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Snappin' Turtles
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Snappin' Turtles


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All the kids what growed up in Arkansas knows all about snappin' turtles.  They are a special breed all by themselves, and they are mean!  Garry Don Dooley, my cousin, and I used to catch them in the little tail ditches that border both sides of most every street in Rector, Arkansas.

These little ditches are only abut 24 - 30 inches wide and probably 15 - 24 inches in depth. They are a necessary evil of that country simply because the rain sometimes is so heavy, the water has to have a place to go.  Via these little tail ditches the water drains away almost as fast as it fell.

Besides being great places in which to play in the water, there's all kinds of varmints in that water!  Like water spiders, skeeters (mosquitoes), leeches, snakes, slugs, muskrats, swamp rabbits, beaver, mink, and oh yeah, my cousin Garry Don Dooley, my oldest sister (Betty Sue), and I!

We didn't figure out the reason the water stunk so bad until were older!  You see, back then everbody what had indoor plumbing (rich folks), had a septic tank for their toilets, (I'm not talking a lot of people, but just the "well to do . . ." it was them - what lived up town what had indoor plumbing.

The over flow of the leach line off a those septic tanks many times ran right out to the little tail ditch!  But just as bad and more prevalent was, people would dig a little trench down the side of their house through which all the grey water, (kitchen sink, shower, and lavatory) would flow as well.  Yep!  You guessed it!  That water also wound up in the tail ditches.

What was wrong with us swimmin' in it I just didn't know at the time.  One of my Uncles, probably Doyne or Byron Shelton . . . said it was OK!  So, if one of THEM said it was OK, then, brother, it was OK!  Heck, who minded if we smelt like grey water?

But, back to my snappin' turtles . . .  We would find them in these little tail ditches all the time, and when would find one, we'd try to bring it back close to the house so we could play with it.  You notice, I said 'try.'  That's because we seldom accomplished this feat.

You see, snapping turtles are a lot like lizards, or snakes.  They have an extremely long neck and tail.  Their neck is so long and limber they can reach back around to their right or left of their shell and bite you with their beak!

Now their beak is quite large, pointed, strong and sharp; a lot like the beak of the parrot, and faster than you can blink your eye.  Heck, I think they're faster than watermelon diarrhea!

But seriously, they are fast! Garry Don and I have placed a branch (deliberately the size of of our finger), near it's mouth, and before you can react, they can grab and snap the stick in two.  We've heard all our lives that if they ever get a hold of you, they won't let go until it thunders.

Snapping Turtle

Now, I don't know if that is thunder from the heavens, or thunder from whoever they've got a hold of, but, I guarantee you, that if one of them things got a hold of me, I'd be thunderin' right away!

I mentioned about my cousin and I trying to get one home. ( I never thought about why we'd want a dangerous beast like that around our house, but, each one of wanted one.)  The reason neither of us ever got one is because they can actually bite you severely; even though you have a hold of the sides of their shell!  If they can't get you that way, sometimes they can get you with their claws.

They can leave very vicious claw marks on your puppy-patters fastern' you can blink too!  We've come up on itty-bitty ones while out in the woods, and they can render a bite as well.  Or we've seen em floating just under the water with only the tips of their nose and top of their shell a stickin' out.  Throw a rock and they're gone before you even get wound up to throw another'n.  And they can stay under much longer than my attention span ever was.

We heard about this kid that successfully caught one and supposedly had trained it as a pet that he called Box.  Garry Don and me, well, we just weren't convinced.  We'd done seen too many sticks snapped in two in less time than it takes for Momma to put knuckle-bumps on our head, and we didn't trust them there things!

Well, he'd had ol' Box, (funny name to name a snappin' turtle huh!), forever, (I'm sure at least two weeks), and one day he brung 'im to school.

Back in them days they didn't have show and tell.  Heck no.  Back then, it was work and learn, churn and burn, or feel and squeal if you didn't!  Teachers in them days had a live board for a paddle, and if you didn't believe that, all you had to do was give 'em the slightest reason to set you on fire and make your caboose glow!

I know one teacher of that era that could convince you very easily that the paddle she kept had a life all its own.  When she paddled it was like a machine set on turbo-high: your caboose stung, hurt, burned, itched, ached - before you sat back down.  After sitting down, it hurt even worse!

And that was just the physical part!  There was the mental part as well.  The embarrassment of getting paddled in front of everybody, the shame that you'd failed in some way, the knowledge that everyone in the class were snickering and probably would snicker every time they thought of you for the rest of their lives.

But, back to my turtle story; Danny's turtle was the celebrity for the for the duration of the recess.  He'd taken the thing out of the box, (how he'd gotten it in the box was beyond me), and had set it on the teachers desk.

It immediately started crawling for the edge of the table, and would have fallen to the floor had he not blocked it with a book several times.  It was a continual fight.  Then, one of the kids tossed a wadded up piece of paper toward the head of it, and the turtle snagged it out of the air, clean.  Before you could even blink!

It sat there on the top of that desk with a kind of stupid smug look on it's face (why it looked smug I don't know, cuz it had little skin on its bony face with a beak on the front of it, with few features and no facial muscles with which to change those features).

But, it wouldn't let go of the paper ball.  All the kids were screaming with joy and laughter.  It sounded almost as raucous as a fight, (which would also result in your caboose being lit up like a 'firefly' as well!  No . . ., it would be more like a lightenin' bug, because your caboose would be throbbing because after a paddling you knew what lightening was: both in speed and results of contact.

Perhaps you like to take a wild guess as to how I KNOW that!

Snapping Turtle

Well, somebody else threw a paper ball, and ol Box let go of the prior ball and grabbed the second one.  Now this made Danny mad cuz they were teasin' his pet!  He reached down to grab the ball on the floor and presented a perfect place for ol Box to grab, which was promptly done faster than Momma picking up an half-off item at the grocery store!

Danny screamed and was jumping up and down yelling "ow, ow, ooowww!"  And it was a scream!  Like a girl scream!  Like several girls screamin'!  Think anybody'd help him?  Think again!  He deserved everything he was a gettin'!  'Naw, it was more like a howl.  Boy that was f.u.n.n.y!

I don't believe the critter had much skin of Danny's derriere mixed up with the Levis in his beak.  I'm sure it would have bled had there been skin.  I think it might have pinched the skin, but it never any blood.

The closest teacher was out in the school yard, and Danny took out across the room, down the hall, and out across the yard to share his condition with her.  She grabbed the thing by the sides of the shell and promptly and efficiently got clawed.  But the thing still had a hold on Danny!

Without knowing what to do, Danny took off across the school yard toward home howling like a fire truck siren.  He was not only the spectacle of the school, but now, the neighborhood.

Garry Don just stood there studying the situation and with a smirk that only he and his daddy (JG Dooley) could do, quietly said "I hope it thunders soon!"

George Cavaness
10-09-1994



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