Our first turtles were foster children. Their names were Chili and ...... somethingorother. When Paula brought them to the house, I was more than a bit repulsed by their reptilian looking faces and skin. I thought they looked unfriendly.... just waiting for an opportunity to do something nasty. They didn't think much better of me, and, upon release onto the main floor of the house, promptly galomped into the space beneath the upstairs landing, burrowing under the kids' toys that were stored there. Paula informed me that they would only eat and defecate in water, so I'd need to put them in the bathtub every other day for a few hours to feed and take a dump. They liked broccoli and other veggies, and an occasional bit of lean beef. Absolutely no hamburger. Unlike the boys, I wasn't disappointed that they didn't leave the toy storage for the next 24 hours. Every now and then we'd hear something moving in there, so we knew where they were. If things were quiet for too long, I'd feel a guilty mix of fear that they were dead - crushed beneath the heaps of toys and dress-up paraphernalia - and relief that that they might be dead. The boys, then about 6 and 9, were sternly warned that they could NOT, under any circumstances, go in there. Only toys that were in plain sight, and fully accessible from the doorway were allowed. This might be a good time to mention that this 'room' was about 3 feet high - only accessible in the upright position by a child of less than that height. All others must stoop or crawl within.
The turtles didn't, contrary to my shamefaced hopes, die in there overnight. They were just fine the next afternoon, if the rustling, rattling and thumping of trains and fireman's hats and building blocks was an indicator. With a knot in my stomach I crawled in to dig them out, for their first swim in our bathtub. Fearful of losing a finger to the dangerous looking beaks on the front end, I picked them up as close to the other end as possible, and carried them up the stairs to a tub of tepid water, where they were unceremoniously dumped, along with a handful of chopped broccoli and lettuce. They were no more comfortable with me, and kept heads and appendages - even tails! neatly tucked inside their shells until they hit the water. Then a miracle happened. The clumsy, awkward creatures transformed into graceful beings, fluid of movement and regal of bearing. They stretched their necks, with heads uplifted, to the surface, paddling confidently with outstretched legs and feet. For the first time since we'd met, they seemed something other than malevolent.
The lettuce was a bust, but they nibbled away at the broccoli with what might have been satisfaction. Or it might have been disgust.... I was just learning to read turtle body language. I'd been concerned about a place for them to get out of the water.... to breathe or something..... but Paula's instructions assured me that these were marine, and not land turtles. They were quite happy and able to float for long periods at the water's surface if they needed to catch their breath. They didn't need to make landfall. When evening came, and one of the boys needed a bath, we drained and disinfected the tub, rinsed the turtles and returned them downstairs. The whole thing was not nearly as disgusting as I'd expected. The mess was minimal. The worst part of it was keeping the last of the broccoli bits and the rejected lettuce from going down the drain. It's astonishing how quickly a determined turtle can disappear. As soon as they were set back on the main floor, they went strait for the deepest, darkest corner of the under-landing toy heap. They seemed to like to be together.
As the days went on, we became so accustomed to the occasional odd sounds of turtles moving beneath the toy stash that we no longer heard it. This became a secret family joke - a source of private entertainment. A visiting friend might freeze suddenly in mid-sentence, listen intently to stealthy sounds coming from the corner, then whisper, "what was that?" We'd reply, by now quite nonchalantly, "Turtle." It was crucial, for best results, to keep a straight face, and play this completely deadpan. There are no indigenous turtles in northern Alberta. ....to be continued
The photo is of another, unrelated turtle, adopted by my granddaughter, in memory of the turtles Grandma had when she was smaller.