Friday, June 25, 2010

The Turtle

I’ve spent most summers of my life at my family’s little cottage in Door County, Wisconsin. When I was fourteen, my mother put our turtle, Yoldla, outside for some fresh air on a hot day, and she died from heat stroke. My mother was terribly upset, blaming herself for Yoldla’s death, and she spent the greater portion of days on end weeping. In an effort to cheer her up, I decided to paint a memorial rock for Yoldla, to be put over her gravesite in our backyard. I had just finished reading “The Grapes of Wrath” that summer, and a quote from the beginning of the book seemed to me to be an extremely appropriate tombstone epitaph; it read “Nobody can’t keep a turtle though. They work at it and work at it, and at last one day they get out and away they go.”

I painted this on a large, flat rock, along with a stunning portrait of Yoldla and presented it to my mother proudly. Like most moms, mine gives me a lot more credit than I deserve, especially when it comes to my artistic abilities. As such, she thought this rock was the most beautiful thing ever, and instead of putting it over Yoldla’s grave as I intended, she put it on the mantle of our fireplace and there it has sat for nine years now.

As a semi-adult with a full time job and an apartment of my own in St. Louis, MO, I no longer can spend long, lazy summers in Door County. However, I try to visit whenever possible, and I am currently three days into a five day vacation there with my Mom, my cat Henry, my mother’s two dogs, and her new turtle, which she found on the side of the road and never gave a name to. This turtle without a name (she calls him “The Turtle”) is also without a real home, because my father told my mom she is not allowed to have any more animals. She hides The Turtle in a garbage can when my dad’s around, and sets up make-shift, easily disposable habitats for The Turtle in his absence. My mother paints animals on rocks and sells them on ebay. Her specialty is turtles. When I asked her why she needed to have this secret, stray turtle, she told me “Julia, how can I be a legitimate turtle painter and not have real-life inspiration?” Well, you can't argue with that... so The Turtle spends most of his life in a bathroom size, blue plastic garbage can, where he’s been this whole trip.

I stayed up late last night reading, so I was not ready to be awake when my mom burst into my room screaming “Julia! You have to wake up! I need your help NOW. Your fucking cat knocked over The Turtle’s cage (garbage can) and I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find him and I have to be at the bike store at 10, and I haven’t even showered, and…” my mother has a tendency to ramble, so I’ve developed a tendency to turn off my hearing (it’s self defense, really). I got up, put my glasses on and crawled downstairs.

Everything was in uproar; chairs were turned over, couch cushions on the floor, cabinets moved… she had clearly been at this a while and still, no turtle. I walked into the living room and noticed Yoldla’s tombstone glaring at me from the mantle. If I believed in things like that, I might have thought that I cursed our house- “Nobody ever could keep a turtle though-" but I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. Even still, realizing that my mom would assume responsibility for this turtle’s demise as she did Yoldla’s, and not wanting to see her so upset again, I got myself a flashlight and crawled all over the house on my hands and knees, looking under every piece of furniture and in every crevice. I scoured our damp, moldy, dungeon of a basement, while my nose and throat screamed with allergic rage.

Two hours later I took a break. “Maybe we should just stop looking for a minute, Mom,” I said. “Maybe if everything is quiet for a bit, The Turtle will come out, or at least move around and we could hear him.”

My mom was still on all fours at this time, a bright red nervous wreck, and almost in tears. “Julia,” she spat out, “I know this turtle. He’s a frantic turtle. I’ve found him standing on his back legs. He’s not gonna come out.” This stream of logic didn’t quite make sense to me, but I understood it to mean that my mother was not going to stop looking for The Turtle until she found him. I was desperate for a cup of coffee or some breakfast, but I also knew that there would be no relaxing until he was found, so I got up again, picked up my flashlight, and resumed my crawling.

Minutes later, my cat went flying down the hallway towards the bathroom and we heard a mad shuffling of feet -- turtle feet! The suddenly, from behind the open bathroom door (the most obvious hiding place in the whole world) came The Turtle, running for his little life from Henry. My mom started screaming unnecessarily, and running after the turtle too, whose heart was probably very close to bursting with fear. Luckily she reached The Turtle before Henry could and she scooped him up exclaiming “I’m so happy to see you!!! I thought you were gone!” You can’t really hug a turtle, but my mother did her best to do so, and then walked over to me and said “you’ve never really even looked at him, have you? Isn’t he beautiful?” As she raised The Turtle to my eyes I looked into his wrinkly face. He is pretty, I guess, for a turtle. He has green skin with yellow stripes, orange, surprisingly expressive eyes and a multi-colored shell. He squirmed in my mother’s hand, and she held him tightly to her chest saying “praise be to God.”

Eccentricity often comes with a negative connotation, but what does it really mean to be an "eccentric?" To me, it just means that you care a lot about things that the majority of people find strange, or just could not care less about. And why is that a bad thing? I spent many childhood days rolling my eyes because of something crazy my mother said or did. Now, however, I take a look at my closest friends and realize that they themselves are a bunch of eccentrics; I have selectively chosen to spend all my free time with, and desperately enjoy the company of people who are about eccentric as the come- for our age group at least.

Unfortunately, it is rare to find people my age who really care about anything, be it something strange or something totally normal like a pet. Strong opinions do not flow freely from the lips of most 20 somethings- and if they do, then another 20 something usually gets offended by said opinion, which brings good and interesting conversation to a screeching halt.

To make a long story short, I'll take eccentricity over "normal" any day.

1 comment:

Slim Johnson said...

There's a book in all this.