#83 – Mandarin Turtle – Megan Sanborn Jones

She was a tiny girl, a toddler really, and small for her age.  Her hair had never grown very fast but it had grown lighter and lighter, changing from the dark brown of her birth to a nearly silver gold.  Now it barely touched her shoulders in waves that weren’t proper curls but would never entirely straighten out.  As a teenager, this tendency for neither one nor the other would make her despair.  At two, she had more important things to worry about.

She lived with her mother (and her father when he was in port) in Taiwan.  There, her pale skin, freckled nose, bright bright hair, and green eyes were not just an anomaly.  They were an attraction.  Her mother sometimes covered her head with a scarf or a hat to avoid the crowds that would gather around in the grocery store, waiting for the bus, or playing at the park.  Some of those who followed the girl just wanted a closer look, others tried to snatch stands of her hair, maybe for good luck.

On her second birthday her mother put her hair up into piggy tails, a compromise between down and covered up, and took her to the zoo.  The Taipei Zoo was (and is) the largest zoo in Asia and it was the perfect way to spend such a day.  The girl was thrilled with the the animals, thrilled with her mother, and thrilled with herself.  She told everyone she could find that today was her birthday and she was two years old today.  Whether they understood her or not, her enthusiasm was infectious.  Soon, she was attracting more crowds than the animals, an affection she took as part of her due.

After the zoo, her mother took her for a drink of her favorite plum juice and to pick out one special gift.  In a small jewelry store she found it—a jade turtle just like the ones she had just seen at the zoo.  The owner gifted her with a thin gold chain and she left the store proudly wearing her new necklace.  A small, old turtle around the neck of small, young girl—the symbol of longevity.

The girl would wear the turtle throughout her life only on those days she deemed worthy of its presence:  her very first day of school, the third grade dance festival, the first time she spoke at church, when she sang at her high school graduation.  She would wear it for luck when she auditioned for shows.  She would wear it for grace when she was angry and needed to find peace.  She would wear it for the memory of the tiny girl dancing through crowds at a zoo, blissful at the joy of being alive.

And now, the girl has a daughter of her own.  A tiny girl, a toddler really, and small for her age.  Her hair hasn’t grown very fast but it has grown lighter and lighter, changing from the dark brown of her birth to a nearly silver gold.  And when her daughter wears this turtle, only on the most special of days, the girl can almost smell the warm animals in the sun and hear the murmur of Mandarin and taste the sour plum juice tart on her lips.

~ Megan Sanborn Jones, Orem, Utah

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