1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

Turtle Thief

Apparently, there is a fine line between being a rescuer and being a thief. And it’s a good thing I was too young to get charged with ‘breaking and entering’.

Snappy's close-up

Snappy’s close-up

I spotted a snapping turtle in the neighborhood stream flowing from Doty’s pond. I spent days trying to catch it without getting my fingers snapped off.

David and I, along with most of our friends, owned painted-turtles at one time or another. They spent their short lives in a plastic turtle bowl featuring a spiral ramp leading up to a tiny island in the center. Small stones placed in the moat area attempted to make their home more pleasant.

Fast forward: Two years later, my new little sister, Susan, toddled over to our turtle table. She grabbed David’s turtle and tried biting it in half. She didn’t succeed in eating turtle-sushi, but she did shorten its already short life span.

Back to the present: Our painted-turtles had tiny heads, cute mouths, and their shells were the size of a silver dollar. My uncaught snapping turtle had a big head, vicious mouth, and his shell was as big as a cereal bowl.

Mikey LaCross, brother of tattooed Deedee, crawled under Weaver’s barbed wire fence and walked over to stand beside me. I expertly balanced one foot on a tippy rock at the stream’s edge and scoured the murky bottom for Snappy.

“What’re you doing?” he asked, in a deceptively innocent voice.

I made the mistake of telling him.

Later that afternoon, he got a fishing net from his father and caught my turtle. He had the bad sense to invite me over and show it off. Snappy was stuck in a bucket in Mikey’s living room.

“That is my turtle and I want it,” I politely explained.

“I have just as much right to catch it as you do,” Mikey incorrectly answered.

Obviously, he didn’t abide by Mary’s rules.

He refused to hand Snappy over. Mikey should have known I wouldn’t let him get away with it. Therefore my actions that followed are still his fault.

After dinner, I said, “I’m going over to play with Mikey and Deedee.” (It’s a good thing I wasn’t Pinocchio or I’d look like Jimmy Durante)

I snuck under LaCross’s picture window and peeked in. Past the living room, I saw the family eating at their kitchen table. I crept back around to the open patio between their garage and house. Slowly and quietly I turned their doorknob and crept into an entryway. I could hear them talking and eating to my left. I slithered like a ninja-snake into their living room on the right. Their talking turned to whispers I couldn’t make out. A conveniently placed couch provided cover from the kitchen while I confiscated my turtle.

The return trip was harder because of my ill-gotten load. As I crawled back, I never looked into the kitchen, where I’m sure the LaCross family sat watching in disbelief. I made it back to the entryway, exited the house a lot faster and louder than I entered it, and ran all the way home.

Fifty years later and a bad hair day, yet some things never change!

Fifty years later and a bad hair day, yet some things never change!

I breathlessly showed Mom and Dad the turtle I ‘caught’. Dad rigged up a home for Snappy in a cardboard box, with a dog-bowl of water and bunches of clover. I sprinkled leftover painted-turtle food in the water and kept my ears pricked for police sirens.

The next morning, Mikey came over. “I know you stole my turtle.”

I patiently explained, ‘First of all, Snappy was never your turtle. He was mine. Second, he probably got loose due to your carelessness. And third, I didn’t steal him. This is a different turtle I caught and it just happens to be the same size as Snappy.”

Technically, I didn’t lie about my third point. I didn’t steal Snappy. I rescued him.

“You’re a liar! My whole family knows you stole my turtle! We watched you do it.”


Undeterred, I explained the reason for my uninvited presence during their dining experience.

“If you must know, I was getting something I accidently left in your living room. And excuse me for being so polite. I didn’t want to disturb you while you were eating.”

Maybe Mikey was a teeny bit right about me being a liar.

“You’re a thief.”

Ditto about me being a thief.

Mikey didn’t know what happened to the last person who called me a robber. Lucky for him there weren’t any rotten tomatoes handy. Mikey left empty handed, but without any squished vegetables on his face.

I previously had a worm supply in my underwear drawer that Snappy would’ve enjoyed, but Mom threw them out after they dried up. I didn’t normally keep worms in there, but a couple weeks earlier I searched the freshly plowed furrows in Uncle Edward’s field, and mercifully saved a handful of the dug up crawlers before they got mushed by tractor tires. I wrapped them in a dirty tissue and zipped them in my jacket pocket. When I got home I stored them in the corner of my bureau drawer and promptly forgot about them. A few days later, Mom figured out what smelled in my room.

After school the next day, I ran to check on Snappy. His box was empty. Mikey swore up and down he didn’t steal him back. I believed him. I couldn’t picture Mikey having the guts to sneak into our house.

“It serves you right,” said Doubting David, who never bought my identical turtle story.

Mom and Dad helped search the house, but Snappy remained missing for four days. Each night, Mom knelt to say her prayers with her toes curled, just in case. She must have had a crystal ball, because on the fourth night my dust-covered escapee crawled out of my parent’s bedroom closet and surrendered, on Mom’s side of the bed.

Snappy was returned to the wild the next morning. I made Mikey triple-promise he wouldn’t catch him again.

Lesson learned: Snapping turtles are like worms, they don’t make the best pets.

Related posts: Exposed/Visiting Planet Earth; Pandemonium Trail/Body Art; Pandemonium Trail/Squishy Foot and Monkeys


Now it’s your turn: As a kid, did you ever sneak into a neighbor’s house?


© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Donna Ingalls says:

    I like your biography, Mary — very interesting. However there is blatant grammatical error I wish to bring to your attention. “Two years later, my yet-to-be-born sister, Susan, toddled over to the turtle table.” If she was yet-to-be-born, how could she toddle over to the turtle table? The sentence needs to be rewritten — obviously she had already been born. Yet-to-be-born should not be part of that particular sentence. I know you are an author, and this is a mistake that you simply didn’t notice. Sorry…

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. It will be corrected.
      And I’m glad you like the story. Browse through the others. You’ll see David plays a major part.

      • Donna Ingalls says:

        I’ve been reading them all, and they are so yesterday (in a good way). Anyone who is your age or — heaven forbid — my age will be able to see parts of themselves and their respective childhoods in your stories. Those were special times…

  2. Donna Ingalls says:

    Oh yes — I see that you changed the wording in that sentence — it makes sense now. Lol…

  3. This was one I hadn’t read. I love turtles…have four ceramics of my own. Years ago I used to babysit one named Dribble. Loved him. I think it’s so great when an essay evokes a personal memory, so thanks for that Skinny 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Susannah, I love the name ‘Dribble’. We have painted turtles in our pond that I like, but we relocate any visiting snappers. I’m glad you enjoyed this story.

  4. Wowee! I also used to love catching whatever I could (minnows, tadpoles, snakes, turtles, etc.) in streams, rivers and puddles and have had similar bad hair days. Who hasn’t had a turtle or been fascinated by them? I applaud your audacious rescue effort – I was known to become strident and self-righteous in the cause of animal welfare as a child (somewhat less self-righteous as an adult – probably no less strident).
    Thanks for visiting and LIKING my current fun – daily photos from my own true vintage closets. Lots of memories and intrigue there . . .. . . . . . .

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mary, I missed this story too. I love it! No, I never even thought of sneaking into a neighbor’s house….lol

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, anonymous. Obviously I didn’t think about it or I wouldn’t have done such a thing. I’m so thankful my four children didn’t take after me.

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