Ruby the turtle takes a final trip to the farm, completing circle of life

This column is reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The writer is the husband of Ozark County native Marla Morrison Messenger and the son-in-law of Gainesville resident Carlene Morrison, who owns the farm where Ruby is buried.


After more than 30 years of parenting, I presided over my first family pet funeral last weekend.

Ruby was a red-eared slider.

My daughter, Bethany, found her on a country road in Ozark County a couple of years ago. The turtle was barely the size of a quarter.

We had found other turtles on visits to the family farm where my wife grew up, but they never made their way back to the city with us. Usually, we’d put them on the back patio at my mother-in-law’s house for a couple of days in a plastic pool with some grass and strawberries. We’d send them back into the wild before our trip back home.

But Ruby was a keeper. Her first home was a cake pan.

Shocked that we didn’t kill her three weeks or so after bringing her home, we bought an aquarium.

She outgrew that one and we bought an even bigger one.

She seemed happy enough.

Until that day around Thanksgiving when she was floating upside down.

It reminded me of the first time I lost a goldfish.

There were two of them, actually: Rocky and Jaws.

It was the ’70s, obviously, and I was 10 or so, about the same age my daughter is now.

We had a red-brick wall in the corner of our yard that was the entrance to our subdivision. I dug a hole, buried my fish, and marked the grave.

The story I remember is that my sister gave them too much food.

Everything I knew about turtle care, I learned on Google.

These are the moments in life we remember: our first brushes with the pain of loss.

I turned to Twitter for help before Ruby’s funeral service. I wanted to read a bit of Scripture that would properly memorialize the occasion. I settled on Luke 12:6: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”

The verse reminded me of another holiday trip to the farm.

My brother-in-law was teaching one of my sons to shoot. After some safety lessons and target practice, they wandered around a couple of barns looking for sparrows in the rafters.

Andrew shot a few. Now he carries a rifle for a living, as a U.S. Marine.

Death is a way of life on the farm. Sparrows, cows, goats, deer.

There are no funerals. It’s a circle of life thing.

But Ruby died in the city. We brought her back where we found her to memorialize her life and death.

Bethany painted a headstone. Her cousins and brother scouted out a proper burial spot and dug a hole.

I prepared to say a few words.

How does one eulogize a turtle?

The whole thing reminded me a bit of a Sunday this summer when we were down on the farm and we decided to have our own church service rather than go to the church my mother-in-law attends. The kids designed the entire thing. They read Bible verses and sang songs. My son gave a brief sermon. Something about integrity, I think. It was all going well until one of the cousins burped loudly while passing out communion.

We laughed uncontrollably. The post-service potluck was fabulous.

As a young altar boy, this was always my greatest fear, that I’d spill the holy water, or burp, or ring the bell at the wrong time, or trip while lighting a candle and light the whole church on fire.

There were no candles at Ruby’s funeral. Just a few words, a moment of silence and the sounds of farm life in the background. It rained later, which always brings the turtles out on the farm, crossing the dirt road, in search of something.

Life marches on. Slow and steady she goes.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423

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