I have one thing in common with Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion” fame: He once said he could never write anything that would embarrass his mother.
I understand that completely. My parents are in their late eighties and they read every word I write, and always have. In fact, I would not be surprised if my mother does a “google” search on me now and then.
Only once have I felt it necessary to prepare them for something I’ve written. It wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t gratuitous violence. (I’m a G-rated kind of gal.)
It was, stangely enough, about the turtle-rescuing activities of a character in my novel.
Unbeknownst to my parents, I was a turtle-rescuer from the age of six, and my experience inspired the creation of Dora Witherspoon, the narrator of my novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. When the novel opens, she says, “My name is Dora Witherspoon but most folks know me as the Turtle Lady. A long time ago, I rescued a snapping turtle the size of a truck tire from the middle of Highway 41, a move deemed so foolish it became local legend.”
That is, in fact, me.
Realizing that after the novel was published I would be asked by interviewers how I know so much about turtles, or how I did my research, I decided to come clean in advance and ‘fess up to Mom.
So that is why, in the Acknowledments section you will find this rather unusual statement: “As a girl living in South Carolina, I rescued turtles trying to cross a road across the causeway next to our lakeside home. Apologies to my mother, who was kept in the dark about this particular hobby…Some were snapping turtles and too heavy (and too mean) to carry, so I chased them with a broom or stick to make sure they got safely to the other side. My childhood friend Alison was my conspirator and backup turtle rescue person. (Apologies to her mother too.) I carried on our tradition later, while living in Florida. And I still rescue turtles today, wherever I am.”
Now I realize that as far as confessions go, this one would not make a list of Most Egregious Childhood Offenses. I had betrayed my mother, however, and that is what I was really apologizing for. I had been a bonafide tomboy, and I had pledged to my mother that in return for her allowing me a certain amount of outdoor freedom, I would not do anything reckless. Crossing a road with moving traffic? Definitely a no-no. Handling turtles that could easily have bitten off a finger (or two or three) or clawed me half to pieces? Mercy.
Because I did this on my way home from school without her knowing, I was not living up to my end of the deal. Fortunately, I wasn’t hit by a car, nor was I bitten or clawed by any turtles. I did, however, have to endure getting a long, hard stare of disapproval from my mother when she learned the real story. She did get past it, however, and in fact, she loves the novel, turtle-rescuing narrator and all.