"And They're Off! (Or Are They?")
by  Vicki L. Nelson


*'Small Matters' Header Design by Doreen Ingerfeld. 

*Young Scott photo supplied by Deb Busse. 

*Young Johnny photo supplied by Janet VonDeck.

*Story line suggestion: Janet Brayden


New Fiction: Lancer AR

(10th story in the 'Small Matters' series)



“Papi, can Scott and me go down to the pond and go fishin'?”

It's “May Scott and I go down to the pond...”

“Ain't that what I just said, Scott?”

“No, that ain't....I mean isn't what you said....oh, just forget it!”

My elder son expelled an exasperated breath that lifted his ash-blonde bangs off his forehead.  He took his job as big brother to Johnny very seriously.  Unfortunately, the grammar lessons weren't always successful.

“Father, may Johnny and I go down to the pond?”

I looked down into two pairs of pleading eyes; one pair the sapphire blue of my ancestors, the other the steel blue hue of his mother's eyes.

'Papi?'  'Father?'  I thought to myself.  Those are the terms of endearment my sons use when they want to get around me.  Try as I might, though, I couldn't see anything suspicious about a trip to the pond.

“Yes, you may go to the pond.  Be back in time for dinner,” I admonished.

“How we gonna know the time?” whined Johnny.

“Because I'm going to give Scott my pocket watch and he will know what time you need to head back.”

Scott took the pro-offered watch with a grin.  It made him feel quite grownup when I entrusted it to him.

“Thanks, Pa!”  “Thank you, Pa!” they yelled as they bolted out the door.

“Don't go swimming in the pond; the water is too cold yet,” I yelled after them.  “That's all I need, one or the both of you coming down with pneumonia!”

My sons had to be the world's worst patients when they were sick.  They became whiny, fidgety and downright unpleasant.  By the time they were well, I was ready to crawl into bed myself!




Scott sure knows a lot of stuff:  some interesting...some not so much.

For instance, did you know there's a holiday for every day of the year? 

Neither did I.

Scott knew, though, because he had a calendar telling him all that stuff.

“Hey, Johnny!  Do you know what holiday they celebrate on June 7th

“No, I don't, but I suppose you're gonna tell me anyways.”

He cocked one eyebrow at me and frowned.  Danged if he don't look just like Pa when he does that!  It's downright scary!

“Well, if you don't want to know....,” he sniffed.

“Don't get your drawers in a bunch, Scott.  Do tell, what holiday falls on June 7th

“National Turtle Racing Day!”  Scott was practically beaming at that piece of news.

I looked at him and got a brilliant idea, if I say so myself.

“Hey, isn't that on a Saturday?  What say we get a couple of turtles, tell all our friends, and race our turtles in Green River?”

“Well, that could be rather fun.  Why don't we ask Pa if we can go down to the pond this afternoon?”

And so, here we are.




Johnny and I saddled our horses and headed for the pond.  We took along our poles, but doubted if we were going to do any fishing.  We just used that story as an excuse to look for turtles.

Besides, Johnny is too fidgety to fish.  The last time we went fishing, he got impatient because he hadn't caught anything.  He wanted to take his rifle and shoot them out of the water, but I stopped him by telling him there wouldn't be any fish left after that.  Johnny would blow them all to smithereens!

Reaching the pond, we slid down off Shadow and Storm and ground tied them before heading down to the pond. 

We had a couple of hours before we had to get back for dinner so we went to the pond to check for turtles.

It was nearly time to head for Lancer when Johnny finally found a turtle basking on the end of a log, lying halfway in and halfway out of the water.  He wandered out towards the end of the log, being real careful, at least as careful as Johnny can be, that is.

“Look, Scott!  There's another turtle alongside the log so there's one for you and one for me!”

I followed Johnny out on the log and Johnny leaned down to snatch up his turtle.  Unfortunately, the end of the log was slippery and I could see Johnny fighting hard to right himself.

I moved as fast as I could to grab his hand, but wouldn't you know it?  He slipped and pulled me into the pond right behind him!!!  Down into the water we both went with a mighty splash!

We both yelled out.  Pa had been right, that pond was c-o-l-d!

Johnny managed to keep a hold of his turtle and I snatched the other one up before we waded out of the pond.

