Pardon awaits Golden State turkey
While Thanksgiving occupies the thoughts of American families in November, California's community of 16 million turkeys is all atwitter about the presidential pardon for one of its own.
For the first time in 15 years a turkey from California will receive the cherished ceremonial pardon from the nation's president, just in time to prevent it from being the center of attention on somebody's Thanksgiving table.
Perhaps that short-term joy among the state's enormous flock of birds allows the gobblers to avoid thoughts of the inevitable that will befall most of them. It may allow them to face the holiday with a certain peace, even contentment.
Turkeys raised specifically for the Thanksgiving market are hatched in August, after which they do little more than eat extremely well, kind of like the people who gather around Thanksgiving dinner tables.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture placed the value of California's turkey flock at $252.4 million in 2008, the latest figures available. That was a 19 percent increase over the previous year and probably is a conservative estimate for 2009 or 2010.
In California, the seven major turkey producers are Central Coast Farms in Turlock, Diestel Family Turkey Ranch in Sonora, Foster Farms in Livingston, Mary's Free Range Turkeys in Sanger, Shelton's in Pomona, Willie Bird Turkeys in Santa Rosa and Zacky Farms in Fresno.
Foster Farms was chosen to supply the birds that will receive the presidential pardon. Experience has taught that a second bird must be part of the entourage. During one of President Ronald Reagan's terms, the first choice for pardoning escaped before the ceremony, and a stand-in became the key to the process.
The birds, which will be flown to Washington by United Airlines, will be chosen from about two dozen that are being pampered and fattened in a special enclosure at the Foster Farms plant in Livingston. They will weigh from 42 to 45 pounds on arrival. If not for the pardon, they would dress out to about 28-30 pounds each on the table.
The special compound where the birds are being raised is off-limits to the public, but media representatives have been allowed to view the gobblers on a few occasions. Extra attention from their caregivers and a few specified Foster employees has been provided to calm and socialize them. Nothing is worse than an uptight turkey at its own pardoning ceremony.
So where does a pardoned turkey go to spend the rest of its natural life in peace and safety? This year's bird will go to George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon, Va., a popular tourist attraction. For the past five years or more, the pardoned bird has gone to Disneyland.
Facts about the pardoning seem to be a bit jumbled. The first official ceremony was held during President George Herbert Walker Bush's first term. Recollections are strong, however, that President Harry Truman pardoned a Thanksgiving bird sent to him, but without much fanfare. And historians somberly recall that a quiet turkey pardoning was one of President John F. Kennedy's final official acts. A few days later he was assassinated.
Even though a prime turkey from the huge California flock will go to Washington for its official pardoning, plenty of others have been produced — enough to place one on the table of any family wanting to celebrate with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
And after dinner expect a "... pardon me" or two.
CONTACT Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org