The past four weeks have been pretty lousy. So yesterday didn’t make things any better. I got home from my trip to Pittsburgh, and Molly — my three-legged pet box turtle for the past twelve years — had escaped. Ever since we moved into our ground-level apartment, we sometimes take her out of her aquarium and let her roam around our patio. She’s too big to fit through or under the bars of the railing — or so we thought until yesterday, when I went out to put something away and she wasn’t there. I spent all evening looking for her all around the apartment complex, until it was dark. It’s not easy to find a greenish brown camouflaged turtle in apartment landscaping.
I don’t think she’ll come back. And since we don’t know exactly when she got out, she could be anywhere by now. Grady and I prayed last night that if she doesn’t come back to us, God will take care of her.
Somewhere in Genesis, I remember reading about Enoch, who throughout his life “walked with God,” and then “was no more” (rather than all the others in that genealogy, who actually “died”). If this is indeed the end of the road for Molly and our time with her, I hope I can think of it that way. For twelve years, she walked with us, and then she was gone.
What follows is a reflection and remembrance of the life of Molly the Turtle, or at least her life with us. Click on the link to keep reading.
HAPPY UPDATE: Molly came back! Actually, someone from our apartment complex saw one of our “Missing Turtle” posters, found her, and put her right on our doorstep. We still don’t know who it was that found her, but whoever it was, thank you! She’s pretty muddy, which means she spent the night in the rain and mud, but she probably loved every minute of it, and is now thinking, “Oh well, there goes my freedom again…” But we’re so glad to have her back. And she even got a biography out of it, too!
Discovery and Austin Roots
My brothers actually found her in the yard of our house in Austin when they were still in high school and I was in college at ORU. She was missing one foot, somewhat malnourished, her shell was badly cracked, and it looked like some idiot had tried to paint her shell (which is toxic and deadly for turtles, whose shells are very porous). Jeff and Joe kept her in a large plastic bin outside the house for several months, feeding her steak and leftovers. I say “her,” but nobody really knew what gender she was at this point, and she didn’t really have a name except for “turtle.” We also had no idea how old she was, but it looked like she had been around the block a few times. Actually, it looked like she might have even been “dragged” around the block involuntarily a few times. The missing foot was a mystery, but we speculated on everything from an encounter with a lawn-mower to one with a car, a cat, or some other neighborhood antagonist. Still, it looked like it had healed over by now, and the cracks in her shell were starting to heal, too.
I was home visiting before my final year of college, and although my dorm had a “no-pet” policy, I had recently been elected student body president at ORU, and would have an office for the coming year. The previous two presidents had kept fish in an aquarium in the student association offices. I didn’t like fish. The aquarium was large, and I liked the idea of a “different” kind of pet, so I asked Jeff and Joe if I could take her back to college with me. They were ok with the idea (and I think our mom was actually relieved).
Turtle Goes to College and Gets a Name
When I moved the turtle up to Tulsa and into her gigantic aquarium, she refused to eat for almost a month (this became pretty routine in our later moves). Finally, she got hungry enough to eat some chicken from the snack bar in the student center across from my office. This, and hot-dogs became her favorite food over the course of the year, and she started gaining weight. (I should add that I’ve since learned these are actually horrible foods to feed a turtle and wouldn’t recommend them). I also started gently scrubbing the paint off her shell.
After researching box turtles a little, I figured out that “it” was a “she” on the basis of her yellow eyes, short tail, and flat plastron. So now she needed a name. At the time, Molly O’Connor was the director of Student Activities at ORU — a staff position responsible for “running” the Student Association. I thought that was my job, as student body president, but I was so wrong. So I wanted at least one Molly in my life who couldn’t tell me what to do. I guess you could say I named the turtle “after” Molly O’Connor, but really it was more “in spite of” her. It’s funny how names work, though. There was a time when the name “Molly” had negative associations in my life, but now I like the name, and have warm feelings when I encounter it elsewhere, and even my ill-will towards Molly O’Connor has faded substantially. Maybe if we named our children after the people we dislike most, there would eventually be less hatred in the world…
The “reptilian” Molly at ORU became almost as famous as her human counterpart that year. I used to take her out for walks around the campus, where she got all sorts of attention. There was a helium tank in the student offices for special events, so when I took her out, I’d fill up a balloon, and then tie it with a ribbon around her shell, along with a sign that read “Hi! I’m Molly the Turtle. If I appear to be lost, please return me to the Student Association offices, or call x6335.” I’d sit on a bench reading or talking with friends and let her wander (within eyesight, which the balloon made easier) around the campus. Right now, I’m kind of wishing she had been wearing that balloon yesterday when she got out…
Once, I had the brilliant idea to let Molly wander around the conference table during one of our Student Association Officers’ staff meetings. I got deeply involved in whatever proposal I was advancing, and wasn’t paying attention to her. All eyes (except mine, of course) were fixed on her, as she crawled right on top of my day-planner, pooped on the week’s “to do” page, and crawled back off. My staff were trying very, very hard to contain their laughter, and I knew something was up, but still carried on until shortly afterwards the smell made its way to my nostrils, and I looked down. At that point, the laughter erupted full force, and I don’t think the staff meeting ever recovered.
Downsizing and Texas Homecoming
The two years after I graduated were difficult ones for me, although Molly was probably blissfully unaware of any of that. We stayed in Tulsa, while I worked various dull and non-fulfilling jobs to pay the rent. The job I actually loved was my part-time position as a youth director at Southern Hills United Methodist Church. Sometimes Molly would come with me to youth or church for the kids to play with.
When Amy and I became engaged, I began to make plans to move to Texas. I was going from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom efficiency apartment, and I figured if I had to downsize, so did Molly. Her huge aquarium that I had taken with me from the Student Association offices gave way to a smaller aquarium that was roughly the same size as one shelf on a typical bookshelf — which is actually where she lived for the next few years. I think she handled the “other woman” in my life (Amy) pretty well, and didn’t complain much — a common and pleasing trait among most turtles. In fact, I would have to say that later, when we lived in our first house, Amy was much better than I about taking Molly out of her aquarium and letting her play in our enormous wasteland of a backyard.
Grady came along and gradually took more interest in Molly. Although he desperately wants (and someday will get) a dog, Molly will always be the first “family pet,” and last night and this morning, he has kept asking, “But where did Molly go?” It also makes me sad to think that Molly’s departure and our daughter’s arrival missed each other by only a month.
This morning was cold and foggy, after a night of rain. The chill of winter has already begun its advance. I hope that Molly — wherever she is — quickly finds a nice warm pile of leaves or other shelter in which to hibernate for the winter. Goodnight, old turtle-woman and longtime friend. You finally found your freedom. Sweet dreams. You will be missed dearly.