Johnny looked at me, I looked at him and we both shook our heads.  We were soaked, soggy, smelly, and slimy.

What were we going to tell Pa?

A thought suddenly came to me and I gasped.  Pa's pocket watch was in my pocket when I went into the water!  Pa would have my hide if anything happened to it! 

I grimaced as I pulled it out of my pocket and slowly, carefully opened it up.  Johnny's eyes went big and he sucked in air as he waited.

I was afraid to look, but I had to.  I looked to see if the hands were moving and held it up to my ear to hear if it were ticking.

An expression of relief must have crossed my face as I heard Johnny exhale, saying “Whew, brother!  You're lucky you didn't ruin Pa's watch.  He would have killed you for sure!”

“Don't I know it?  Come on, it's time to head back if we want to be in time for dinner!” 




I looked down at my soggy, smelly, slimy children and frowned.  Scott and Johnny were standing in the middle of the kitchen, leaving a puddle which had Mia muttering in Spanish “Chicos traviesos! Ten cuidado o utilizare mi cuchara de madera en ambos sus traseros!” (Naughty boys!  Be careful or I will use my wooden spoon on both of your backsides!)

Frowning at them both, I said “Why are you wet?  Did I or did I not tell you to stay out of the water?”

Johnny cocked an eyebrow.  “Is this one of them rhetorical questions or do you want us to answer?”

Scott's eyes grew wide and he elbowed Johnny in the ribs.

“Yes,” I bellowed.  “I want an answer!”

“You did,” replied Scott softly.

“I did what?”

“You did tell us not to go into the water.”

I closed my eyes and counted to ten.

“Then why are you wet?!”

My boys looked up at me, then at each other, then back to me again.

“Well Pa...we slipped,” explained Scott.

“You both slipped?” I said incredulously.

“No, Pa.  I slipped and Scott tripped,” said Johnny.

I turned my back to my sons so they wouldn’t see the smile threatening to break out on my face.  Their explanations were comical, but I didn't want them to know that.  When I could control myself, I turned around with a frown.

“All right.  I want you both out of those soggy, smelly clothes and into a bath before you catch your death of cold.  Mia will bring you clean clothes and we'll hold dinner for fifteen minutes while you clean up.”

I took my eyes off the boys and looked towards Mia for conformation when I heard Johnny giggle.

Turning around, I asked.  “Do you find all of this funny, John?”

“No...no, Sir....it's just that Scott tickled me!” snorted Johnny.

“Scott!” I exclaimed.  “Did you just tickle your brother?” Scott looked at me with eyes wide, then back at his brother in disbelief.

“Uh, yes sir.  Sorry, sir.  I realize this is neither the time nor the place to be acting up,” he said, still looking at Johnny.

I harrumphed as I turned towards Mia and asked her to bring clean clothes to the bath house.


Whipping my head around, I observed Scott still watching Johnny with his mouth wide open and his eyebrows disappearing into his hairline.

“Johnny!  Really!  Excuse yourself!” shrilled Scott.

“Um...oh....sorry, Pa.  Sorry, Maria.  Sorry Scott...I burped.”

“Well, that's rather obvious,” I snorted.

I then noticed that my younger son had his arms wrapped around his middle with a strange look on his face.

“Johnny, are you feeling sick?” I asked with concern.

“Uh no, Pa...my burp hurt my stomach!”

“I don't doubt that.  It hurt my ears...  All right, to the bath house now!” I ordered, with a swat to each soggy backside.  Not hard, just enough to get their attention and hurry them on their way.



“Johnny!  Don't tell me you have a frog down your shirtfront, along with both turtles?”

I looked at my brother like he'd grown a second head.

“Yeah, Scott.  It was a big old bullfrog, I couldn't leave him back at the pond!”

“Uh yeah, you could have!  We're just lucky Pa didn't catch on!”

I peeled off my wet clothes and was all set to climb in the tub.

“Johnny!  You can't leave the turtles and frog there with your wet clothes!  Mia is going to pick them up when she brings our clean clothes!”

“Hmm, okay...I'll put the turtles in the tub with me.”

“Soap won't be good for them, Johnny!”

“I ain't stupid, Scott.  I ain't gonna use any soap while they're in the tub with me.  Mia won't get close enough to see them.”

