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The Turkey Bowl – An Americana Short Story

Copyright 2014, J Jackson Bentley

1: Tradition

 ‘The last Thursday before the end of November shall be known as Thanksgiving Day’, so said Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Of course more recently it had become the fourth Thursday in November, by joint agreement of Congress and President Franklin D Roosevelt in December 1941. However it came about the fact was that from 1942 Thanksgiving became less about the Pilgrims fasting and feasting to celebrate a great harvest in 1621, and more about a much needed national holiday. It was another day off for hard pressed Americans everywhere and a celebration second only to the fourth of July.

Senator Horace Carlton Glover (Republican) grinned widely at the audience of families gathered below him, although he didn’t feel at all like smiling. He had been invited to a much more venerable gathering organised by the Democratic party but the GOP leadership had told him to address this group instead. The party needed to push the message that they were the Texan Party for families.

Some party apparatchik, whose name the Senator had already forgotten, was offering an overlong and, in the Senator’s mind, self-serving introduction. The Senator was overly warm in his Brooks Brothers Crombie style overcoat and his hat. The weather had been forecast as brisk to cold but in fact it was 67 degrees with a slight ten to fifteen miles per hour breeze. It was a perfect day to be outside greeting the crowds wearing just a suit jacket. He hoped that the Democrats had similarly overdressed for their little gala, but as the party in power he suspected that they had more accurate weather predictions from the Navy, or wherever the President’s advisers derived their information.

Eventually the functionary gave way for the Senator at the podium and the second term veteran took his place in front of loyal crowds.

“Just a few weeks ago I was at a Republican Party conference and a little boy was standing at the entrance to the conference hall with a basket of the cutest fluffiest puppies I think I have ever seen.” The Senator exaggerated his Texas drawl as he was back in his home State. “The little boy was advertising the puppies for sale with a homemade sign that read; ‘Republican Puppies for Sale, $5.’ I stopped to pet the adorable little fellas when a security guard approached the boy and said, “Hold up there young fella, you were advertising these puppies at the Democratic convention last week and they were Democratic puppies then.”

The boy paused awhile and said with a smile,“Ah yes, sir, but between last week and this week their eyes have opened.”

The audience laughed loudly at the joke and the Senator was off to a good start.

“Democrats are, were and always will be the party who take your money and spend it on other people. Coming directly here from Washington, I can tell you that these other people are often not deserving of your money. You earned it, you should spend it.” The crowd roared their approval.

“They already take our money and now they want to take our guns.” Boos rang around the crowd. “In the next election, regardless of who you voted for before, regardless of how personable and charismatic the President may be, you must vote Republican. We are your people, you are our people and together we are the real America.”

The crowd yelled and clapped their agreement and the Senator continued for a few more minutes belittling the ruling party and arguing against their near ruinous policies. He then turned to the crowd and in a softer voice, he moved onto the main topic of the day, Families.

“We need families with fathers and mothers, grandparents helping out, kids doing chores and all of us serving in the community. You can’t buy a community with tax dollars, you buy it with the respect and love of your neighbours!” He paused for another cheer. “The Democrats don’t care for families. They spend money on criminals, low quality housing projects and other social disasters that perpetuate crime and unrest in our cities. We need to get back to what made our country great – hard work and proper rewards for the workers.” The crowd appreciated this last comment as many were blue collar workers.

“As we approach Thanksgiving we need to remember our roots, give thanks for the pilgrims and the founding fathers and honour them by making America great again.” The Senator spoke directly to the men in the crowd.

“To you fathers and sons I would say this: Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without a bunch of overweight and unfit men running around playing football against teenagers half their age and weight.” The crowd laughed heartily and sons pressed stubby fingers into soft parental waistlines.

“This Fathers and Sons tradition should be celebrated properly and the winners of the Turkey Bowl should be recognised,” the Senator said to loud applause. “So, for those of you who showed an interest, we have a surprise.” The man who had given the introduction, and whose name still remained a mystery to the Senator, swept a cover off a pile of boxes with a flourish. There on the podium stood a pile of boxes each containing a crystal glass bowl, each bowl being engraved with the script ‘The GOP Turkey Bowl’.

“So, if the team leaders of each group want to collect their trophy at the end of the presentation we would be grateful, but I issue this warning. The ‘Turkey Bowl’ will be more important that the Super Bowl in many homes. The victor will crow for a year and the vanquished will regret not fighting hard enough for the win. Play hard, play fair and good luck.”

The senator sat down and a local politician stood to speak. Dressed in an ill-fitting suit he had a handful of paper from which he would read verbatim and which he would fight to keep in order as the brisk breeze whipped over the lectern.

By now it was 12:35pm Central time and the local politician was still stumbling through his speech when two Dallas policemen rushed onto the podium, grabbed the senator and, without saying a word, whisked him inside the building before closing and locking the doors behind them.

