Animals In Appalachia Appalachia Appalachian Writers

On Flying Turtles

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Myers.

terrapin in Appalachia



Ed Myers (Bryson City, NC)

My Papaw was an average grandparent from rural East Tennessee, meaning he could spin a tale or two (perhaps even some that were true), chewed tobacco from a pressed plug and steak with a toothless mouth, enjoyed a swing or three on the blue-flaked porch of his modest home…and loved his grandkids without reservation.

He did the usual things such grandpas do. He slipped us pin-knives just about every time we visited (which our mother promptly confiscated and flushed down the toilet). He gave us four brothers a taste of his chaw…ah, the poisonous medicine of childhood. And, he let us sample his once a month veteran’s disability ‘shine…another poisonous medicine not soon to be retaken, thank God!

He shared-cropped an experimental farm for the University of Tennessee on the banks of the Tennessee River, not far from his home on what is now the edge of the swankier part of inner Knoxville. He, or rather my Granny, raised eight kids, him being the ninth. And, among other hobbies of necessity to a poor and rich, close and extended family, he, along with my uncles, caught turtles in nearby Tyson Creek.

They did this by screwing eye bolts spaced about a foot apart into whatever log happened to be laying about, tying strong cord to them along with good stout hooks, and baiting each with chicken necks or other rough meat. They then laid the log across the creek and waited a day to see what came to dinner (ours). Sometimes, their bait would snag a good sized flathead cat, but most of the time, it was turtles, mud or snapping turtles and soft-shelled turtles being what the creek had to offer in abundance.

When the harvest was good, they lay the turtles on their backs, poured scalding water on them to loosen their flesh, chopped off their heads (or was that before the dousing?), and deep fried the meat (yes, it does taste somewhat like chicken, as do many deep fried meats; that is, they taste deep fried). Served alongside boiled corn, homemade yeast-risen dinner rolls, ice-cold watermelon, tart summer pie made from apples picked right off the trees, and other sundries, it made for a fine meal on many a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes, however, when my Papaw was feeling particularly impish and had a new grandkid/niece/nephew/cousin/what-have-you to impress, he would put back the largest turtle and teach them how to pilot it and fly.

I remember my initiation well.

Again, it was a sunny day, as it always seemed to be when we were with him. The sacrificial turtle was a true monster to a six-year-old’s eyes. 25 pounds of pre-historic fury encased in a huge, rough overlapping shell, dragging a long, scaly dinosaur tale and clawing with claws that would make a bad witch cringe. To complete the picture, add flaming red eyes, a long neck as thick as a small fist that could twist ‘round to the middle of its back and a sneering beak so sharp it could and did break slender sticks like, well, six-year-old little boy bones.

When all this terror could be fully appreciated by his tiny audience, my Papaw began to lie and lie some more, telling us that if a little boy or girl could perch on the turtle’s back, just shy of its snapping head, and hold on for dear life, it could be made to do his or her bidding, including, but not limited to, taking wing (where those were, I never could tell) and flying, carrying its passenger to far off lands (at least as far as the neighbor’s yard, three houses down). All you had to do was reach back and grab that thrashing tail to guide your flight and away you’d go.

Now, even at six, I was not so gullible as to think a turtle could fly, let alone with a boy on its back. But, when I looked into my grandfather’s weathered, sky-blue eyes and heard only his voice guiding me through my fear, I’ll be damned if I didn’t take off and soar.

The ride didn’t last long. The turtle soon tired of digging in the grass and snapping at its burden. The little boy woke from his grandpa’s enchantment, stepped back into the shade of a flowering mimosa and returned to earth.

To this day, I have to ask myself whether it did or didn’t happen, just like I’ve said. To this day, I know it did, and I know it didn’t.

But, Lord, what a wonderful ride!


I hope you enjoyed Ed’s story as much as I did-it reminded me of my own Papaw and Uncles teasing me when I was a kid. Like Ed-I knew I shouldn’t believe their tall tales but at the same time I couldn’t not believe them either.

Leave Ed a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    July 12, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Tipper , thanks for printing Ed’s story about the fying turtles , My Grandpa Jess , from Union S.C,and my Dad and Uncles ,were catchers of cooters (turtles ) as they call the around Union, and he could make the best cooter stew in the country, all the neighbors would bring a bowl to get some cooter stew to take home for dinner, when he made it and he would make a lot , he even use to make it for the local VFW to sell as a fund raiser, it was yum yum good with a couple pieces of white loaf bread , just thinking about it makes my mouth water , and yes he caught some big ole cooters in broad River and the Santee Cooper and some as big as a wash tub and I have rode on the backs of many , but can’t say for sure if I ever flew , maybe I did in my Dreams. thanks again for the post , loved it and thanks to ED for his memories. Malcolm , from Thailand

  • Reply
    May 23, 2011 at 2:53 am

    I really enjoyed reading this and could almost see the little boy flying thru the sky making turns with his hand on the turtles tail!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillps
    May 22, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Great story by a wonderful writer-Mr. Myers should write a book!

