Not All Turtles Care About Their Shells

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 10, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Many years ago, I read an article suggesting that people, especially men, and their automobiles are like turtles and their shells. Turtles cannot live without their shells, because the shells are fused to their bones. Each turtle shell is different in shape and even color, mainly because of the environment the turtle lives in and what it eats, too much protein, for example causing lumps on the shell. Contrary to what I used to think, a turtle can feel it when you touch his shell and feels pain if the shell is hit. The turtle and his shell are inseparable, and the shell is part of his identity.

            Although I am not able to pull up the article out of the archives, I do remember that the writer was convinced men especially identified with their car or pickup so much they spent much of their time in it and felt incomplete without the vehicle. Like turtles, most men don’t want to leave their shell. Men will sit in their car or pickup and just listen to music, even in front of their house, and especially if they are waiting for their wife at the grocery store. Usually women do not do this, and will for example, get out of the car and wait in the barber shop as the husband gets his hair cut, much to the annoyance of the male customers telling off-color jokes. I have observed that phenomenon, even though I do not allow my wife to go to the barber shop with me.

            Isn’t it true that we recognize people, especially men, by the car or pickup they drive? No doubt the choice of vehicle is very important to most persons and reflects a great deal about them. My father, for example could always be seen in his 1957 Ford pickup, still driving it in the 1970’s, and still owning it when he died. If folks saw that pickup coming down the street, they would never think it was my mother, they would say, “There’s Max”; they wouldn’t say, “There’s Max’s truck,” or “There’s Max driving his truck.” My mother, on the other hand, drove a small, “one-legged” Ford Pinto (she called it “one-legged” because it had no clutch). While Daddy’s truck looked like him, Mama’s car was rather nondescript, and she spent as little time in it as possible.

            When he was still single, my brother was very fond of his car; it seemed to have a personality that matched his. It was a Chevy Impala, very trendy in those days, and always washed and waxed. He drove it fast and hard, and he spent a great deal of time in it. When I see a car like that today, I fell nostalgic and think about my brother, who was so different from me.

            For me, a car was a necessary evil, — I was not fond of driving and traveling, and mechanical devices, large or small, always baffled me. I drove my car because I needed it, so it never mattered to me what kind it was, just that it was cheap and got good gas mileage. When my youngest daughter got a job and an apartment in Manhattan, she learned that owning a car in Manhattan was actually a liability, so she sold her little 2005 Chevy Aveo to me, and we were both happy.           

            Never feeling much identity with any car, in the many years I drove the Aveo, I always thought of it as her car, not mine, and I loved the car because it reminded me of her. Even though I had to drive it to Wallis every day, it was not my “shell” that I lived in; it always looked like the sophisticated little girl my daughter was. Beautiful, sophisticated, and a little saucy. When I finally stopped driving this year, I sold the Aveo, and felt very sad, not because I was losing my identity shell, but because I would no longer have a reminder of my youngest daughter.

            At the time I read the article comparing people and their cars to turtles and their shells, I disagreed with the author, because I myself had never felt any identity with or attachment to any of my “shells” (other than my daughter’s Aveo). However, since then, I’ve known many who are inseparable from their vehicles, as well as some who are not. It’s kind of ironic that earlier in this crazy year 2020, giant turtle fossils were found in South America, and those who found them said each was as “big as a car.”


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.

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