With a smile and some nostalgic words, President George W. Bush spared the national Thanksgiving turkey on Wednesday, honoring a tradition that dates to Harry Truman's presidency. The 45-pound bird, named "Pumpkin" through an online vote, behaved quietly while the president presided over a Rose Garden ceremony.
The other name on the ticket, a backup bird with the chosen name of "Pecan," was nowhere to be seen. Undisclosed location, Bush joked.
"Pumpkin will be the honorary grand marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade," the president declared. "Together, these birds will gobble the rest of their days in the happiest place on Earth. I just hope they stay humble there."
Leaders at PETA, who advocate for the ethical treatment of animals, objected. They urged Bush to send the turkeys to an area sanctuary instead.
"You might be a lame duck," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a letter to Bush, "but you still have the power to help lame turkeys."
Alas, the ritual went on as planned. Nearly done with two terms in office, Bush has been going through some of the lighter White House moments for a final time this year — last Tee Ball game on the South Lawn, last ceremony with the winning Super Bowl team, last moment sharing a stage with a turkey.
Bush always reflects a bit at Thanksgiving time, but he went further this year as the end of his presidency looms.
He gave thanks to troops and volunteers, to teachers and pastors, to all the American people. Then he got personal about his wife and daughters.
"I'm thankful for the wonderful and supporting family that I have been blessed with," Bush said. "I'm grateful to Laura for her love. I am grateful for two Thanksgiving miracles who we were blessed with 27 years ago, Barbara and Jenna."
Bush also gave thanks that his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, was doing well at a Houston hospital following surgery Wednesday morning for a perforated ulcer. And finally Bush gave a shout out to the newest addition to the Bush family, Henry Hager, Jenna's husband.
"We're looking forward to having another place at our Thanksgiving table with a son-in-law," Bush said.
The president is spending a long Thanksgiving weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.