 

 

2: Making News, Breaking News

 The Senator felt like a prisoner, albeit in a very large and very sumptuous office. The two policemen had said that they were not allowed to explain their actions and that a senior officer was on his way from the fourth floor of the building to speak to the Senator personally.

Grant Sutter, the senior officer, was the former Chief of Police and was now a commissioner for the City of Dallas. He looked pale and shaken as he entered the room.

“My word man, what is it?” the Senator asked as he saw tears in the eyes of the job hardened commissioner.

“Horace, this is a black day for Dallas, the United States of America and the world,” he began dramatically. “Five minutes ago President Kennedy was shot as his motorcade passed the book repository.” The Senator’s jaw dropped open but he could not find the words to ask the next question. “From the injuries my men say that he is probably already dead, although no-one will admit anything officially yet.’ The Commissioner switched on the TV where all three channels had dropped everything to show the stricken motorcade and the deadly scene.

The senator watched pictures that would remain in his mind for the rest of his life, as they were beamed across continents. There were tears and upset, the Republican crowds outside wailed in sorrow. Democrat he may have been, but John F Kennedy was the United States President. Someone had killed the leader of the free world, was anybody safe?

***

The next few hours dragged painfully on. The President was indeed dead. Some loner with a rifle had been apprehended and America had shut down. The TV stations abandoned their scheduled programmes until after the funeral. Planes and trains were grounded or halted where they terminated. Schools were closed as children were ferried home early until the authorities decided what to do. Power supplies dipped and brown outs and black outs became commonplace. It was like Pearl Harbour all over again, thought the Senator. America and all that it stood for was under attack.

 

 

 

3: Thanksgiving 1963

 The country had been at a standstill between the killing of the President and the funeral. People were in mourning and the government seemed to be frozen to the spot. The new president, Lyndon B Johnson, had yet to make his first broadcast as president. That would be done later in the day. The funeral had been impressive as all three TV networks had cooperated, providing fifty cameras to film the event.

Walter Kronkite had narrated the funeral procession and had wrapped up the coverage with the words, “Today is a day that will live in memory, and in grief.” The Alders had the best TV in the neighborhood and so their front room had been packed with sobbing women, grim faced men and confused children.

Rick Alder had put the grief behind him and was keen to move on, to have a proper Thanksgiving, even though many of his neighbors had abandoned their plans.

It was cold and brisk at 8am, when the boys and their fathers amassed at the community sports field. The grass was long and wet with melting frost or dew. It had been cold enough for frost overnight. The Dads team huddled together, planning, reliving the college football dream. Four young adults, a visitor and a gaggle of boys between 12 and 18 sat listening to the coach. The instructions seemed to be, play the game your own way. You are younger, you are faster, however, if we’re in trouble, get the ball to Roger. He will know what to do. The visitor, Roger, looked familiar but no-one could say why.

The game began and first blood went to the boys as they outran the elderly defense for a touchdown. The adults regrouped and muscled out the youngsters taking control of the first half of the hour long game. Down by 42 to 21, the boys’ heads began to drop and the coach changed tactics. The oldest boy Trent, 20, was sent out as wide receiver, Roger, would be quarterback and the other three older boys would play a blocking role. The younger boys would play defensively unless they collected a stray ball, and then they would run like the wind as the Dads were tiring quickly.

In the next thirty minutes the fathers looked on in confused amazement as touchdown after touchdown left them trailing. It seemed as though every time Roger, the quarterback, got the ball Trent or one of the other older boys was off running. Wherever the boys were on the field Roger would send the ball over the fathers heads and straight into their hands. The man was a twenty one year old prodigy with a severe military haircut.

“Who is that quarterback?” Rick Alder asked his out of breath lawyer friend Sal.

“He is up for Thanksgiving. He’s in the Navy, I think he’s staying with the Sorensens.”

“Seems to me like he is a ringer. He could be playing in the League.” Alder noted.

“Nah, he just looks better than the rest of us because we are rubbish.” Rick wasn’t so sure.

When the match ended and some of the Dads were lying flat on the floor deciding whether they needed medical resuscitation, the boys celebrated their 72 to 49 win in the inaugural Turkey Bowl.

***

Rick Alder sat beside his wife Carol and his son Ricky. The boy’s eyes kept straying to the crystal bowl on the sideboard bearing the words “GOP Turkey Bowl- 1963”. When the shops opened it would be further engraved with the names of the winning team.

The Thanksgiving meal at his Mother’s house had been wonderful and there were no dishes to do. Dad carved the enormous turkey. It was moist and hot, the steam escaping whenever the skin was broken. The cranberry sauce and lime jello was just as it had been since his childhood but the whipped cream must have been store bought because it was sweeter than he remembered. His mother would admit to nothing, however.

Pumpkin pie and pecan pie were the offered desserts and he had a slice of both with vanilla ice cream. Mother didn’t hold with those new-fangled flavours that were being offered.

After dinner they had the traditional family prayer and the younger Alders walked the half a block back to their own model home.

