In the 1970s I was a school-age girl growing up in the suburbs of Houston. My nuclear family consisted of two parents and one younger brother. We also had a dog, a cat, a couple of hamsters and a community aquarium or two. Animals have always been present in my life.
One particular summer, a gopher turtle appeared in the backyard. The turtle seemed to be rather social, always venturing from the yard to the patio with no obvious level of discomfort at being handled by children. Our little turtle friend often shared summer evenings on the patio with us as we played. A favorite game involved presenting a variety of food choices to the turtle to watch it eat and discover what tastes turtles prefer. My brother and I would scamper into the kitchen to scavenge small samplings of random food: lettuce leaves, grapes, crunchy cat food, potato chips, uncooked hamburger, apples, strawberries, spaghetti. Our ambitions to share limited only by the food items within our reach.
We would watch, giggling, as we assembled tidy little piles of food, then invite the turtle to make a selection. I was always inwardly pleased when the turtle made the rounds tasting everything but pausing at the strawberry pieces to eat them all. This was indeed a turtle after my own heart.
The turtle shared at least two later summers with us after that first summer. We knew it was the same animal because the gopher turtle was missing one rear foot. But this disability didn’t seem to hamper its mobility: it wasn’t exactly a sprinter, anyway. From our observations, this turtle preferred lounging on the patio, leisurely enjoying a multi-course dinner.