Of all the pets our family has had over the years, Norman the turtle was without a doubt, the most unpopular pet of all. He came to us in a rather unconventional way, and had we known the trouble that persnickety turtle could cause, we would have just kept on trucking down that Idaho byway.
Norman was found crossing an isolated mountain road, which was surprising in itself since turtles aren’t remotely indigenous to the area. I was rather sure he hadn’t escaped and guessed that someone decided to “set him free”, not thinking that a turtle wouldn’t be able to survive a frigid Idaho winter. I gave the nod and the kids squealed like a couple of piglets while they scrambled out of the car to rescue Norman before he became someone’s dinner.
According to our local pet store, all a turtle needed was a warm habitat, fresh fruit, lettuce and a little protein. An old aquarium was pulled down from the attic and set in the dining room where it was warm. The boys dug up a few small plants, and created a rocky path and a small pond to give Norman’s terrarium that Wild Kingdom touch. Fresh sliced apples garnished with a sprig of parsley and half a worm, you would think any turtle would have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. But not Norman.
He hated fruit, from the exotic to the commonplace and turned his beak up at our offering of Romaine and Ice Berg. What he really wanted was those fresh, juicy worms and lots of them. The boys couldn’t dig ’em up fast enough, and old Norman would tap-tap-tap away on the terrarium walls until the next course showed up. Flower beds were turned over hourly in search of night crawlers, and garden pots tipped over and excavated. Every square inch of garden space was stripped of worms and when the boys began eyeing the lawn, I put my foot down and told them to look elsewhere.
They discovered a mountain pond which was filled with thousands of baby frogs. The boys scrambled to fill jars with handfuls of leaping critters and delightedly proclaimed that the frogs would keep Norman fat and content through the winter ahead. That evening, one of the boys fed Norman a frog who eagerly grabbed it with his turtle lips, swilled it around in his mouth, and then promptly spat the little bugger out.
The frogs were shelved and we agreed they’d be return back to the wilds the following day.
At 2 am, our family was awakened by a racket like we’ve never heard….loud, ear piercing, incessant chirping…”One of the damned frogs” we thought and raced to the kitchen. With thousands of frogs mashed together like…well, sardines….we couldn’t isolate the one with the yodel and just piled the jars deep in the back of the coat closet.
At 3 am, the chirping started up again, this time louder than ever. My husband grumbled “I’ve had it up to here with these wretched frogs. Out they go tonight!”. We grabbed armfuls of jars and trudged down the street to a nearby irrigation ditch where they would be swept away to chirp in someone else’s yard.
At 4 am, we staggered bleary eyed back into the house to hear that infernal chirping at a more frantic pace than before. “Oh no,” groaned one of the boys, “one of them escaped!” We crawled around the floor searching for that elusive critter, pulling up rugs, moving furniture, diving through seat cushions. We began closing the doors to pin down the noise.
By 5 am we found ourselves crawling around the floor in the kitchen. Beneath appliances and in drawers, in potted plants we searched diligently for the culprit that was keeping our family awake. Eventually, one of the children noticed that the noise seemed to come from the curtains and we each took a section of drapes and searched every seam and every fold. We worked ourselves up to the rings, and then the rods, certain that we were getting closer to the chirping and wondering aloud how a frog could stick to the ceiling.
At precisely 5:30, we discovered that our smoke detector emits a loud, obnoxious, continuous chirp when the battery is going dead.
We shared the story of our madcap evening with neighbors who laughed until the tears rolled down their faces. One old-timer was particularly amused. “Of course turtles like frogs”, he said “But what you nitwits caught were a bunch of toads!” The neighbors dubbed the incident “The Celebrated Frog Misadventure” but to our family, it will forever be known as “Turtle Trouble.” And Norman? Norman found a new home at the City Zoo.