Here's the complete story of what transpired:
About 10 years ago my daughter Claire was living in the Woodside neighborhood in Queens while working for Mercy Corps in a facility in Brooklyn for developmentally disabled adults.
I stopped to see what she wanted, and what she wanted was to show me the contents of the small white plastic container she was holding.
Inside the container was a tiny aquatic red-eared slider turtle, about two inches long, the kind that you used to be able to buy from Woolworth's back when I was young. We used to call them painted turtles, they were common as goldfish are now, and most every kid had a little pet turtle which lived in a flat plastic bowl with water in the bottom for the turtle to swim in and a ramp for the turtle to climb on when he didn't feel like being in the water.
The sight of that little turtle in the container gave me a rush of nostalgia.
“Five dollars,” said the lady.
Now I knew that you couldn’t buy little painted turtles anymore, I think I’d heard somewhere that they carried salmonella, or something. But I also knew that my youngest daughter Theresa, who was around 17 at the time and a hard-core animal-lover, would be delighted if I bought her that turtle.
“Five dollars?” the lady asked impatiently.
The exchange was made and I walked away with a turtle in a plastic container. Which I now had to transport from New York back to Ohio. By plane.
I hurried back to Claire's quarters down the block, an old Catholic convent that she shared with 4 other Mercy Corps workers and three Nigerian nuns.
It was right around
Claire was delighted with the turtle and thought it would be an excellent gift for her younger sister, but pointed out that, before even addressing the problem of getting turtle back to Ohio, the first order of the day was to get some food and suitable lodgings for the little critter.
Claire, also an animal lover, knew of a little aquatic pet store in the neighborhood that she liked to hang out at to look at the tropical fish.
So we hurried to the pet store and asked the clerk for a turtle bowl and some food.
"How big's the turtle?" asked the clerk.
"About this big," I said, separating my thumb and finger about 2 inches.
"It's illegal to buy or sell a turtle that has a shell span of less than 4 inches," replied the clerk sternly.
After a few moments of distressed silence the clerk said, "We don't sell turtle bowls. All we sell are these salamander bowls."
We followed him to a shelf from which he pulled down a flat bowl with a ramp rising up from the middle. Your basic turtle bowl.
"I guess we'll take that salamander bowl," said Claire.
"And do you have any, um, salamander food?" I asked.
"They like these brine shrimp," he said as he handed me the can of shrimp, looking none too approving.
So, our turtle soon properly housed and fed, we now had to cogitate over how to get him (or her?) home.
The more I thought it over, the less of a good idea it seemed to try and smuggle this illegal turtle onto a plane.
Claire thoroughly agreed, and she came up with an alternate plane.
One of her fellow Mercy Corps friends, Jeannie, was from Philadelphia. Jeannie's mother and sister just happened to be visiting for the weekend. Claire had a friend from college, Mark, who lived in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
Claire had spoken to Mark recently and he'd mentioned that he'd be driving out to Dayton, Ohio, soon to visit a college friend who'd settled there.
So here was the plan formulated by committee among Claire, Jeannie, Mark, Mark's friend, Jeannie's mother and me:
1. We'd give the turtle to Jeannie's mother who'd drive to New Jersey and hand it over to Mark.
2. Mark would care for the turtle until his trip to Dayton, at which time he'd take the turtle with him and pass it off to his college friend.
3. The college friend would care for the turtle until I returned from New York and could drive down to Dayton to retrieve the turtle and bring it to its new home in Columbus.
And it all came to pass as planned, flawlessly.
Theresa was, in fact, delighted with her new pet whom she named Billboat after a little turtle pin I was given when I was five years old with a green shell, gold head, feet and tail and red glass eyes. I'd forgotten all about Billboat, though I suppose at one point I must have told my children the story of how I'd named my turtle pin and of how I took him to first grade with me one day and he disappeared from my desk and how I never told my parents or anyone else because I didn't want them to get upset, not at me, but over the fact that Billboat was gone.
But now, Theresa told me, Billboat had come back to me.