When my dad left, Mom took the youngest of us and moved to Louisiana to live with her father. My grandfather, James P. Morgan Sr., lived in a small town named Tallulah, LA. This area is the epitome of country! The nearest house was about a mile up the road. The bayou was literally across the street. There was nothing but trees, fields, and dirt roads for as far as the eye could see. The highlight of the week was when we would get to go to “town.” Town was about a 25-30 minutes’ drive away. Piggly Wiggly was the main grocery store. I believe the city had two stop lights in its entirety. It was in no way, shape, or form comparable to what we had left behind in Illinois, but it was the closest thing to civilization that we had. A trip to town was always welcomed. The process of getting acclimated to country living was quite an adjustment for my siblings and I! Boredom took on a whole new meaning! We would actively search for things to do. I remember driving around on Granddad’s riding lawn mower for fun. I recall learning that ants down south are an entirely different breed than the ones we had grown accustomed to while living in Illinois. We learned the hard way that those little suckers bite- HARD! Then, the itch that comes next…Ugghhhh! Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. Mom wasn’t too please to learn that we set those fire anthills ablaze as an act of retribution, but hey, they had it comin’!
One of the only things we were not allowed to do was to go into the bayou. Because it was so very close to the house, we were warned of the dangers that lurk in and near the water. There were snakes, snapping turtles, and alligators. So, for our safety, we steered clear of the water. However, that rule only applied to the children. J.P., as other adults affectionately called him, would often fish, hunt, and quite frankly, do whatever the heck else he wanted to do where ever he wanted to do it. After all, it was his land. While making his rounds, J.P. came upon a turtle. He brought it into the house and we were so excited! “Can we keep him? Can we keep him pleeeeeeeeeeeeease,” we said while giving our very saddest puppy dog eyes. “Granddaughter, who’s gonna look after that thing,” he questioned. “We will Granddad! We will be responsible,” I promised. Surprisingly, it worked! Granddad let us keep the turtle! Happy does not properly describe the sheer excitement coursing through our kid veins as we realized we’d just been given a pet turtle! We got straight to work. Our first order of business was to give our new buddy a name. We quickly decided to pay homage to one of our favorite TV shows, TMNT, and named him Donatello. For several days, Donatello lived lavishly! His resting place was the bathtub. He had plenty of room to relax in a cool, damp, dark environment. We played with him often. We tried, unsuccessfully, to teach him tricks. We tried to teach him his name. Now that I think of it, we treated him more like a dog than a turtle. I can tell you from personal experience that turtles don’t play fetch, but that didn’t matter because we loved him. Donatello was living the good life!
While tending to Donatello’s bathtub home, I heard a rustling in the kitchen. I peeked out the bathroom. It was Granddad. He seemed to be looking for something. I went about my day like normal. It wasn’t unusual for granddad to be in the kitchen. He was a pretty good cook. I came back a while later. There was this huge, cauldron-looking pot on the stove. It was filled with water and had already struck a boil. Before I had a chance to inquire about what was on the menu, my grandfather went and picked up Donatello from his bathtub home. I witnessed him walk Donatello over to the cauldron/pot. Granddad held Donatello, by his back leg, and dangled him over the pot. Then, without even a second thought, he dropped Donatello into the boiling water. I never knew turtles could make noises until that day. There was this high-pitched sound emitting from the pot. I watched Donatello splash once, twice, and then his body just kinda froze. I stood in that kitchen in complete disbelief. My body was about as rigid as Donatello’s was as he floated in that huge pot. I was stuck. As I stood there, Granddad matter-of-factly explained how turtle souse was far better than any hog head cheese he had ever eaten. And he couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into some. I remember him standing over the pot, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. What fresh hell was this?!? Turtle souse?!? I never knew….