter turned to dead silence. The first thing Sam noticed was a huge fire burning in a fireplace that was located to his right. Directly, in front of Sam was a long bar with a banner hanging from the ceiling that said: “Welcome To Hell”. The bartender had a bright red, painted face and two horns emerging from the sides of his head. Worse of all he had an uncanny resemblance to Jim McKenzie, the brave logger who had died ten years before in a logjam right above the waterfalls that now bore his name in honorarium.
When the bartender spoke, Sam passed out.
Immediately, a small crowd gathered around the exhausted logger. A woman splashed her drink in Sam’s face and he came to.
Sam looked at the bartender and blurted out: “You’re Jim McKenzie and you’re dead.”
Immediately, the sounds of laughter filled the one-room cabin.
“No sir,” then the bartender paused for a few long seconds. “I’m Doug McKenzie, Jim’s older brother. Even though Jim passed away ten years ago, people still get us mixed up. It happens all the time.”
“What the fuck is going on here?” said Sam.
Another loud burst of laughter passes through the twenty or so people gathered in the lonely cabin.
“Welcome to Hell Night!” said Doug. “We do this once a year right before Christmas.”
Slowly, Sam surveys the room and notices that all the people are in costume, most of them quite dreadful.
“You’re kidding me,” said Sam.
“I kid you not,” said Doug. “But I do have one question for you.”
“What’s that?” said Sam.
“What caused you to come bursting through the front door with your snowshoes still attached to your feet?”
“I was being followed by the Loup de Garou,”
Another deathly silence swept through the room.
Then the fire flickered and one of the windows fogged up from the outside. A few seconds later another window fogged up, as two wolf-like eyes could be seen glowing outside in the night. And they seemed to be looking into the cabin.
Then the eyes disappeared and faint footsteps could be heard leading away from the cabin.
When things returned to normal, Doug leaned over and spoke to Sam.
“That ain’t no werewolf!”
“Then what the hell is it?” asked Sam.
“It’s a ghost wolf,” said Doug.
“An appearance by a ghost wolf is rare,” said Jim. “But when they do appear, they always take somebody back with them.”