Every Thanksgiving, a turkey -- and a spare -- are pardoned by the president. And it's very pleasant to imagine these gigantic birds enjoying long retirements, perhaps in Florida, where if they are rubbed with oil it's merely to prevent a sunburn.
Indeed, at one point the turkeys did enjoy their dotages in the Sunshine State -- they would serve as grand marshall of the Walt Disney World holiday parade instead of being served stuffed on a platter.
But the retirements, however bright, have never been long. Here's how Katy Hall put it, with a macabre verve, in HuffPost last year:
Turkeys bred for eating just aren't built to live long, so the presidential pardon is simply an extension on the death sentence carried by birds too fat and big-breasted to reproduce naturally.
While turkeys in the wild grow to about 18 pounds, the demand for 40 million big, juicy birds this time of year has produced a farm-raised turkey of different proportions. When Obama pardoned Liberty and Peace last Thanksgiving, the 19-week-old birds weighed 45 pounds each. They lost some weight after arriving at Mount Vernon, which may have helped keep them mobile, Aloisi said.
Turkeys so fattened for consumption live only a fraction of the 12-year life span of their wild relatives. Peggy Albertson, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation, which raises a flock of birds for the presidential pardon each year, said these birds are expected to survive about two years if they don't end up on a Thanksgiving table.
As of the 2012 pardoning, when two 40-pound, Virginia-raised toms named Cobbler and Gobbler avoided the oven, one of 2011's chosen fowl -- a bird named Liberty -- was still alive, though his companion, Peace, had been euthanized only days earlier. It seemed possible that Cobbler and Gobbler might live to meet 2013's lucky pair.
But alas, it would appear they did not, reports Nikki Schwab, U.S. News & World Report's Washington Whispers columnist, in a story that gives everything away in the title: "All Of President Obama's Pardoned Turkeys Are Dead":
Gobbler and Cobbler – last year's set of turkeys who attended the annual Presidential Turkey Pardon – have both died, Whispers has learned. Gobbler, Cobbler's understudy, died in February. "Gobbler passed away suddenly. It was very quick. We don't know what the illness was," Rebecca Aloisi, vice president for marketing at Mount Vernon, where the turkeys went after their 15 minutes of fame at the official ceremony in 2012, told Whispers back in April.
Cobbler, 2012's official pardoned turkey, lived through the summer and was euthanized on Aug. 22. (The turkeys always come to Washington in pairs, and while one attends the pardoning ceremony, both get to live.)
Liberty, a turkey from 2011, had the longest lifespan of the crop, living to the ripe old age of 2, before being euthanized on April 26, due to heart failure. All three turkeys were meant for consumption before they were spared, and thus cursed with a bevvy of health problems related to obesity.
Well, it's getting to be pardon time again. (For turkeys; Obama's pardon record for people is less generous, some argue.) The day before Thanksgiving, Obama will grant clemency to this year's unnaturally large feathered duo, coming in from Minnesota.
After the pardon, the two turkeys will move to Mount Vernon, George Washington's Northern Virginia home, for the holidays, before being dispatched to a place called "Turkey Hill Farm," at the mansion of a former Virginia governor, to live out the rest of their lives. Which will, no doubt, be short.