Since childhood, I've had this knack for finding box turtles
and bones and salamanders. And feathers, which I've always assumed
everyone found, so that wasn't so special.
Feathers and bones I still collect, making things from them to
place around the house, like some people place a figurine
or a special book on a clear glass table next to a vase of flowers.
When I was young, the unspoken protocol when finding a box turtle
was in as few words as possible, to write in red nail polish your town
and the date on the underside of the turtle. You could keep it
for a few days, feeding it lettuce and raw ground beef, but then
you had to release the turtle and hope it didn't try crossing any roads.
Getting the red nail polish was the first hurdle, since my mother
didn't bother with that sort of thing. I could count on my grandmother
for this but she lived in Brooklyn and we lived in Levittown, Long Island.
I don't recall how, but I managed to get the red nail polish with her help.
The second obstacle was that I was only 7 or 8 and my hand writing
was large, plus I'd had zero experience with using nail polish.
So I had to enlist the help of an adult with the necessary skills
and willingness to touch a turtle. At the time, neither of my parents
fit into this category. My mother was always busy with a new baby;
my dad was teaching and getting another degree, and told me
all the things I collected had germs that could kill me.
Fortunately, on weekends my three boy cousins would visit, which meant
my aunt and uncle, who were also my godparents, came to eat and drink.
My Uncle Eddie had been a pilot in the war, still flew out of Floyd Bennett Field,
and was a firefighter, plus he never said no to me. So I kept the turtle hidden
longer than I was supposed to until they came to visit, and after seeing my dad
have a few Scotch and sodas, I told my uncle my situation with the turtle.
He listened, winked, and said, "Moey, I'm your biggest fan. Let's get it done."
My uncle passed away a few years ago and I ended up with his military flag,
folded and tucked into a triangle, kept where I can touch it every day, without the display box.
My aunt and he divorced long ago and of his three sons, only two came to the funeral but
the story of how I got the flag would not fit here.