Today’s guest post was written by Ed Myers.
ON FLYING TURTLES
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.