He dresses in long blue pants, white shirt, red bow tie, yellow vest, a long, green tailcoat and a red ball cap with a turned up brim. However, just like little boys and girls do, Turtledy Durdledy walks on two feet and talks. His fashion sense? Well, that may be more aardvark.
Turtledy Durdledy lives with his momma in Water Valley, Mississippi, down on Johnson's Branch not too far from downtown, the railroad station, the Early Bird Cafe and the Blackmur Memorial Library.
Sitting in a pool of rain water and radiator fluid, Turtledy Durdledy thought about all the books he would check out if they would give him a card.
But Blackmur Memorial Library discriminates, his momma said. And SHE WAS RIGHT! Simply because he couldn't flip through a book like other little boys and girls did. He didn't have fingers. He had to use his mouth to turn the pages. And the pages were getting all wet. The librarian said she was getting sick and tired of drying them off.
She's a mean lady, Turtledy Durdledy thought. Always cleaning her eyeglasses. Sucks her teeth. Cookie crumbles in her lipstick. Nilla Wafers. Who needs to read anyway? Not Turtledy Durdledy, he thought. Momma wrote a diary. Reading and writing's not for him. He was going to be a singer.
Momma worked next door to the library at Frank's Clothing store where she worked as a two-headed turtle. She sat on the counter. She didn't really have two heads. Frank made up a fake one and told momma she had to wear it. Then she had to try and make "assumed" sales to customers for "impulse" items like handkerchiefs and neckties. Frank also ran the Three Fifteen Package Store outside the Yalabousha county line. Momma called Frank "Mr. Big." Sometimes Turtledy Durdledy's momma would say it was a good thing they lived in a dry county. Turtledy Durdledy thought this as he got up and plodded through the wet muck of Johnson's Branch. When he made momma mad, she told him sometimes he near drove her to drink.
"But I don't drive, momma. Mississippi discriminates."
"That's it," she'd say, "If anybody's looking for me, I'll be 'three sheets' over at the Three Fifteen."
"Why do they call it the ''Three Fifteen Package Store, momma?”
"Is it because they're tryin' to say you can buy their liquor whether it's 3:15 A.M. or if it's 3:15 P.M.? That it don't matter none to them? Is THAT what they are TRYING TO SAY?"
"Take it easy there, turtle. No. They call it the Three Fifteen Package Store because it's on Highway 315 West. But that's good. I'll have to use that sometime."
She was always funny like that.
Turtledy Durdledy emerged from his isolation and mudding, turtle style, with a snap. Hopping to, he ran home and arrived just a-singing his head off like usual. It was time to clean up and help momma make supper. Tonight was going to be special, but he had to clean up anyway, momma said.
"Ohhhhh, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck...and I - Love - You!" he sang over and over.
Oh what fun they would have making supper tonight. They were going to have lima beans, cornbread, white gravy - and his favorite - apple pie.
Today was his birthday and his Aunt Ruby and Uncle J.I. were coming all the way over from Grenada.
Turtledy Durdledy danced through the door of his little home in the woods and immediately stopped singing when he smelled smoke.
He ran into the kitchen and saw that the cornbread was getting all burnt up in the oven. Black smoke made it dark in there and he stumbled over something when he ran to turn it off. He hit his head instead and came down hard on the floor face to face with his momma. She was asleep.
Turtledy Durdledy heard a knock on the door. At first he thought it came from his heart. It was Aunt Ruby and Uncle J.I. with Doctor Nohno who lived next door in his tunnel.
Later, after momma was picked up and put in the show bedroom, Turtledy Durdledy was told to stay out so he got real sad.
He wanted to sing a new song he came up with in the mud today. It was for his momma. He had planned that they could learn it together and sing it together while they made the lima beans, cornbread and white gravy. And don't forget the apple pie. YUM!
But momma was sleepy or something, he guessed. He was mad. "Why didn't she just take a nap so she could be ready for the party?" he thought.
Aunt Ruby came out of the bedroom. She could tell Turtledy Durdledy was sad. He had taken off all his pretty clothes and was lying on his shellback under the kitchen table. He was rocking himself back and forth, listlessly moaning.
She decided to go ahead and give Turtledy Durdledy his birthday present.
You want to know what it was? They brought - all the way over from Grenada - a tape recorder! It was used. Aunt Ruby also had a tape recorder. It was used too.
“And she can TALK, BOY!” Turtledy Durdledy's momma would say. But not today. She was quiet today. "J.I. brought that tape thingy back for Aunt Ruby so he could get off the hook.” And then she'd make her "KHuHH!" sound like only momma could. But not today.
"What do you mean momma, '...so he could get off the hook.' ?"
Turtledy Durdledy didn't know what that meant. Confused by the picture in his head, he figured momma was talking about the birds and the bees. His Uncle J.I. worked at a bird and bee slaughtering house that put birds and bees on little hooks. Maybe Uncle J.I. had to concentrate on the wiggling birds and bees and not be listening to Aunt Ruby's talking.
