I took my granddaughter to see the house where I grew up.
Across the street is the elementary school where I got into all kinds of shenanigans as a kid. I wouldn’t say my friends and I were troublemakers, but, if there was trouble, we were usually around. Sadly, there’s a chain-link fence surrounding the school now, so the playground was inaccessible.
“Inaccessible,” my granddaughter repeated. “What’s that?”
“That means we can’t get to it.”
“Aw,” she groaned.
I pointed out where mint bushes used to grow. My friends and I would sit on the grass, chew the leaves, and lie to each other. They’re no longer there. Nor are the bushes that grew little pods that popped open when you’d wet them. I never knew what they were and still don’t. Also missing were bushes that grew red berries.
“If you eat them, you’ll die,” we warned each other. “They’re poison.”
“Are they really poison?” my granddaughter asked when I gave her the same dire warning.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but why take a chance?”
Flying around some flowers were what looked like blue bees sniffing after pollen. Maybe someone can tell me what they were since I’ve never seen a blue bee in my life.
“Will they sting me?” my granddaughter asked, peeking her head from behind me.
“If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone,” I assured her, but I wasn’t really sure, so I led her away from those flowers to an irrigation hole I used to yell into. The echo sounded like some kind of monster calling back to me.
“HEY!” I yelled, so my granddaughter could hear.
“Hey!” the echo called back.
“Is that the monster?” my granddaughter squeaked; her eyes wide.
“Yes,” I told her, but I must admit it sounded scarier when I was younger.
Driving home, I noticed a statue of a turtle in the yard of a corner house. Only… it was moving.
That statue was ALIVE.
The turtle, leisurely strolling its domain, was about the size of a small dog crate.
I stopped my truck.
“Look at THAT,” I told my granddaughter.
“It’s a giant turtle.”
“Where?” she said, squirming in her car seat to get a look.
“Let’s get down! Let’s get down!” she squealed.
They say my granddaughter has me wrapped around her little finger. I deny it, of course, but it’s true. She has me doing things and meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet or do.
I put my truck into park, and we got out. I love putting her in her car seat and helping her out. It just feels like a very loving thing for me to do. It was the same when I used to change her diapers as a baby. Doing the things she can’t do for herself.
We walked up to the chain link fence. The turtle was lumbering alongside it. As my granddaughter reached through to touch its shell, a big friendly dog quickly ran up to be petted. I pulled her back because I like my granddaughter having a hand. The owner of the house was outside and came over to where we stood. He was friendly and invited us in for a closer look.
I was about to politely decline when my granddaughter said “You bet!” and ran to the front gate. I always tell her to be careful with strangers, but what kid really listens? I remember walking down the street when I was about ten, and a man with a crying boy in the seat next to him drove up beside me.
“Hey, kid!” he said. “Do you want some comic books?”
“You bet!” I said.
I LOVED comic books.
The man got out of his car and pulled out a box that was almost too heavy for me to carry.
“My son’s being punished,” he explained as he handed me the box.
“Thanks,” I said, waving to the crying boy.
I didn’t care what the explanation was and quickly headed home. What a great collection that kid had. DC’s “Plastic Man,” “Elongated Man,” “Metal Men,” “Deadman,” “Metamorpho.”
“Where did you get those?” my father wanted to know and I made the mistake of telling him.
After warming my hiney, he made me throw that box of comics in the trash. That boy who was crying in the car? His tears had long stopped, but mine were just beginning.
“If you EVER do that again...” my father warned me.
“Grandpa!” my granddaughter called, impatiently.
I joined her at the gate. He was a neighbor, after all, but I guess even Jeffrey Dahmer was a neighbor to somebody.
The man’s name was Juan.
“But my friend’s call me Chino,” he said.
As it turned out, Chino had TWO turtles – a male and a female – and two dogs, Duchess and Coco.
“Do you want to ride the turtle?” he asked her.
She was on that poor reptile before he even finished the sentence.
“Don’t worry,” Chino told me. “That turtle is strong.”
And it was true. The turtle didn’t even seem to notice she was on his back. He carried her all over that yard. The female turtle was relaxing nearby, leaving her mate in charge of hospitality.
While my granddaughter was having a good time, I got caught up on how the neighborhood has changed. The elementary school I went to was empty now, not being used for anything but storage. My friends, all grown. Some retired, some dead. Sports. Politics. Chino was easy to talk to. It was like I knew him my whole life.
“Can I come back?” my granddaughter asked him when it was time to leave.
“You bet,” he said.
Free turtle rides at JimDuchene.BlogSpot.com, RaisingMyFather.BlogSpot.com and @JimDuchene.