Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Roberta and John. They were my two little turtles when I was a young girl. I named them after my mother's widowed secretary and her dead husband. That sounds terrible how I've written it just now. But at the time, it was really sentimental. I have no idea how old my mother's secretary was, but we called her "Granny B". She was very sweet and I adored her.

Every day, when I got out of school, I walked about a half mile from the elementary school to my mother's job. My sister and I were supposed to walk together, but we were mortal enemies then and I walked really fast to keep ahead of her. As a result, I always arrived first and got lots of attention from Granny B before my sister finally walked in. I convinced myself that Granny B liked me best.

So when I got turtles, I rushed to tell her all about them. She asked me if I had named them. I hadn't. So I asked her what her real name was. She said Roberta. I asked her what her husband's name was. She said John. And that was that. My turtles died. My mother, with her typical mix of self-absorption and neglect-is-good-for-children, hadn't bothered to do any research on the care and feeding of turtles. They probably starved to death because they didn't get proper nutrition from whatever I was giving them.

Since then, though I continued to love turtles, I kept my collecting to the non-breathing brand of turtles. My mother, once again, was the source of my very first turtle. It was from Mexico and carved out of marble. I'm many decades and dozens of turtles down the road from that first one. I've had to cull the collection several times because people have given me some horribly ugly turtles over the years. But I've also had some wonderful ones. I even had a little padded turtle footstool until one of my pets destroyed it. Sigh. I really liked that footstool too.

Somebody asked me today, why turtles? Long after I started collecting them, I learned that the turtle is featured in lots of creation stories. That's pretty cool. The tortoise beat the hare in a race because he was slow and steady rather than rushed and careless. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The turtle is awesome. But why did I start collecting them? I honestly don't know. But I once came face to face with a green sea turtle at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He was swimming around the tank and came to a stop just in front of me, seemingly ignoring all the other humans. He moved his flippers to maintain his position and mere inches apart, we gazed into each other's eyes. I felt like I was looking into the eyes of time. He seemed to be saying to me, "Hey, I know you. I've known you for a long, long, long time." My whole body relaxed and it felt like I was being called to swim out to sea. Or maybe he was just asking me to take him back out there. Who knows?

I've had similar encounters with turtles since then. Each one feels the same. I feel a kinship, which sounds really stupid. but it feels real. I am a turtle. How I got in this human body is not explainable.

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