Sated and weary, Rick sat down and watched the Arthur Godfrey Thanksgiving special on TV, with Liza Minelli, Tony Bennett and Shari Lewis. It was fun and it distracted him for a while. Eventually he fell asleep on the couch and dreamed. He dreamed about football and in the dream he was in full Dallas Cowboys uniform running towards the end zone. As he ran, the quarterback threw the ball right into his hands and the winning touchdown was his. He celebrated wildly and woke up to concerned stares from the other occupants of the room.

When the quarterback had removed his helmet to celebrate the man beneath was Roger, the visitor. One way or another Rick was determined to find out more about the man.

 

 

4: Understanding

 Rick had been called to the Senator’s office at 10am, a privilege afforded him because it was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the staff rarely worked on that day.

Senator Glover was writing on a legal pad as Rick entered the opulent office, an office which he often used when the Senator was in Washington DC, which was most of the time.

“Rick, I think we can assume that the recent tragedy will have given the Democrats the swing vote, even if it is just for sympathy and so we need to be at our best for the next year or two to ensure that the Democrats don’t sweep the board in Texas.”

Rick just nodded as the Senator looked at him.

“If you would consent to coming to Washington with me I am sure we could get you a nomination somewhere and you could join me in reviving our Grand Old Party.”

This was a discussion they had shared many times but Rick loved Texas and so did his family. He wouldn’t move to Washington, at least not yet.

***

With the meeting over, Rick had a hand written action list that ran for pages on financing, publicity, public appearances and charitable causes. He sat at his new electric Remington typewriter and marvelled at the golf ball head that produced such clean letters. He was almost done when the phone rang.

It was the Dallas Cowboys on the line asking if the Senator was on his way. Rick said that he was just about to leave. Rick rang the driver and then collected the Senator before making the short journey to the Cowboys’ favourite hotel. On the way they passed the book repository and the place where the President was shot. It was still hard for both men to pass the spot without tearing up and Rick guessed it always would be.

They arrived at the Adolphus Hotel, little changed since the opening in 1912, and ascended in the elevator to the second floor Boone Suite. The lift boy pressed the button and closed the gate and they rose the twenty feet or so to the next level.

The Dallas Cowboys had taken over the Boone Suite, with their colours and badges draped around the top table, which was set with microphones and draped in black velvet.

There would soon be a press conference but first the coach and the owner wanted to speak to the Senator. Why this couldn’t be done at the Cotton Bowl was a mystery to Rick. Tom Landry, the coach approached smiling and shaking hands with the Senator and Rick.

“Senator, Rick, this is our fourth season in the National Football League and it isn’t going too well. The opposition are blaming us for Kennedy’s assassination. We have been told that the stadium announcer at our next travelling game will call us the ‘Cowboys’ but will refuse to mention the name of our city. With the move of the Texans out of state we need to make football a success here.”

The Senator nodded sagely, but secretly had no interest in the game.

“So we have this player, Staubach. We picked him up on a draft 10th Round future pick. He is in the Navy you see, and the boy is great. Trouble is, we will not get him until ’68 or ’69, and a lot could happen to him before then with Vietnam looming in his future.” The coach stopped talking, leaving the Senator to draw his own conclusions.

The fact was that with a single phone call Senator Glover could stop Staubach from going to Vietnam. For goodness sake, the Navy probably wanted him in the US for their own team.

“I’ll do what I can, Tom, you have no need to worry.”

“Thanks. And Rick, there are tickets waiting for you whenever you want them, just call Annie in my office, OK?” Rick nodded.

***

Rick sat in the hotel lobby whilst the Senator met with Mr Staubach privately. He hadn’t seen the player and he had no urgent desire to do so. After all the kid would not be in the team for five or six years. Rick was deep in thought when he was disturbed.

“Hell of thing Rick, hell of a thing.” It was the Senator.

“What is that boss?”

“This boy Staubach, I told him he need not go to Vietnam. He could stay in the States and play Navy Football and do you know what he said?” He paused. “He said he wanted to go to Vietnam and do his duty. He is some kid, eh? You should meet him.”

The two men went back upstairs and gave the bad news to Tom Landry, who shrugged his shoulders. He had enough troubles without worrying about a draft pick he couldn’t play for five seasons.

The Senator and Rick called into the small ante room where the Senator had met with Staubach, who would effectively be a twenty seven year old rookie in 1969. The man was still there with his back to the door reading a book.

“Roger, I’d like you to meet my aide Rick Alder.”

The young man stood and turned and grinned at Rick who immediately recognised the young man from the Turkey Bowl game.

“We have already met, Senator.” Roger said, laughing at Rick’s open jawed expression.

————————————————————

Roger Staubach played for the Dallas Cowboys for ten years from 1969 to 1979 after an outstanding Naval career. He played in three Super Bowls, winning a second Super Bowl for Dallas in 1977. He had a great record in a short career and is a Hall of Famer and a CEO.

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