My husband Steve, who had been off running errands one Saturday morning, returned home and burst through the backdoor yelling, “Wait ’til you see what I found for you, you’re gonna love it!” I watched as he went to the kitchen sink and washed blood from his right hand, the result of a decent sized gash to the webbing between his thumb and index finger. I asked him what happened to his hand and he said, “Don’t worry about that. I found the coolest thing, you’re gonna love it!”
I asked, “Did this cool thing you found do that to your hand?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said again as he held a paper towel over the gash to quell the bleeding. “I’ll be fine, come on, let me show you what I found.”
Confused, the kids and I followed him outside to his truck. He opened the driver’s side door and stood there, looking in the cab. “Where did it go?” he said, talking to himself as he began to lean over and reach his hand under the truck seat.
“Stop,” I said as I pulled his arm back from the truck. “Did whatever you’re looking for do that to your hand?”
“Yes, but it’ll be okay”.
“Exactly why do you think I’ll like whatever did that to your hand?” I asked.
“Because it’s a turtle! You love turtles!” he responded as he reached his arm back towards the truck.
I stopped his arm again and asked, “A turtle did that to you?”
“Yeah, I saw it in the middle of the road and I was afraid it was going to get hit by a car, so I pulled over and picked it up. I thought you and the kids would like to play with it.”
Both kids were staring into the truck, looking for the turtle. “Kids, stay away from the truck,” I said. Looking at my husband, I continued, “Steve, if a turtle did that to you, it’s a snapping turtle. I’m not gonna love it and the kids can’t play with it.” I was trying hard not to laugh.
My husband did not grow up near water like I did. He grew up on a farm where he learned plenty about steers, goats, horses and geese, but little to nothing about fish, snakes or….turtles. He did know that in the past I had found an Eastern Box Turtle that I let the kids play with before setting it free, and of course he knew all about Myrtle the Turtle. So, God love him, when he saw that turtle on the road, he thought he could save it and let the kids play with it before setting it free.
“You should see how far it can stretch its neck!” Steve said. “When I picked it up, it stretched its neck all the way to the middle of its shell to bite me. I was so surprised, I almost dropped it!”
“Yeah,” I said, “Don’t keep reaching your hand under the truck seat or you will get bitten again. A big enough snapper can take off your finger.”
“Get out!” he said, “Okay, I’ll go get my welding gloves.”
After returning to the truck wearing his welding gloves he reached under the truck seat and pulled out the turtle which immediately stretched out its long neck and bit the welding glove and held on to it.The kids were standing there staring in awe at the turtle holding on to Steve’s gloved hand. Steve told the kids to stand back and he put the turtle down on the driveway, slipping his hand out of the glove as he did so. And there the turtle sat, with the glove in its mouth as we stood there staring at it. It was a decent sized snapping turtle and I pointed out to Steve and the kids the ways in which it was different from a painted turtle or a box turtle – that the shell looked almost too small for it so small that it couldn’t retract its whole body into it, that it had a large head and long spiked tail. Hopefully, they would all remember that the next time they saw a turtle of any kind.
“You’re going to have to take it back where you found it,” I said.
“I’ll let it go near the creek. If I let it go where I found it, it will get run over by a car. Before we set it free, let’s paint the kids initials on its shell,” Steve said.
“Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?” I asked. “We’re not painting initials on its shell. We’re not doing anything to that turtle. If you try to paint its shell, it will bite you. What part of that don’t you understand?”
As if to test what I was telling him, Steve went and got a small tree branch and poked the turtle from behind. The turtle, who by now had dropped the welding glove, stretched its neck backwards and bit the stick in half. Steve and the kids both laughed, and the kids each ran off to find more sticks. After watching the turtle break a few more sticks, Steve put his welding gloves back on and put the turtle on the floor of his truck cab saying that he was going to go to the creek and set it free. My daughter wanted to ride along with him so she climbed up onto the truck seat and folded her legs underneath her so that they did not become turtle bait as they dangled above the truck floor where the turtle sat.
They returned home about thirty minutes later, but this time it was my daughter who came bursting through the kitchen door and she was laughing. “Mom, it was so funny! Wait ’til you see Dad!” she said. “He was carrying the turtle down the hill to the creek and it was muddy and he fell and slid the whole way down the hill and he’s covered in mud!”
With that, Steve came into the kitchen, solid mud from the middle of his back to his ankles. “As I started walking down the hill toward the creek, the turtle sort of lurched right out of my hands, landed on the bank and started sliding, I was so startled, I lost my footing and I started sliding towards the water too,” he said.
Fast forward 25 years… Steve was outside on his tractor mowing the lawn when I noticed that he went his normal, pretty quick speed in one direction, but as he came back in the other direction, he would slow down to a crawl. Then, once past that section, he would speed back up. At first, I couldn’t see why he was speeding up and slowing down, but after watching him do the same thing several times, I saw it – he was slowing down when he came close to a very large snapping turtle that was making its way across the yard.
As I watched, Steve stopped the tractor in the middle of the yard, leaned over and picked up a stick and then continued driving toward the turtle. When he got right next to the turtle, he leaned over and put the stick in front of the turtle’s mouth. Snap! The turtle bit the stick and the top part of it few off. Steve laughed and put the stick in front of the turtle’s mouth again, and again the turtle snapped off the top of the stick. Then he saw me in the doorway laughing and he said, “Did you see that? She’s a big one!” With that, he tossed the stick down and took off to finish his mowing while the turtle continued on her way out of our yard.
Boys become young men, young men become old men, but it doesn’t matter how big they are or how old they get…some things don’t change.
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