The First Turkey made a smooth landing at the White House yesterday and won high praise from his commander in chief.
"You know, he almost was the national bird," the president commented in a reference to Ben Franklin's valiant but unsuccessful struggles against the eagle lobby. "I think along about this season he is the national bird," Reagan added, resting a friendly hand upon the velvety white back of Tom, a 50-pound broad-breasted flight turkey hailing from Warsaw, N.C.
Tom, meanwhile, stood as stiffly as one of the last five Miss America contestants waiting for the results. There had been fears of a repetition of last year's scandalous incident when Tom's predecessor, a bird who will live in infamy, succumbed to the pressure of his presidential audience and went haywire in the Rose Garden.
But William H. Prestage, Reagan's counterpart at the National Turkey Federation, was taking no chances. For two months, he said, he had been preparing Tom for his moment of glory with frequent and heavy doses of human contact (and not, emphatically not, with doses of anything stronger, as Prestage insisted after a cameraman -- who appeared to know about such things -- said the turkey "looks like he's on 'Ludes").
Perhaps Tom drew strength from the knowledge that he would not be concluding his career upside down on the Reagans' dinner table Thursday, but rather right side up at the petting farm in Reston.
In any event, Reagan praised Tom as a "very well-behaved" turkey and felt moved to describe that long-ago Thanksgiving when, slicing into the holiday bird, he had been shocked by the sight of blood -- only to discover that "I had cut my own thumb." He had told the same story on receipt of last year's turkey.
The president allotted 10 minutes to yesterday's turkey reception, sandwiching it between meetings of the National Security Council and the Cabinet. Then he flew off to his California ranch for the holiday, and for a family meal that will feature the Reagan's traditional menu with a turkey of West Coast origins.
Tom is 35th in the line of presidential turkeys supplied by the National Turkey Federation. David Goldenberg, the organization's vice president, said the nation's turkey farmers are faring well and want nothing, legislatively speaking, from the president at this hour. The average American consumed roughly 10.7 pounds of turkey per person in 1981, and the trend, according to Goldenberg, is up.
Tom flew into National Airport Monday afternoon and spent the night on the roof of the Hotel Washington, a hideout his keepers were loath to disclose before yesterday's ceremonies because they feared Tom's assassination. As NTF executive vice president Lew Walts explained: "There are all kinds of crazy people out there."