About the time we pulled off the road and began to turn around, a ‘72 Chevy Impala – of a non-descript color that had once been blue or gray or silver – had skittered off the road a few feet from the turtle. As I approached car and turtle, the driver – a skinny old fellow with a shriveled face displaying a squint and containing few teeth, dressed in raggedy t-shirt and baggy jeans – hitched himself out of the car and across the road as quickly as his unwilling hips would allow. Oncoming traffic veered to avoid him. His passenger, a well-worn, red-faced Dukes of Hazard look-a-like, grinned dopily in turns at me and his dare devil friend.
With head down to delicately pick my way through slivers of metal and glass I heard Bo Duke cackle with delight and looked up to see the old boy in the road lift and quickly drop the turtle. My progress was slow as the heat and stiflingly high humidity dragged at my limbs, but within 20 feet of what I had been sure was a dead turtle, I saw the old man pick up the turtle again and speed limp back across the road holding by the tail a very much alive and very angry turtle. Whatever was wrong with the old boy’s hip was not holding him back at all.
“He gonna bite yew,” Bo hooted and I could see sticking out of the whopping carapace the turtle’s jaws snapping in a head the size of my fist and his clawed feet flapping with rage. Alternately watching my footing and the turtle’s ill-fated progress, I got to within six feet of the old Chevy. As I opened my mouth to speak, the grizzled hillbilly popped open his trunk, swung the turtle round in an arc, threw him in head first, slammed the lid with a screech of metal on metal and got back in his car. All in one movement and without making eye contact with me, though I knew he saw me. Dressed in pink Capri’s and a lace top and tottering across to him in sequined flip flops, somehow or other I posed a threat to him and “his” turtle. Did he think I might wrestle him for it?
My mouth still hung open as he spun his wheels in the dirt and roared off, Bo Duke’s head thrown back in raucous laughter. “Did you see that?” I squealed as Jimmy caught up with me, not quite sure I could believe what I had just seen. It all happened in seconds.
“Well there’s dinner,” he quipped.
“They will eat it you know.”
“Oh, yes. Turtle soup. Turtle stew. Fried turtle.” We had just seen a snapping turtle, common along the banks of the Mississippi River which was only yards from where we stood. The Englishman, who cannot fathom eating snails (slimy!) or crabs (a bottom feeder which looks likes a crusty spider), certainly could not get his head ‘round eating this ugly ferocious creature harvested from the road.
We had cheesy baked potatoes for dinner that night – all protein that required the ultimate sacrifice of an animal was off the menu.