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Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

Morning

Every morning I step outside my little shack, stretch my arms, yawn and give thanks that I am still alive.

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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.

 

Redskins, Pumpkins, Pilgrims, Wild Turkeys and does anybody have a beer?

Recent New Yorker Magazine Cover questions the reality of a pro football team in our nation's capitol that is named for the "redskins"
A recent New Yorker Magazine Cover questions the reality of a pro football team in our nation’s capitol that is named for the “redskins”

A Tumultuous Journey and Landing

To say that the pilgrims had a tough time of it in their early goings in the New World, might be a gross understatement. First, there was the oceanic crossing, which occurred in the autumn months, when the North Atlantic is at its stormiest. Although many were seasick for days on end, only two people perished during the tumultuous journey. But from here, things only got worst, as during the first winter at Plymouth, half of the 100 colonists died before the winter was out.

Does Anybody Have a Beer?

The first encounter with the Native population was even more surreal, as it occurred in the early spring after so many had died. In early March, an Indian by the name of Samoset, proudly walked into the Pilgrim settlement and promptly asked in understandable English, if anybody had any beer. To make things worst, Samoset and some of his Wampanoag friends had been living nearby for the course of the winter and so they must have been aware of the settlers severe decline.

So Maybe the New World Wasn’t So New After All

As it turned out, Samoset’s taste for alcohol and limited use of the English language came from his home on Monhegan Island, just off the coast of Maine. Here, English traders had been stopping by on this remote island for at least a decade and trading many items with the Natives for fresh supplies of food and water. A few unlucky souls had even been taken capture and transported across the Atlantic, where they were sold off as slaves. Squanto fell into this category, so maybe the New World wasn’t so new after all.

Divine Guidance Or Just Plain Lucky

In some ways the pilgrims were very lucky, for their new home occurred in a part of the America that had just  been ravaged by small pox. Actually, this could have turned out really bad, if the local inhabitants had viewed the new arrivals as harbingers of the dreaded disease. But as it turned out, this was not the case. Instead, the English transplants were seen as suitable replacements, for the nearby village, which had been wiped out by smallpox.

Not only did Samoset and his associates help the pilgrims survive, but also, the newcomers formed a mutual defense alliance with various Wampanoag villages that existed in what is now eastern Massachusetts. This became known as the Mayflower Pact and the agreement lasted, for as long as the Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit was alive. In fact, the Mayflower accord became a realistic model for the many treaties that were created between Indians and Whites in the following centuries.

Origin of the term “Redskin”

The main objection to using Redskin as a team mascot, in the NFL (or anywhere else), comes from its use as a term for a scalp, which is taken from an American Indian during warfare. Some scholars have pointed out the term originated among the American Indians to differentiate themselves from Whites and Blacks and so it is no more offensive than those terms.  This may be true, but would anybody suggest changing the name of the Washington Redskins to the Washington Caucasians or the Washington Blacks.

 

 

 

Ten Things I’m Happy To Celebrate On Turkey Day

1. Free Turkey – Thanks to the generousity of other Americans, l can enjoy a hot Thanksgiving dinner without spending any money or doing any cooking. I know this sounds very callous, but with every avaiable nickel going towards putting a roof over my head, the chance of going to a place like the Salvation Army to enjoy my hot sliced turkry and pumpkin pie is wonderful. Maybe next year I will be in a position, where I can contribute more.

2. Good Health – Even though I somedays walk as many as ten miles on my local rounds, I am grateful that I am able to do this without any discomfort or pain. Many others ( some of them much younger than me) are not so fortunate.

3. Thursday Afternoon Football – Another decadent pleasure that seems to have become a mainstay of the fourth Thursday in November.

4. Spiced Eggnog – This goes well with #3. I like the store-bought version bettrr than the homemade variety that some people work so hard to make.

5. Butternut Squash – Today most commercially produced pumpkin pie is made from the pulp of butternut squash, which is slightly sweeter in taste and lighter in color to real pumpkins.

6. Native American Agriculture – How can one enjoy a Thanksgivinf Day feast without paying tribute to the diverse crops of squash, corn, beans and pumpkins that had been developed in the Americas for so many centuries before the pilgrims arrived.

7. A Sunny Day Here in Santa Fe – This part of the country has justed passed through a wicked winter storm, which dumped a whole bunch of snow and sent night time temperatures. However, the storm has passed, the days are warmer and the mountains are covered with the white stuff. This makes for good skiing, an abundant spring runoff and a pretty holiday sight.

8. A Reprise from Black Friday – Even though I spent the last two weeks on a temporary job helping a new sporting goods store open for Black Friday, I am grateful for the wages already paid and the fact that I don’t have ro work on Friday.

9, Comet ISON – Even though it appears that the comet has broken up (bummer) I am grateful to Hubble, ESO, NASA, SOHO and ISON for keeping an eye on the voyageur from the Oort Cloud.

10. A New Pair of. Blue Jeans – On the Tuesday before T-day a family member mailed me a brand new pair of jeans. They are due to arrive on Saturday.

 

Some Thoughts On Turkey Day

"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," by William Halsall
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, oil painting by William Halsall, from Wikipedia

Thanksgiving Day

The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop in Santa Fe, NM, when I overheard two men discussing the upcoming holiday in Spanish. To them it was a secular “Anglo” holiday, which could be enjoyed by anybody, who appreciated a well-cooked turkey and a day off. In fact, a little research into the popular national day of rest revealed that Thanksgiving is only widely celebrated in the United States and Canada with the Canadian holiday coming in early October instead of late November. Fixings are about the  same for both nations, but in Canada, Thanksgiving is a three-day (Sat., Sun., Mon.) holiday instead of the normal four in the U.S. Furthermore, in Canada, the popular feast is not tied to any narrative history, like it is in the United States.

Thanksgiving grace in Pennsylvania
Thanksgiving prayer before the meal, Pennsylvania 1942, photo from Farm Security Administration

The Spanish Main
Some historians and cultural commentators are quick to point out that similar feasts or expressions of thanksgiving exist in other parts of North America that predate the 1621 celebration in Massachusetts. Harvest type celebration are cited as having occurred in Florida, Virginia and Texas, years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Despite these observations, the New England meeting of European colonists and Massachusetts Native still remains the common told tale of Thanksgiving and thus serves as the philosophical background for the holiday.

Roast Turkey
Roast turkey is the most common meat served at a Thanksgiving dinner, Photo by M. Rehemtulla, from Wikipedia

About the Food
Though the original feast is reportedly to have had many types of wild game (i.e. fish, lobster, eels, goose and deer), the turkey has become the dominant meat symbol for the November get-together. Although wild turkeys were found in many parts of North America, they were quite abundant in Colonial New England, and so became an important part of the diet for the new arrivals from the Old World. Also important to the American colonists were the Native grown foods of corn, squash, beans and pumpkins. Originally developed in Mexico and Central America over several thousand years ago, these agricultural staples were readily adopted by the early explorers and those who followed after them.

Squanto teaching
Squanto (Tisquantum in the Native tongue) was one of the local Indians, who taught the Pilgrims how to survive, from Wikipedia

The Mayflower and the Massachusetts Indians

The travelers aboard the Mayflower were headed for Virginia, but forced to land at Cape Cod because of bad weather. Many of those on board were enraged at having to spend the winter in snowy Massachusetts. Between the November landing and March, when the local Indians first visited the outpost about half of the Pilgrims died. However, because of contact with previous explorers some of the local Indians could understand English and were glad to teach the new colonists how to survive. This was an event that was always repeated in other parts of the New World.