He was 12 when a stranger left him a novelty turtle.
- Posted on Dec 24, 2019
What will it be this time? I wondered, yanking the rope through my bay window. Games? Puzzles? My twin brother, Brad, had rigged this pulley system to run between my second-floor bedroom and the front yard. Neighbors and friends left presents for me in a wicker basket, and I’d hoist them up once a day. The basket held everything from comic books and card games to snacks and flowers. I even pulled up a banana plant one day. Those little gifts really brightened my spirits.
It was mid-December and I’d just gotten back from Boston Children’s Hospital. The doctors had put me in traction for a month to treat the arthritis in my hips. My family visited from the suburbs, and I got to meet three Boston Bruins players. But being alone in a hospital was scary for a 12-year-old. Boring, too. This was 1968. There were no tablets or smartphones to help pass the time. I kept busy making crafts, but the days felt long.
Now I was finally home but still confined to bed for another five months. For a kid who loved being outside and running around, this was torture. My family tried to cheer me up by playing games with me. They even put the Christmas tree in my bedroom. But apart from a tutor who came on weekday mornings, Brad’s pulley system was my biggest connection to the outside world.
I gave the rope one last tug and peered into the basket. Staring back at me were two little black eyes poking out of a green body. I couldn’t believe it—a turtle!
I lifted her onto my chest. “Hello,” I said, petting her shell. Who had put her in the basket? There was no note. I thought of all the people who had been so kind to me. Mom. Dad. Brad. My sister Suzanne. Cousin Diane. Diane, I thought. I’ll name her Diane.
Dad set Diane up in a fish tank by my bedside. We watched shows together on a tiny black-and-white television, and I let her crawl around on me. Dad decorated her tank, including her own little Christmas tree. Everyone warned me not to get too attached; novelty turtles didn’t usually live more than 12 months. But I was smitten. I showered Diane with love and affection and always told her what was on my mind. She was a great listener.
Time came and went. One year. Two years. Ten! I thrived—Diane did, too. Eventually Brad and I opened Twin Designs Gift Shop in Bristol, New Hampshire. We kept Diane in the back office, but our customers loved her so much that we moved her out front.
“Can I see the turtle again?” people would ask when they came into the shop. It warmed my heart.
Visitors, whose photos cover the shop’s walls, come every week to watch Diane and to browse through all our turtle merchandise. It’s been 50 years since some wonderful soul put a 50-cent turtle in a lonely boy’s basket. They couldn’t have known what a joy she’d become. Diane is one of my oldest friends. After all, we grew up together.
View Diane’s live web cam at dianetheturtle.com.
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