Tessie & Pete



When I spoke to Robin about the next issue of “The LJ News” she mentioned that they were going to be taking a look at the “Solo Flight” album. I started thinking about “Solo Flight” and that period of time for us. Occasionally we identify periods of time by the cast of animals present. I tend to accumulate animals. I don’t go out of my way to do this, it comes to me. Laurence is quite accustomed to the periodic pigeon, that waddles, hurt or helpless, up to our doorstep. I’ve often wondered how they all know to come to our house. Anyway, during the Solo Flight sessions we acquired Tessie. I walked out the front door one day and was surprised to see a turtle making it’s way across our lawn. It looked like a small army helmet. I walked out on the freshly cut grass and grabbed it just as it was heading over to Meagan’s yard. Meagan isn’t real big on pets, so I figured it was better off with me. I had never had a turtle, except for some vague childhood recollection of a small creature, with a painted flower on its back, residing in a plastic turtle-Hawaii with a palm tree. But this was a substantial turtle. Nico, 9 at the time, held it, while I took a polaroid. I took the picture to a pet store to find out what kind of turtle it was, and what those kind ate. It was a box turtle, the pet people said that box turtles liked fruits, veggies and they get protein from bugs. They told me to offer all sorts. They also said it was a girl. Ilsey wanted to name it Tessie. I told her not to get too attached, as I was planning to try and find Tessie’s owner.

But until I could ask around, and make some “found” posters, I put Tessie in the little courtyard area, she would be safe from the dogs there. Tessie didn’t seem too impressed with my food offerings, until I tried cantaloupe. She went crazy over it. She stayed there munching on melons until a few days later, just as mysteriously as she had appeared, she vanished.

Sunday night, close to midnight Laurence and I heard a commotion in the back yard. He hadn’t put the dogs in for the night, and they were barking. I went out to get them when I saw Tessie. She was upside down, and it looked like something had gotten to her. One of her legs looked pretty badly hurt. Maybe one of the dogs, but how did she get all the way into the back yard? I couldn’t worry about that right now. I had never seen a turtle in shock, but I had to assume that this is what it would be like. I put her in a box and ran out in my night shirt to the car. Laurence stayed with the kids while I drove to the pet emergency clinic. When I entered with Tessie the nurse took one look and shook her head. She said: “Sorry, we don’t do reptiles.” “This is an amphibian!” I cried, but she still refused. The only place that was open at midnight on Sunday that could handle an amphibian emergency was out in West L.A., 45 minutes away. I got back in my car and drove there, still in my nightshirt.

The doctors were doubtful about her leg, but they did their best. I had to keep her warm, cleaned and medicated with daily injections, bandage changes and heating pads. In the end she ended up losing the leg anyway. We put a little (escape proof) area together for her where she has been eating cantaloupe and walking happily (though sometimes in circles) ever since.

It was about a year after this that I heard a knock on the door, and a woman I vaguely knew seemed quite agitated. “I know you have a lot of pets, so I figured it must be yours” She began. “What?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. “The turtle! A big old turtle running down the middle of the street. You better go get it before a car squishes it.” She got into her car and left.

How on earth did Tessie get out? And running? Even at her fastest, I’d hardly call my 3-legged turtle’s pace a run. Oh well. I hurried out the door and around the corner and was surprised to see a huge tortoise, bigger than a full sized dinner plate, moving amazingly quickly down the middle of the street. But, true enough, if I didn’t do something a car was sure to flatten it. I jogged after it and grabbed it.

Laurence patiently listened to my explanation of why it was my duty, and mine alone, to make sure this creature was okay, and how it needed to stay at our house until we could find its home. Ilsey got back from school and was thrilled. “Let’s call him Pete!” She exclaimed.

“Pete? Why Pete? Why not Tommy the tortoise, or Timmy? Something that goes with Tessie the turtle?” I suggested. “No. Pete. It looks like a Pete.” She held firm. “Okay, Pete it is.” We had to form a strategy of locating the tortoise’s owner. I suggested we talk to the neighbors, see if they knew anyone who owned a tortoise. We asked Karen, because Meagan as I said, isn’t real good with pets.

Karen thought it over and replied that she could be mistaken, but she thought the people a few houses down might have a tortoise. Ilsey and I decided to go ask them. But we discussed it and decided that since these big kind of tortoises are really quite expensive, and since you never know what other cultures might do with a tortoise, we wanted to be sure it was truly theirs. We arrived at a plan. We would ask them if they had lost a “pet” recently. That way they would have to identify the species.

We knocked on the door and a woman answered. “Have you lost a pet?” asked Ilsey. “Why? Have you found a tortoise?” She asked anxiously. We nodded, and at that, she turned and called happily to somebody inside the house “Honey! They found Pete!”. Ilsey’s mouth dropped open. We were astounded. Ilsey had thought it looked like a Pete, and incredibly she was absolutely right, its name was Pete.

About a month later Karen called to say that Pete had gotten out again, and some construction guys working on the remodel down the street had picked him up. I headed off to rescue him, once again. And indeed, he needed rescuing. He looked terrible. He had some sort of swollen area near one eye. I quickly called Linda (Pete’s owner) to come over and get him. She thought it was odd, because he had looked fine earlier that day when she had given him his food. It took only a moment for her to reach my door, and I took her around to get Pete. One look and she turned to me, “That’s not Pete.” She said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Oh, yes, I’m sure. This tortoise is smaller, and a different color.”

Amazing. Yet another turtle, or rather tortoise on our street. Well whoever this one was, he needed help. I asked the construction guys who had found him on the site. One guy said he sort of dug him up. Who knows how long he had been there if he’d been hibernating. I called a friend who has a back yard full of tortoises for advice. She said to bring him by. I brought him over and she said he had an abscess. She could treat him, and keep him until I figured out where he belonged.

“What’s his name?” She asked. I thought a moment. “Well, it’s not Pete.” “Hmm. Not Pete. Okay.” She replied. And that became his official name. He still lives in her back yard, he’s fine now, and in the morning she goes out to give him his breakfast and she yells “Not Pete!” and he comes truckin’ out.

An unusual number of turtle related experiences, don’t you think? I was thinking about it recently as I brought out some cantaloupe for Tessie. I sat with her for a moment, and our gardener came up beside me. I always liked our gardener, a nice man, Vietnamese, with two thumbs on his right hand. He looked at me and the turtle for a little while and then he spoke. “You like that turtle?” I replied, “Yes, I’ve had her for nearly five years now.” He took a pause. “I give you that turtle.” He said simply. I didn’t understand. He continued ” Long time ago I find that turtle in big trash can. I know you like animals, so I put turtle on the grass.” He smiled and went back to gathering up leaves.