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Turtle Island

“Everything in these two rows of tables, 50 cents,” I told the dark-skinned couple as they moved slowly down the aisle, stopping occasionally to pick up an item and inspect it, an old-style eggbeater, a slightly used George Foreman grill, complete with instructions.

I had joined the throng of “garage sellers” who blossom during Old Threshers in Mt. Pleasant, deluging the landscape with hawkers (including every road leading into Mt. Pleasant), selling everything from pots and pans to rusty old tractors. Only I was “justified” in holding my garage sale. When Ginnie and I got married going-on two years ago, we merged two households. We’d both had hurry-up garage sales at the time, but there was still a lot of stuff left over I had shoved into the barn and let the mice have their way with. Since I’m wanting to get a bucket-calf in the spring, I needed to make room. Everything had to go, and fast. I priced the stuff for a quick sale, so I wouldn’t have to handle it again, or haul it to the Quarter-Maybe-More store. A lot of the items I had paid good money for, like an antique ballot box — bye bye, only $2.

The man stopped and fingered a black iron trivet in the shape of a turtle. There were two of them — a mamma and baby turtle, or maybe a papa and baby.

I knew what he was thinking, “Fifty cents each or fifty cents total?”

Before he could ask, I volunteered, “They go together, fifty cents total.”

He reached in his pocket for change.

“You know where Turtle Island is?” he asked.

I thought for a moment. I had heard the term somewhere. “Uh, Wisconsin?” I ventured.

He harrumphed, “Turtle Island is North America.”

“That’s right. Now I remember.” Then it came to me. The couple was not Hispanic like I had assumed. They were Native American.

He launched into the story using a lot of hand gestures. “Sky Woman fell down to earth when it was covered with water. Different animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back enough dirt to create land. The muskrat was able to gather dirt and put it on the back of a turtle. The turtle grew into North America. That’s why North America is called Turtle Island. Some say it resembles a turtle.”

My phone beeped. My old phone had crapped out, and I had just gotten a new one. I was still getting used to it.

He shook his head in disgust, “That gadget gonna save your bacon when you’re up to your neck in water?”

I must have looked puzzled.

“Ask the folks in Texas. Phones went dead after 24 hours. Couldn’t charge’m. Most rainfall ever in the United States.”

He really emphasized the word, “ever.”

I shook my head in agreement.

“It’s only the beginning, white boy. Man has polluted the environment until She cries out for help.”

After they left I checked my phone for the average elevation of Iowa. It’s 1,100 feet. Illinois is 800. Illinois will go first.

Contact Curt Swarm at 319-217-0526 or

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