No one was there when I arrived home from work one summer day but I did find a note on the kitchen table. It was written on the inside of a torn open Chun King Chicken Chow Mein box that had been taken out of the trash can. The letter, written in cursive, read:
There’s a turtle in the tub.
The letter was not signed and I did not recognize the writing. I did have a brother named Jason, who was almost seven years old, but the letter spelled his name wrong. I headed to the bathroom to look for the turtle. The bathroom was being re-modeled and my maternal grandfather, Bop, was the man doing all of the work. I looked into our shiny new tub – no turtle.
I walked back out to the kitchen and re-read the letter trying to figure out who may have written it. The longer I looked at it – at home – alone – the more creeped out I got. I was a 19 year-old college student with a vivid imagination and it didn’t take much to give me the heebie-jeebies, which I had a severe case of at that moment. All I could imagine was that some weirdo had come into our house and left some type of killer snapping turtle in the tub that now had free reign of the house and was gunning for my toes. The whole thing made me nervous so I did what any young adult would do. I went outside and sat on the porch steps and waited for my mommy.
When Mom and Jason arrived home to find me sitting on the porch steps I told them what I found on the table. And what I did not find in the tub. I told her I’d been waiting there for her to come home and she laughed and said, “You’re scared of a turtle?”
“I don’t know what kind of turtle it is! It could be a snapping turtle! I don’t even know if there is a turtle….or if there is one, where it is, but I don’t want to find it!” I realized I was rambling but I couldn’t stop myself so I continued, “And someone went through our trash!”
My mother just laughed at me and shook her head and all three of us went into the kitchen and read the note again. Then my mother headed to the bathroom to look for the turtle and I said, “Don’t bother; he’s not in there!” I just wanted to go back outside.
Mom came back into the kitchen and looked at the letter again. “I know this writing,” she said, “This is Bop’s writing.”
“It can’t be Bop’s,” I said, “Jason’s name is spelled wrong”.
“Oh, it’s his,” she said, “I haven’t seen his handwriting in a long time, but it’s his.” I had never seen Bop’s writing. My grandmother was the one who signed all of the birthday cards they sent and she was the one who wrote letters when they were away.
“Well, where’s the turtle?” Jason asked.
And then my mother said, “I know! Go check the tub in the yard!”
Jason ran outside and looked in the old tub that was recently torn out of the bathroom and was now in our yard awaiting the trash man and yelled, “There it is!” and reached in the tub and picked up a small Eastern Painted Turtle. That old tub was sitting about 5 feet away from the porch steps I waited on earlier. I felt a little silly, but I had all of my toes and that’s what really mattered.
From a young age, Jason loved all kinds of animals. He was three years-old when he picked up his first snake, scaring all of us half to death until we realized it was a common Garter Snake. He picked it up correctly too, and when my Dad asked him how he knew how to pick up a snake he said, “I saw Jim do it on t.v”. Jim was Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. We all watched it every week because Jason loved it. Although the rest of the family pitied poor Jim who was always the one handling the dangerous animals, Jason thought Jim Fowler was about the best thing ever. Like Jim, Jason wasn’t afraid of any animals – reptiles, mammals, fish – he’d handle them all.
Jason decided to name the turtle Myrtle. Because Painted Turtles are water turtles, he and I got our old ten gallon aquarium out and made Myrtle a home. We put enough water in to let her submerge on the one side and a board held in place by rocks that lead to a big flat rock so that she could get out of the water and sun bathe. In the yard, we took cinder blocks and made a little corral because Jason said she also needed an exercise yard.
Jason played with Myrtle every day, moving her back and forth between the aquarium and the exercise yard. He fed her a mix of leafy greens, bugs and night crawlers that he hunted himself in the evening. For only being eight-years old, he took great care of Myrtle.
But Myrtle was just a temporary visitor; our rule was that wild animals had to be returned to the wild. So after about two weeks, Jason said he was ready to set Myrtle free. He picked her up and he and I headed to a nearby pond. When we got fairly close to the pond, he looked at me and said, “Where’s a good place?” I told him wherever he wanted was a good place. He walked about six more feet, held Myrtle up to his face and told her goodbye. He set her down on the ground and we were both surprised at how fast she moved through the brush as she headed towards the pond.
Jason remained an animal lover and got his Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology and his Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Married now, he and his wife Laura live on a sailboat and spend as much time as they can island hopping. Both are certified Diving Instructors who dive for recreation and for work. Jason, through a company he works for, develops plans designed to protect fish and wildlife through various, intensive work projects such as the dredging of harbors, among other things. Both he and Laura have worked on those same sites to ensure that the plans are followed and that the impact to wildlife is minimal. I like to think it all started with Jim Fowler and Bop.
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