Discover more from North Carolina Rabbit Hole
What happens when North Carolina turkeys get a presidential pardon? They (usually) die quickly anyway.
This state makes a lot of turkeys. Most are eaten. Some are spared. None of them last very long, with one exception.
UPDATE (11/21/22): President Joe Biden has pardoned two turkeys from North Carolina at a ceremony at the White House. Afterward, they’ll live out their days at NC State University. How were they selected, you ask? Well, the turkeys came from Circle S Ranch in Monroe. The farm’s general manager, Ronnie Parker, just happens to be the 2022 National Turkey Federation chairman. THE FIX IS IN.
Did you know turkeys can fly? HELL YEAH THEY CAN. A wild turkey can actually coast up to a quarter mile, close to the ground, sometimes up to the Sammy Hagar threshold of 55 miles per hour. They roost in trees at night. They have to get up there somehow.
Of course, I’m just talking about wild turkeys. The domesticated ones, they just waddle and gobble, mostly because they’re just absolute units with centers of gravity lower than a fullback. And thus, the only flying they do is on a plane, and maybe, possibly, only in this one instance.
In 1984, a pair of North Carolina-raised turkeys showed up at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. They’d been shoved into crates meant to hold St. Bernards, and loaded on to a Piedmont Airlines flight for Washington, D.C. After they landed, one of them was unloaded in the White House Rose Garden to be pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. And fella, if you think a turkey should be grateful for the chance to have its death sentence commuted by the leader of the free world, well then, you’d be wrong:
The turkey, it turns out, was named “R.J.”, which was short for "robust and juicy.” He weighed in at 53 pounds and was raised by John Hendrick, a farmer in Shelby who specialized in turkeys for more than 50 years. (From the information I have, Hendrick, who died in 2005 at age 82, is the guy on the left trying to keep his bird from lodging a feather in the Gipper’s eye) If you’re interested in the unedited formalities of turkey pardoning ceremonies, you can watch the whole thing below. If not, know that it’s a slightly awkward photo op in which Reagan uses a turkey joke to dodge what appears to be a serious question about Soviet aggression:
Turkey pardons are in the news now, what with it being Thanksgiving and all, coupled with a straight-faced New York Times story about the ceremony being one of the only parts of the job that President Trump actually enjoys. And while these all look like regular-ass turkeys, no, they are not. The National Turkey Federation, the lobbying organization that partners with the president for the pardonin’, says this:
The Presidential Flock is further prepared for the White House event at an early age by acclimating the turkeys to the sounds of a crowd, bright camera lights and standing comfortably on a table during the presentation. The turkeys often listen to music to help them get used to crowd noises. Physical appearance and temperament are also factors in selecting the two turkeys to travel to Washington, D.C. where one will become the National Thanksgiving Turkey and the other its alternate.
Take note: You can domesticate any wild beast by piping in the dulcet tones of Peter Cetera at full volume.
Anyhow, North Carolina has a history of sending turkeys to the White House instead of sending them to their doom. In 2019, President Trump pardoned Bread and Butter, turkeys from Sampson County, who were then sent to live out their days at Virginia Tech University. In 2009, President Obama, who “was planning to eat this sucker,” instead spared the life of Courage (and the alternate, Carolina) who was flown to much better digs at Disneyland. Courage lived to be six years old, which is, uh, an outlier for pardoned turkeys. Most die within a year of being given a new lease on life, just because their fattened-up frames are not compatible with a long lifespan. A Disneyland rep told NPR that Courage may have made it to old-man turkey status because he slimmed down after being fed a balanced diet.
North Carolina doesn’t just turn over #blessed turkeys to the White House. It also probably supplied one to you, dear reader. This state has three times more turkeys in it than people, which means someday, THEY WILL COME FOR US. But for now, North Carolina produces more than 30 million turkeys a year. The only state that raises more is Minnesota.
I have these facts at the ready because years ago, when I was in local news, I had to work on Thanksgiving Day. And rather than leave the TV station, I opted instead to be lazy and create an entire story using public domain educational films and graphs:
Everything in it still holds true. North Carolina is still number one in sweet potato production. Sampson County is still the GOAT when it comes to Thanksgiving foodstuffs. And you, my friend, now know enough about all of this to successfully Cliff Clavin your family. Just take note: Because we’re all doing Zoom gatherings this year, your relatives can and will mute you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.