This is a post about two chelonians ~ Torty and Myrtle.
Torty is brown; Myrtle is purple.
Torty is a real chelonian. Myrtle is an imaginary one.
Though time and reality and colour separate Torty and Myrtle, both are bound by the restorative powers of compassion, kindness, and caring friendship.
Torty is New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War One. The story goes that, in March 1916, she was wandering near a bombed hospital in Salonika, Greece, when she was run over by a French gun wagon. A young New Zealand soldier, a medic on the hospital ship Marama, saw the accident and dug out the tiny tortoise from the wheel ruts. Torty’s shell had been gouged by the iron wheels of the wagon, and she had lost some toes. Her rescuer, Stewart Little, took her back to the Marama, dressed her wounds, and cared for her. When the hospital ship left Salonika for New Zealand, Torty went to. She became a favourite with the wounded, bedridden soldiers. On arrival in New Zealand, Stewart Little smuggled her ashore and cared for her for the next 60 years, until his death. Torty eventually found herself living in a retirement home with Stewart’s daughter-n-law, Elspeth, where she brought joy to residents and visitors alike. When Elspeth died in 2015, Torty was given a new home with Stewart’s grandsons.
The story of Torty is told in Jennifer Beck’s engaging “Torty and the Soldier”,
the last part of which reads:
“Stewart Little’s military service did not distinguish him from thousands of other Kiwi soldiers who served in WW1 in different ways. However, his simple act of kindness in a foreign land has provided the last living link with those who lost their lives in that war a hundred years ago.”
Our other little chelonian, Myrtle, is an unusual hue for a turtle. As I said at the beginning, she’s purple; a rich, deep, decidedly purple, purple.
She is a fictional character, first created by author, Cynthia Reyes, 27 years ago, to help her little daughter manage bullying at school, and her ‘burden’ of difference. Thanks to encouragement from Cynthia’s family, Myrtle has come out from her private shell and into the public sphere. She’s now the star of her own book.
In “Myrtle the Purple Turtle”, we meet a joyful, happy young turtle who loves her ‘turtley’ life until one day she bumps into a rude, bully of a turtle, who questions her authenticity ~ She’s purple! Turtles aren’t purple! How could Myrtle be a turtle? Upset, bewildered, and hurting, Myrtle tries to un -purple herself, by rubbing her shell in the green grass. In the process of trying to change her true self, her world is literally turned upside down. Lying on her back, stranded, Myrtle is finally rescued by her three friends, Hurtle, Snapper and Gertie. They stand beside her, turn her over, and gently restore Myrtle to her feet. And, with kind words and compassion, the three friends help Myrtle understand that we are not all the same, and therein lies the wonder of each of us. “We are all different from each other!” (declares) Myrtle, happy once again.
In turtle terms, Myrtle’s life is only just beginning. I hope her longevity will rival that of a real-life turtle. I hope, like Torty, she will bring pleasure and comfort to generations. Torty’s legacy is one of loving kindness, reaching above and beyond the horror of war. May Myrtle’s legacy be a firm, friendly, loving stand against the ugliness of bullying, as well as against the demeaning of difference.
Both Torty and Myrtle are beautifully illustrated: ” Torty and the Soldier” by Fifi Colston; “Myrtle the Purple Turtle” by Jo Robinson .
And just because I can: –
As a tail-piece to these Chelonian Tales, let me remind you of the original, purple Myrtle. She was not a turtle. In the 19th century she became so popular (supposedly) that many people gave her name to their daughters. She’s a true beauty and she was the very first purple Myrtle I ever met.
Here is her portrait by Robert O’Brien http://www.treeguides.com/ who is the excellent illustrator of the Texas A & M Forest Service’s Trees of Texas resource/identification guide http://texastreeid.tamu.edu/content/TreeDetails/?id=55 ( Bob O’ Brien kindly gave me permission to use his illustration for this blog post. ) Myrtle’s full name is Crape Myrtle, or Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. She’s hardy and resilient and, although she is a native of China ( and Korea ), she is the Official State Shrub of Texas.
One last note: if you ever see the stories of Torty and Myrtle side by side, look at the colour schemes in each book and consider what they might mean, and how they make you feel about each story. Colour matters. In its difference, and its harmonies, it adds beauty and meaning to our world.