By JOSEPH “Billy” CORDUROY
The first time I tried to save a turtle on the move it peed — or pooped, I’m not sure which — in my truck. I had stopped when I saw a box turtle in the middle of Pluto Road one afternoon maybe ten years ago. I hit my brakes right there in traffic.
Fortunately, for me — and the turtle — there was no traffic. Pluto Road on a weekday is not a busy place, being way the far out in Raleigh County, West Virginia, near the town of Pluto. And yes, there is a Pluto, West Virginia, and like the planet it is way out there! Or it was back then.
Because I drive all over the place and wish to know things about where I drive, I keep a book in my glove compartment, called “WEST VIRGINIA PLACE NAMES: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains.” That book has this to say about Pluto, West Virginia:
“PLUTO: Mr. G.H. Garten of New, Raleigh Co., states that this n. is from Pluto, god of the Lower World. He explains that it was the notion of Mr. Wood, the man who established the p.o., that only Pluto could remain p.m. and be acceptable to the public.”“WEST VIRGINIA PLACE NAMES: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains”
Now, I have figured that ’n.’ means ‘name’ and ‘p.o.’ means ‘post office’ in this book that a Mr. Hamill Kenny published back in 1945, and which you can hardly find a real copy anymore. (Though Google searching has pictures of all the book’s pages when you search the title of it. But I got a book of it I found once in a cardboard box in this Mabscott thrift place, with a hand-written sign reading: “Books for Cheap: 50 cents to 2 dollars.” I got mine for a dollar.)
I still haven’t thought completely on what ‘p.m.’ might means. (If you think you know, write a comment and do tell.) But I do like Pluto being a ‘Lower World’ god. Raised up, as I was, on all the high and mighty, la-di-da godly stuff that never lived up to its talk, I think I might prefer the Lower World. I might like to maybe try its gods for a change-up.
But I was talking about turtles. So, there’s my white truck (I keep it washed and clean, so it was really white), stopped alongside the center line. And this little box turtle, which had been making a mad dash for the other side of the road, notices this skinny fellow in blue jeans and a red snap-button cowboy shirt stalking his way.
So, he closes up shop, as a turtle will do, when one of us big people comes at them. I picked him up by his shell sides and trotted him (or maybe it was a her since I don’t know turtles all that well) back to my truck and put him/her on the carpet floor in front of my passenger side seat.
Now, you may think I was getting fit to take that turtle home and give it to my kids for a pet, but you’d be wrong. In the first place, I don’t have kids. I am what in polite society they call a lifelong bachelor (so far), but which I like to refer to myself as going ‘stag’ everywhere. That’s a word I looked up to learn more about its background, since I like words, even not having much high-end schooling to speak of. I am, what they say, mostly self-educated.
And so I wrote down in my notebook what the big, heavy, hardcover 1965 Webster’s Dictionary in my living room, complete with pine-wood stand, had to say. (You might be surprised what you can get for $5 in a thrift shop!):
STAG: Definition 3: A person who attends a social gathering unaccompanied by a partner, especially a man who is unaccompanied by a woman.
More on that later. Maybe.
Stag also means, says that dictionary: “1. The adult male of various deer, especially the red deer. 2. An animal, especially a pig, castrated after reaching sexual maturity.”
So, you can see why I prefer definition No. 3!
But I was talking about turtles, so let’s get back to that.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ANDY
So, I am not, as you might think, transporting Mr. (or Miss or Mrs.) Turtle to the other side of the road like the proverbial chicken. Because, you see, there’s a big drop-off on that side, like the kind my cousin Andy once plunged down in his Volkswagen and they didn’t find him for two days.
He didn’t die, thanks be to the Lower Gods. (Andrew was definitely not big on the Higher Gods.) It was a high-test combo of being drunk on cheap beer — his favorite was those tall, silver cans of Bud and more than a few of them — and that cheap ditch weed they/we used to smoke back in the day (before all this medical marijuana and gummy bear stuff come along). All of which helped plunge him over that cliff, I am sure. Fortunately, he had some beef jerky and a water jug in the car to keep him fed until he was discovered, being out of action in a holler and all.
