Saturday, June 11, 2022

Not so tall tales of turtle travails...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/06-11-22

Wow, I totally blew off World Turtle Day last month. For the record, it was observed on May 23, in case you forgot, like I did. I think all the excitement of Arbor Day on the last Friday in April threw me off a bit.


The purpose of World Turtle Day is to warn drivers to avoid running over turtles with vehicles as they cross roadways in the spring en route to laying their eggs. Who would run over a cute little turtle if they could avoid it? Maybe Vladimir Putin.


I have a long and mixed history with turtles. I was frightened by a large snapping turtle as a child when the primitive-looking beast showed up in a neighbor’s yard and menaced everyone nearby. Scary creature weighing maybe 10-15 pounds. Never forgot the jagged back of its shell.


But those tiny painted turtles they sold at Woolworth’s dime store were kind of cute. I begged my parents for one and they finally relented. At my father’s suggestion, we named him Methuselah because turtles are supposed to live long lives. The Biblical Methuselah lived for 967 years according to both the Good Book and Google so it must be true.


Our Methuselah lasted about two weeks. The little guy (assuming it was a guy; how are you supposed to tell?) got stuck under a small ceramic duck we’d placed in his partially filled fishbowl and drowned. Yup, drowned. I believe I am the only person in history whose pet turtle drowned.


But it made me very sad, of course. I pulled the lifeless creature out of the water and shed a tear or two, eliciting sympathy from family members. My older brother suggested we give Methuselah a proper turtle funeral by tossing him into a river. That sounded like fun.


So we took the little fellow to Miller Creek in Lincoln Park (the park itself) not far from our home, and solemnly tossed his limp remains into the flowing stream while extending our…um… how about thoughts and prayers? Why not?


That was the last pet I ever had in my early life.


Segue now to my adulthood, my fatherhood, some 25-30 years later when our daughter and son, still in single digits age wise, realized, as most kids at that stage in life do, that they wanted a dog. A cute little puppy for their parents to maintain. It inspired a chain of events I have mentioned before, but I’m repeating them for both the pathos and fun of it.


“No, no, no dog,” I proclaimed. “You’ve gotta keep the poor things tied up all the time because of the leash law. If we lived on a farm, fine, but not in the heart of the city.” I’m pretty sure they would have been fine with moving to a farm if it meant getting a dog.


But not wanting to deny them entirely, I told them they could get a turtle, a cute little turtle, just like my Methuselah when I was their age. I don’t think I mentioned Methuselah’s sad fate— the turtle’s, not the Biblical one’s.


So on a Saturday we went shopping for a new turtle. But where do they sell turtles? No more Woolworth’s. I decided to try a pet store, and found one with a couple of cute little puppies frolicking in the window, darn them.


I told the clerk we’d like to see something in a turtle and he reacted with a combination of horror and anger.


“We can’t sell turtles,” he declared dourly. “They spread salmonella.” (It was decades ago but I’m pretty sure those quotes are accurate.)


I think he told us they were barred by law from dealing in turtles, and we beat a hasty retreat, the kids nearing tears. What to do now? Hamsters were not an option. We just weren’t hamster people.


And then the refrain returned: “We want a dog,” they repeated their earlier plea, almost in unison. (That’s an accurate quote, too.)


Oh well, how long can you hold out? So we checked the classified ads in the newspaper, found a likely prospect in Proctor, visited the home and left 20 bucks poorer with a small, black mongrel pup we named Midnite (preferred spelling) to reflect his fur color.


Midnite was with us for 12 or 13 years until the day came — by then both kids were away at college — when we had to telephone them with the sad news that Midnite was dead. Infirmities of old age. I wrote about that sad day once before, so won’t go into detail here. He had lived a comfortable life, was loved, loved us back, barked at mail carriers and was gone but not forgotten.


All I can say is thank heaven it was against the law to sell turtles or we’d never have known Midnite. I’m not sure our mailman would say the same.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at 

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