But Aunt Ruby said now that Uncle J.I. found Turtledy Durdledy a tape thingy, he could send them radio shows. Even though they live way over in Grenada she was friends with a courier pigeon whose momma lives next door in the tree.
"It will be fun," Aunt Ruby said.
And she likes to hear Turtledy Durdledy sing she said.
He likes to sing songs. Songs his momma sings with him. Songs they sing when they make supper. Like, "Ohhhhh, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck and I - Love - You!" But not tonight.
And Turtledy Durdledy writes songs. He sings them to himself usually. He wrote one today he thought up while eating a rotten watermelon somebody threw in the branch. Sugar high. He can't think of a title. Maybe you can help him?
Listen to the pictures in your ears
and just press PLAY.
I see the songs in your eyes
and just press PLAY.
I turn it on, I click around, I scan your dial and smell your sound.
So, don't turn off. Keep your groovy ground
and just press PLAY.
Again thinking about his wonderful new song, Turtledy Durdledy forgot his momma was sick and ran to get five dollars. He would take the train to Memphis and record it. He would dedicate it to his momma. He ran into the bedroom. "Momma, can I try out my new song for you? Where's your purse?"
There was much violent yelling...Uncle J.I. Hard. It shook the plates on the walls.
Uncle J.I. was crying. He said his momma doesn't want to make a radio show with Turtledy Durdledy now.
Turtledy Durdledy ran out of the house and out of the woods and downtown towards the Early Bird Cafe with his tape recorder.
Screw them. He would make a tape for his momma. But he needed music. Turtledy Durdledy didn't know much about recording, don't let the outfit fool you.
He thought if he gathered the beautiful music that he heard everywhere around him into the box, it would all come out the way he feels.
First he needed drums. So he knew what went BUMP-BUMP-BUMP! So off he ran to record the sound of the baker's mixing machine. The machine that made the donuts. He liked donuts. And so he sang. He sang to the chuka-chuka noise and waited on the donuts. His recorder caught it all.
He made it up as he went along and sang:
"To the beat I'll repeat
a pitter-patter in my feet.
And my power and the flour's
risin' up through the hours.
I'm a turtle indiscreet.
And baker's redder than a beet.
But I'm going to go not now."
The baker looked up from his donut machine and raised an eyebrow. He offered Turtledy Durdledy a donut cooling on a rack nearby, but dinner was in-the-makin', so he declined. He pushed stop on the machine and went down to the goat farmer to lay down some horns. After many more adventures and recording a jig here and another jig there, Turteldy Durdley's box was plum full of good music. So he ran home.
He got there just in time to find his momma being buried in the ground by Uncle J.I. and Aunt Ruby. The courier pigeon's mother sat on an abandoned refrigerator and watched them dig.
Turtledy Durdledy ran over and Mrs. Pigeon gathered him up and put him under her wing. He stayed there until it became unbearable, with odor, then he pulled free and ran back to his bedroom.
There sitting on his bed was a tape.
There was a note on it. But Turtledy Durdledy never learned to read. So he took the note outside and asked his Aunt Ruby to help him read it. It said, "TURTLEDY, JUST PRESS PLAY."
Aunt Ruby said his momma was playing with his birthday present while she was making his supper.
"She wanted to sing you a song for your birthday. She was laughing so hard, Turtledy Durdledy. So hard."
Turtledy Durdledy ran back inside, and tried to put the tape into his tape recorder but he couldn't figure out which button said OPEN.
So he ran back outside and asked his Aunt Ruby to help him read it.
She showed him what all the buttons said and he ran back to his room, opened the recorder, took out his tape of Water Valley music and put in his momma's tape. He heard:
"A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck and – I – Love – You!"
It was his momma.
"Hey baby. I'm making dinner for you. You just relax tonight. I got the cornbread in and Aunt Ruby is ranting on and on to your Uncle J.I. about how bad turtles drive. Stereotypes! I'm about to put the beans on and thought of a song. Here it goes, my baby. I love you. I don't have a title, but maybe you can help me.
"Lima, Lima, Lima, Lima,
Lima, Lima, Lima Bean.
You are so green,
and smell so mean-nee-nee-neen!"
Then Turtledy Durdledy heard his momma laugh so hard she called out, "OH MY!" Then the tape stops.
Turtledy Durdledy played the tape several more times.
Then he put his momma's tape in the top drawer of his cabinet along with his underwear, a deck of cards and some interesting rocks he found in Johnson's Branch. Turtledy Durdledy began humming his momma's song. Then he began to sing it. Then he was really "belting it out," as momma used to say. He started to move his body to the music he heard in his head. He found his tape of Water Valley music. Turtledy Durdledy saw his Aunt and Uncle outside crying. He shrugged and just pressed PLAY.