A Thanksgiving Tale

One of the stragest American customs is the annual pardoning of a domestic turkey by the POTUS, photo courtesy of the White House.gov

One of the strangest American customs is the annual pardoning of a domestic turkey by the POTUS, photo courtesy of the White House.gov

The History of the White House Turkey

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.

President John Kennedy was the first to spare the life of a Thanksgiving turkey (1963)

President John Kennedy was the first to spare the life of a Thanksgiving turkey (1963)

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.

Stars was pardoned by President George W. Bush in 2003 before heading to Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Va.

Stars was pardoned by President George W. Bush in 2003 before heading to Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Va.

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.


Good Writing Is Good Writing

Luke Skywalkwer has a deep conversation with Yodi

Luke Skywalker has a deep conversation with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. That’s how you pass down the meat and potatoes of your society to the next generation.”
George Lucas on creating Star Wars

Some Things Never Change

You don’t have to be modern to be a successful or influential writer. In fact, more often than not, it is the author than is able to keep one foot rooted in the past and one in the present, who succeeds in today’s  contemporary, mad array of movies, flash fiction, ebooks, graphic novels and online videos.

Take for example George Lucas, who looked back through the eyes of Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to create a popular, monumental, sci-fi epic, known as Star Wars. Not only did Lucas read from Joseph Campbell’s myriad of popular writings, but he also knew the gentleman personally and evidently learned a lot from his mentor.

Though the two men never met until after the Star Wars trilogy reached the Big Screen, Campbell publicly acknowledged how the Star Wars series follows the hero’s journey. In short, the hero’s journey is a narrative tale, where the hero (or heroine) goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed. Nowadays, many of our popular stories, especially those portrayed by Hollywood, follow this popular storytelling pathway. However, few seem to own the idiom as well as George Lucas does, which may in part explain the huge success of his blockbuster films.


For those who wish to view a short summary of the Hero’s Journey, this short animation by Iskander Krayenbosch says it all.

Thanks to the movie Rocky, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a popular place for sightseers as well as exercisers

Thanks to the movie, Rocky, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a popular place for sightseers as well as exercisers


“The road to success isn’t paved with gold—99 percent of the time it isn’t paved at all.” by Chris Orwig

The School of Hard Knocks

Despite the abundance of MFA programs and other advanced literary degrees, the proverbial “school of hard knocks” might be the best education of all for writers. In the past, this proverbial place has produced some of the most legendary writing. For example, what would have Tolkien written without his time in the trenches of WWI. The same can be said for Samuel Clemens and his life on the Mississippi River or Jack London’s journey to the gold fields of the Klondike……And the list goes on and on, continuing well into the present.

Perhaps Sylvester Stallone summed this attitude up best, when he wrote this line for his most famous movie character, Rocky Balboa. “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Elakala waterfalls from wikipedia

Elakala waterfalls, from wikipedia


“In the confrontation between the rock and the stream, the stream always wins – not through strength, but by perseverance.”  H. Jackson Brown

Animal…….Big Fish

Here is my entry for this week’s Illustration Friday theme of “animal”. In this case, the animal is a rather large fish-like creature that is being pursued by an under-equipped fisherman.

pen and ink drawing entitled, "Big Fish"

pen and ink drawing entitled, “Big Fish”


Most of my realistic drawings and paintings can probably be defined as whimsical. However, when this idea popped up as a topic at Illustration Friday, I came up with this idea of a guy sitting at his desk, watching a rocket ship descend towards earth.

The Night View, a drawing by Henri

The Night View, a drawing by Henri

Tarantino’s New Movie

Quentin Tarantino's new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia

Quentin Tarantino’s new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia

The Hateful Eight

Due out next month, The Hateful Eight (sometimes printed as the H8ful Eight or The Hateful 8) is about eight persons, who take shelter in a Wyoming stagecoach stop during a raging snowstorm. Tarantino, the writer-director, claims he was influenced by such western TV programs, as Bonanza, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. This may be true, but after watching the trailer and reading a brief write-up, I can’t help but think that the 50s cinema classic, The Bus Stop, (which starred Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray) also shows some resemblance to this new release. By the way, the release date for this movie is Christmas Day, 2015.

The Controversy

The controversy that has arisen just recently, is not so much about the movie itself’, but instead, it revolves around some remarks that Tarantino made while participating in a NYC protest march concerning Police Brutality in Greenwich Village in late October. The march was organized by Black Lives Matter. It was during this march that Tarantino made the following comment to reporters; “I’m a human being with a conscience, And if you believe there’s murder going on then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.” Since these remarks, police organizations have responded by demanding a boycott to The Hateful Eight and even promising a vague sort of unnamed surprise for Mr. Tarantino before the movie opens up in December.

Generalities Are Dangerous

My first reaction was that Mr. Tarantino should be a little bit more specific about where and when the police were accused of being involved in murder. Today, there are over 320 million American citizens and according to answers.com, over 1 million are involved in some sort of paid police work. With these kind of numbers there are bound to be some deaths, as a result of police actions…and as more recent events in Louisiana have so sadly proven, American police officers are not immune to being charged with murder. So in reality, Quentin is correct in his statement, just maybe not very tactful.

The Police Response

When I first heard about the police response on the news, I thought the organizations involved were responding to the nature of the movie. Only later did I learn that The Hateful Eight was a Western set in the late 1800s. Still, the police have every right to promote a boycott. However, the story does not stop here, for they also promised a little surprise for the Hateful Eight writer/director before the Christmas Day opening………Maybe the police organizations also need to be a little bit more specific about what their surprise might entail. Some how I don’t think it was egg nog or bread pudding.

The Biggest Irony of All

The biggest irony of all is that The Hateful Eight is a big budget movie made in one of America’s most popular film genres, the Western. I would not be at all surprised that once this movie is released, Americans from all walks of life will find their way into the theater to enjoy the film. This might even include a few police officers.

Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination, photo from wikipedia

Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination. It is also where The Hateful Eight was filmed., photo from wikipedia


It’s Halloween Time Again

Like many things today, pumpkins carving is a re-discoverd art that is reaching new heights

Contemporary pumpkin carving, Wikipedia

Always Evolving

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.

A 2015 Halloween costume

A 2015 Halloween costume

On The Dark Side

This image represents some of the darker events of 2015

This image represents some of the darker events of 2015

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.

Halloween Bouquet

Halloween Bouquet

Here is this week’s posting in conjunction with the Illustration Friday theme, titled Bouquet. A slight nod is given here to Halloween and/or Day of the Dead.

It’s that time of year again, when days get shorter, nights turn colder and gusty winds blow colorful foliage through the streets and across empty lawns. Perfect weather for the ghosts and goblins to get out of their dark, cold lairs and get some exercise, visiting the living.