Soft shell turtles
Back in the day - I recall being assured and expected to concur with Thomas Wolfe’s proclamation, You Can't Go Home Again.
Wait a minute. I’m perplexed. All I know is coming home…Being at home where ever I am. I’m from a family of soft shell, thick skinned turtles, carrying our homes on or backs and in our minds…or our hearts.
Turtles on the move—calling home a trailer park along Blue Bonnet Texas freeways, a tent site in Mountain Air Colorado or Wyoming, some auntie’s back yard in corn fields Iowa, dirty inner city Detroit, Rochester….Chardon, Ohio…
A band of nomadic turtles, never sure if the Wisconsin pond could hold us all or we’d be washed down the Muddy Mo.
It’s a big world out there—one family turtle is off to Paris to be an au pair, smoking reefer in a West Bank Cafe along the Seine; one’s off to Boy Scout Camp setting off fire crackers in the cabin; one’s off to music camp; one’s plain off its rocker.
My favorite small turtle memory is curling up on the back ledge of the powder blue Lincoln sedan—in the days when cars had a back window large enough for a 9 year old to snuggle up with a stuffed turtle and a pillow—and watching the moon and stars pour across the sky or torrents of rain pound against the glass… fantasizing a glamorous, fast-paced life as papa turtle sped down unknown rural highways at his turtle-like speed, somewhere just above or below 100 mph.
Dad was one of six sons and two daughters raised by the strop. I knew the discipline part, but I didn’t know the killer subplot until after all the brothers were gone and the only remaining sister was muted by a stroke. Not much gets explained or shared under the rule of threats and fear. so when two thirty-something brothers had a bit too much to drink, a scuff over a girl, and the older brother delivered a fatal punch to the younger brother, there was no coming to terms. The surviving brothers thought they could hide the evidence by tying a cement boot to Milos body and pushing him and his car into the Cedar River. In the way that turtles are often seen half submerged, it worked. It was a mystery to everyone except the five remaining brothers, who retreated into their shells. Four to lives of domestic tranquility; the most culpable to a life in exile.
Growing up, all the rest of us turtles only knew was that brother Wesley took off for California, never to be seen again, and only heard from occasionally through one of the older brothers.
This reminds me of the turtle we had when my family lived in a small garden brownstone on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. My husband had made a rock garden with a trickling fountain in a pond Turtle could enjoy in the small enclosed back yard. One especially lovely spring day when the yellow and red tulips were in full bloom, our son took Turtle into the yard for some fresh air. When it was dinner time, Turtle was no where to be found. For days we went out looking for him, nothing… Finally we gave up. Months later when Turtle was but a faint memory, I opened the back door and was face to face with Turtle, head arched ominously, hissing at me for abandoning him to city rats, cats and other ferrel elements. We joyfully took turtle in, reunited with family.
The turtle story doesn’t end here. This is where it begins…