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My Great-Grandmother Is a Turtle

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Every day, you are coming into contact with countless objects. At this moment, I can name a hundred items around me—the chair I am sitting on, the keyboard my fingers rest on, the computer screen in front of me, the clothing on my body, the cluttered papers on this desk— the list could go on forever. The world around us is made up of things, most of which are unimportant and easily replaceable. In my own experience, objects that truly mean something are rare. I have had only a handful of possessions precious to me in my life. Of those, only one stands out as being something I really treasure, and is really priceless to me. It is a decorative “soap turtle”-- an exquisite handmade object, although that is not the main reason that I value it. My great-grandmother, Grace, made it, and she put a lot of love into it. She died many years before I was born, but she is someone that I admire very much and wish I could have known.

This item is a cover for a bar of soap, in the shape of a turtle. Women used to make soap turtles to preserve soap, because it was very valuable. This one has never been used, and even though it is almost fifty years old, it still looks new and beautiful. It is crocheted in turquoise and gold yarn, with embroidery on the head and tail. Grace made it for my mother, as part of her hope chest. The idea behind a hope chest is that a young girl’s family makes her linens, clothing, and the like so that she will have an array of lovely items for her home when she is grown and has her own family. The notion seems rather antiquated now, but Grace was born at the turn of the century, and it was something she grew up with. Grace made other linens, but the soap turtle is the only thing that has survived the years.

Grace is someone I will never meet, but have heard so many stories about, I feel as if I know her. She grew up in a log cabin in North Carolina, and worked hard her whole life- she ran a fish market at one point, and she worked as a nurse for several years. She was a very strong woman. She was a devout Quaker, and her spirituality was a vital component of who she was. Grace was a patient and compassionate human being, and she had a clear sense of family. She was an abstract painter, too, and she was passionate about painting. The people in my family who knew her describe Grace as being a very moral person, as having a backbone of steel, as not being superficial or flighty. They say she didn’t mince words, that she had a very strong personality and a sense of humor, and that she was kind. I picture her the way my mother describes her- tall, with white hair and violet eyes, wearing long gray dresses. My mother was very close to her, and she made my middle name Grace after her. My great-grandmother lived in a different era, but she has always been a big figure in my heart, and because this one object is the only thing I have from her, it somehow symbolizes to me everything she was.

Another big part of why this object is so dear to me is because it reminds me of another time. It is an artifact from a different world than the one I live in. I turn it over in my hands and wonder what she was thinking when she made it. It makes me wonder, too, if there will be people remembering me after I am gone. I like to think Grace would have wanted me to have this, a token of her life and her love for her family. I imagine that if she were still alive today she might have loved me too. She is definitely a role model to me. It is wonderful that I have this, something she made to remember her by.

The soap turtle is an object that is not extraordinary unto itself, but at the same time it is invaluable to me because of what it represents. It has been passed down from my great-grandmother, to my mother, to me. It is something I will always cherish because it was made by someone who I look up to and aspire to be like. For me, in a sense, the turtle is Grace. It is the embodiment of everything I’ve ever been told, envisioned, or imagined of her. Not unlike a rope being paid out to a cave explorer, it is my anchor to the past, the bedrock of a more certain time.



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