In memoriam of those turkeys who came before

Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:10 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 26, 2009

"What do you mean you cooked the turkey, Charlie? They're all sitting at the table eating those fancy fruit and nut cups, waiting for roast eagle with all the trimming and you cooked the turkey."

Thus, the true story of the first Thanksgiving, according to comedian Stan Freberg anyway. He follows that with a rousing rendition of "Take an Indian to Lunch This Week." OK, that might be politically incorrect but it makes me laugh.

Along with Arlo Guthrie's anthem to littering and the draft, "Alice's Restaurant," Freberg is part of what is left of tradition in our home. Family and friends are spread throughout the country. Gathering the entire clan together is nearly impossible.

It is amazing how many turkeys, patriotic turkeys mind you, give their lives each year so we might be properly fed for Black Friday and football. Butterball Turkey Talk Line’s Marge Klindera told me that in 2008, Americans gobbled up 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving, another 22 million for Christmas and 19 million for Easter. That’s 174 million drum sticks. So join me as we say in unison: I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.

If ol’ Ben Franklin had his way, the turkey would have been our national bird and billions of lives would have been saved. Poor Ben. Poor Tom and Henrietta Turkey and their children Jake and Jennie.

Not that I would ever turn down the opportunity to carve and then devour a well-cooked turkey with all the trimmings. Nothing fancy. Neither Martha Stewart nor Julia Child could match a real home-cooked turkey. One two-finger glass of Wild Turkey in the bird for every three three-finger glass in the cook… forget to take out the giblets, cook for seven hours, all the while singing Alice’s Restaurant. You remember Alice… and her restaurant.

Meleagris Gallopavo, Tom’s name before the government changed it, is native to North America and imported to Europe by Spanish explorers. In fact, turkey dinner for the holidays is not unique to America. Charles Dickens talks about serving turkey for dinner in “A Christmas Carol.”

Today, we stuff the bird (they were a little scrawny in 1621) with bread, veggies, oysters, cranberries, Cajun mix, rice, pecans, cornbread, rye, apples, sausage, raisins and anything else found in the pantry.

Our taste for turkey was so extreme that turkey native to Minnesota is extinct. The Rio Grande turkey, found in New Mexico and Texas, was almost wiped out in the 1870s. Poor great-great, really-great grandpa Tom.

There is evidence that the settlers of New England, the pious Pilgrims and Puritans, domesticated the bird in 1629 and in Virginia as early as 1607. The breeding of the domestic turkey was described in Simon M. Saunders’ 1871 book Business & Economics. Today, turkey is a multi-billion dollar worldwide business.

The last Thursday in November was declared Thanksgiving by President Lincoln. President Franklin Roosevelt reset the holiday for the fourth Thursday in November to lengthen the shopping season. Yet another early handprint of retail.

The turkey’s defense: Tryptophan, designed to make you fall asleep before the fourth quarter and not wake until Saturday morning cartoons. Or, maybe not. Myth-busting site states, in no-uncertain terms, that this is false. Maybe, just maybe, we eat too much.

So, on this day after Thanksgiving, I ask that you remember the sacrifices made by this great American bird, both wild and domestic. So we may sit on our couches this weekend watching the college football with our pants unbelted and unbuttoned.  So shoppers can line up at 3:30 Friday morning to appease the retail gods, Wal and Targé. So children can give thanks that school is out for the week and Christmas is less than a month away. So families can eat dinner together while listening to Alice’s Restaurant (you remember Alice…her restaurant – in four part harmony) and Stan Freberg once a year, laughing and giving thanks for the harvest.

Thank you Tom, Henrietta, Jake and Jennie.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.  Read his blog at  He welcomes your comments at

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