The sheriff was definitely not happy with Andy, being as they had a long, loooong acquaintance from even his junior high days — he was a hellraiser, my crazy cousin. The county did make his dad, my uncle, pay half the cost of the wrecker to pull Andy’s Bug back up the hill with Bobby Jean’s Famous Wrecker Service. That’s not actually what it was called, but it’s what we called it after Bobby was the first of all of us out of high school to have a successful, independent business, instead of just talking a big game about how you were going to be your own man. Or woman.
Rest in peace, my friend! Both of you.
But the turtle. So, I meant to just drive it a ways down to where Pluto passes over this creek called Six Pole, as a green road sign so called it. (Or ‘crick,’ as Andrew would pronounce it when sober and not drunk/stoned/ messed up, so what came out his mouth was mush.) So, I stop my truck on the other side of the bridge, put it in park and reach down to grab that turtle.
And what has he done? He has spewed or pooped or ejected a half-foot line of what looks like green snot on my clean passenger side carpet. (I told you how spic-and-span I keep my truck — it is a 2012 Ford F150 SuperCrew Cab King Ranch Pickup, by the by, as they say in England, although I could be wrong about that. I mean, the stuff they say in England.)
“Aw, damn!” I cry.
But then I feel bad for the turtle. Maybe he is traumatized. After all, he probably likely has never ridden in a moving vehicle before. Maybe he’s scared. I remember what the psychologist lady said at the Crab Orchard county health about being “In your head and scared and nothing making sense…”
She was talking about me and my ‘issues.’ More about that later. Maybe. Now, I don’t think a turtle has ‘issues,’ but maybe he/she/it had issues with being in a truck and then getting car-sick.
NOT GOING TO DO THAT
“Aw, buddy,” I says to him, picking him up by his shell sides. He ditches back inside his little house. I look in on him. He has a beak like a red-tail hawk. He looks back at me with his shiny beady eyes like he’s thinking: “What’re you gonna do with me? You going to eat me? Crack me open? Tear me out of this cave I’m hiding in?”
None of those things, little buddy. Although I seem to remember my Grandmaw on my Dad’s side saying they used to make turtle stew when my Dad was little and they didn’t have much to eat but what they might scrounge up, shoot, trap or grow. ‘But I ain’t eatin’ no turtle,’ if I might revert to the way I used to jabber when I was a boy, before this particular Woman of the World got my vocabulary and grammar cleaned up. A bit, at least.
So, I grab that turtle and proceed to appreciate the markings on its back. They look like some kind of sign language or like the Egyptian hieroglyphics we once studied at Mt. Olive high school, which I liked a lot because they seemed like designs that mean something. Like those — what do they call them, petroglyphs? — someone drew on rocks back up the hills. Our teacher said they were either someone goofing or evidence of very wise Indians or even people who got here to America before Christopher Columbus.
A GOOD LIFE
I walk that turtle over to the nice, sloping bank of the creek and put him in some comfortable grass. Not too high, not too thick. He’ll have a nice walk down to the creek, which is a curving letter S of bubbly water as wide as my truck is long. Don’t turtles like water? This seems like a good place for a turtle to call home, at least for as along as a turtle calls any place home. What do they eat anyway?
Anyway, I put the turtle down. I kind of hate to let him go, he feels good and solid in my hand. A real thing, a little life who just walked out of the woods and into my way.
(Well, maybe if you think about it, it’s us who are in his/her/its way, right? Since turtles have been here for one very long time. What is that Indian story? That the Earth rests upon the back of a great big turtle. And that that turtle rests upon the back of another one. And another one below that and that it’s turtles all the way down.)
I pat that turtle on its back, stroking his hard shell, which is also kind of soft and feels good to touch as I place him down in that grass. As I draw my hand away and step back, he pokes his head out and looks around, turning his neck my way. I can’t tell if he is looking at me or not. But he/she/it is certainly looking in my general direction, however briefly.
Then, he moves one turtle paw out of that shell. And then the other, then all four, and off that turtle is headed down to the creek. Probably could use a drink of water.
“Have a good life!” I say after him.
And I leave him — her or it — to their turtle existence.
I took my truck to the car wash in Pliny and had it a good wash, outside and in.