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson (USA)
    May 21, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Grandpas are characters!

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    May 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    ahh what a lovely story.. and something that any child will remember, let alone see their beloved grandfathers face and hear his voice.. telling the tale.. 🙂
    oh to be young again and see the magic around us.. thank you so much for sharing today… it brightened my day ..
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    Rod Weigel
    May 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Interesting piece no doubt. In hopes this is not too far off the beaten path I will put forth a brief synopsis of my grandparents as I recall them.
    My Scotch Irish mother from Sand Mountain, Alabama married my German Father from Ohio and both from opposite sides of the Mason Dixon. I am certain my mother was ridiculed for marring a Yankee though she never did voice that. She was the only one of 13 children that left the South. She was a true Southern Baptist and lived her religion daily and was an RN having graduated from South Highlands infirmary in Birmingham. That said.
    The strongest term I ever heard my Southern Grand-Father utter was damn and it always was followed by the word Yankee and pointed at my siblings and I, and my German Grand-Father who was a real sport would refer to us kids as @#$%^&* Rebels. Subsequently I grew up a confused child not really knowing what I was.
    Retrospectively I must confess I am more Rebel than Yankee, that is my track record to date and that will not change. I want to be in Pocahontas County, WV but circumstances currently prevent that from becoming a reality.
    To paraphrase Jerry Garcia “what a long strange trip it’s been” and I would not change one iota of it.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Oh yes, the Redmond men could spin yarns.
    I remember dad telling one about ducks falling asleep on a pond, and the pond froze overnight and trapped their legs. Whereupon when they flew off in the morning, they took the pond with them.
    I remember Grandad Redmond telling us about being attacked by a grizzly bear when working on the railroad. He said the bear charged down a mountain at him, and when it got to him, he slipped his hand down the bear’s throat up inside the bear, grabbed it’s tail from the inside, gave him a good jerk and turned him inside out sending the bear running back up the mountain with its insides flapping as it ran.
    Yep, they could spin some mighty big yarns.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Grandpas are great for teasing younguns with tall tales. Love this story. 🙂

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for a great read, Tipper. I really loved Ed’s story.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Ed, what a great story….I believe! There are more things here than we understand.
    A good imagination is a wonderful gift to share with little ones! and not so little ones!!!!

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

    That was a good story by Ed Myers.
    I liked all the descriptive things
    leading up to the Turtle ride. And
    by the end of the story, I felt like I was on that old turtle’s
    back with Ed. Thanks for treating
    us to another story of childhood
    here in the Appalachians…Ken

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 11:36 am

    What a wonderful teller of tall tales! Ed needs to put them down on paper or in a book. Enjoyed it so much.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    May 21, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Hey: I just want to tell Ed that Tyson Creek, in Knoxville, has been cleaned up and looks great flowing along a wonderful trail! When I first saw Ed’s name I wondered if he ‘belonged’ to the Edgar Myers family here in Oak Ridge. When the Oak Ridge Edgar, Jr. was 12 years old he was writing symphonies! His father taught my sons in ‘the strings’ program in the school! Sadly Edgar, Sr. passed away several years ago but the Edgar, Jr. has made his mark with the utmost ‘playing’ of the bass violin! i.e. “Appalachian Spring” is just one of his many recordings with Yoyo Mah and other great musicians!!!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    May 21, 2011 at 9:53 am

    there is a reason we call them GRANDparents…’cause mine truly were and I’m trying!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Wonderful story, my grandpa and my father both told tall tales when I was a kid, don’t we just love to shiver and think that possibly it could really happen?

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

    What an imagination he had and was able to put in a story that kids would believe even for a little while.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. It’s got me soaring for the moment:)

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 9:01 am

    GREAT STORY! Just love the Papaw for the memories he left ingraved in your mind & minds eye. We are soon to be grandparents and I hope we can be as loving and “whimsical” as Ed’s Papaw.

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

    i am a lover of Tall Tales and this one even beats paul Bunyon.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 21, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I loved the story…I would’ve liked to have met Ed’s Papaw…
    I believe he was the ultimate mesmeriser…
    I have a Grandson(age 3)that thinks I let him drive our truck eventhough it never moves…he just gets mesmerised by my voice and the thoughts of it going thru the tunnels, up hills and over bumps..
    They say that is the creative mind of the child at work…too…
    Thanks Ed for a wonderful story..
    I think you really did go for a ride on that old mud turtles back….
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    May 21, 2011 at 8:12 am

    What a tale! And I could see it all unfolding just as that six year old could soar.
    Great story!!!

  • Leave a Reply