The title of comedian Bob Hope’s theme song best describes most all of my family’s Thanksgiving Day feasts together.

Many of those holidays are seared into my memory.

Nothing but sweet, wonderful memories of the family members together eating delicious meals and sharing our stories, along with generous pieces of my favorite Thanksgiving treat — roasted turkey.  

This Thanksgiving will mark my 77th year here on earth. Just about all of the family is gone to their heavenly reward, but I keep hanging around down here just to enjoy the splendid taste of the Thanksgiving spread and, of course, the roasted turkey.

As all of us thankfully devour the great American bird during and after this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give blessings to all the turkeys that have laid down their lives for us.

For the birds, there was no greater sacrifice. For us, there was no greater taste to feast on as we gave the good Lord thanks for all the turkey that year that laid down its life for us. And they were many, indeed.

The bald eagle is our national symbol, but by far the turkey is our symbol of coming together to share the American pageant. 

Turkeys, though, are not known for their intelligence. An old farmer I knew in my Missouri days used to say of politicians, “They’re dumber than turkeys.” Perhaps a bad rap for the birds, not the politicians.

My granddad, though, would agree. He used to say that politicians and turkeys had one thing in common: neither had any sense. But, neither do most of us when it gets right down to it.

When it comes to taste, though, the domestic turkey bird meat we buy and cook at Thanksgiving is the same genetically as that of wild turkeys, a clever and craftier species.

Old Ben Franklin thought the American wild turkey was, by far, the best symbol of America. After all, Native Americans had been feasting on the wild turkey for hundreds of years before they arrived by boat to take over the land.

On July 4, 1776, the first Continental Congress named a committee to design the Great Seal of the United States. Franklin, a committee member, nominated the wild turkey as the iconic figure that best represented the new nation.

Franklin’s nomination, though, was shot down, so to speak. The bald eagle won the vote and is now displayed everywhere as our symbol of independence, unity and strength.

Franklin wrote, “For the truth, the turkey is in comparison (to the eagle) a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”

The native turkey played a significant role in the history of the republic. In 1620, the pilgrims became aware of the bird from the Indians, and almost overnight turkey meat became an important and sustainable source of food for them.

Some historians say that turkeys were cooked for the first joint Thanksgiving meal held by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621. Other historians write that turkeys were probably on the table when the settlers of Virginia’s Jamestown celebrated the first American Thanksgiving as their version of England’s ancient Harvest Home festival.

Whatever the occasion, the great American bird was on the flame and baked to perfection by both our early settlers and native people.

The birds, too, were in abundance when the country began its westward expansion. Wild turkeys served as a major food source for the traveling pioneers.

But the birds were consumed at such a fast rate that by the turn of the 19th century there were only an alarming 30,000 in existence. Through conservation efforts that continue to this day, of which Auburn University is a part, the birds have made a remarkable comeback. 

Whether we prefer the wild or the domesticated turkey, the bird outshines the eagle, according to John James Audubon, the Frenchman turned American who studied birds, including turkeys, and drew portraits of them during the early days of our nation.

In his journal, Audubon wrote, “Male turkeys can turn their heads red, white and blue by controlling the flow of oxygen to their heads while strutting.”

Without a doubt, Audubon knew the turkey would become the great American bird when he saw those three American colors of our national flag on display by them.

Thanksgiving is not just another day. Each one of us should be extremely thankful for our great nation and its special bird, the turkey. So join me at the table as we feast together on the bird.

And let us be thankful. Yes, Lord, let us be ever so thankful. 

 

 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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