“What about the bullfrog?  What if he starts croaking?”

“I'll just slip out and put him in the horse trough.”

“You're going to run outside naked?”

“Are you loco, Scott?  Of course not, I'm gonna wrap myself up in a towel and I'll be back before Mia gets here.”

I raced outside, tossed my frog into the trough, then skedaddled back to the bath house.  I grabbed up both turtles, tossed them in my bath water and then jumped in right behind them, seconds before Mia showed up.



I was sitting in the tub silently thanking God because Pa didn't ask about his pocket watch.  Suddenly

I looked up in time to see two turtles go flying over my head and into Johnny's tub with a plop, Johnny following directly after.

He just beat Mia by a few seconds.  She came in, picked up our wet, clothes, and laid out dry clothes for us.  She smiled at us and turned to leave when Johnny started giggling hysterically.

Looking at him oddly, she asked, “Juanito, que es tan divertide?  Te comisle las lus plumas para el desayuno?”  (Johnny, what is so funny?  Did you eat feathers for breakfast?)

“No...no, Maria...Scott just got done telling me a funny joke...!”  I looked at him in disbelief, hoping Maria didn't want to hear my 'supposed' joke.

Luckily, she simply shook her head, told us not to be late for dinner, then closed the door behind her.

“Johnny...what is wrong with you?”

“I couldn't hel...help it, Scott...the turtles were nibbling on my toes and it tickled!”

“Well, come on....let's get dressed or Pa will yell at us for being late for dinner.  Run upstairs and hide the turtles and I'll stall for time.”

Johnny got dressed, put the turtles in a basket and ran up the back stairs while I went in to the Great Room.  Pa looked up at me with a slight frown. 

“Where's Johnny?”

“Um, he had to visit the necessary...he'll be right here,” I murmured, taking my seat.

Just then Johnny dropped into the chair across from me before Pa could bellow. 

Dinner was relatively calm and we both asked to be excused so we could race up the stairs to tend to our turtles.



“We gotta name 'em, Scott.”

“Well sure.  What are you going to call your turtle, Johnny?”

Johnny snickered, looked at me with a sparkle in his eyes and said, “I'm gonna name him Murdoch!”

“You can't name your turtle after Pa.  It's not respectful!”

“All right....what if I call him Murdo instead?”

“Well....I guess that's a little better.”

“What are you going to name your turtle, Scott?”

It was my turn to snicker. 


Johnny looked at me in surprise and we both burst out laughing as we rolled on the floor with the giggles.

After we calmed down, Johnny asked me what turtle racing was all about.

“Well, the article I read said that you line up your turtles side-by-side in the sun.  They'll naturally head for the shade and the first turtle over the finish line wins!”

“Won't be much fun, just the two of us racing turtles...”

“You're right, Johnny.  Hey, how about we ask all our friends if they want to join the turtle races with us?”

“That's a good idea.  Let's ask them all tomorrow.  How long until turtle racing day?”

“We've got a week.  That should be plenty of time for everyone to catch their turtles and practice.”

“I just thought of something, Scott.  How we gonna tell one turtle from another?”

“We just paint numbers on their backs with whitewash.  It doesn't hurt them.”



The next day was Saturday so after breakfast and chores were finished, Johnny and I saddled our horses and rode over to our friends' homes.

Several hours later, we had plenty of participants: 

Matt and Billy Anderson, Josh and Jimmy Johnson, Sam and Joe Butler plus Blair Talbot.  We didn't ask Blair's brothers, Kendall and Rory because they were too grown up to want to race turtles with us.  Besides, they might try to stop us for some dumb reason.  They were practically adults and adults never seem to want you to have any fun.

We decided we'd race our turtles in Green River in the alley behind The Black Jack Saloon.  That would give us a whole week to practice.



Now turtle racing ain't real exciting.  Scott and I practiced every day up in my room.  Sometimes Murdo would win and sometimes Harlan would win.  And sometimes, Scott and I would fall asleep waiting for them to cross the finish line.

Give me a good fast horse every time!  Heck, a frog-jumping contest would be more lively!  I had rescued my bullfrog from the trough and he was definitely more lively.  I named him “Paul.”

I mentioned this to Scott, but he snorted and said it wasn't National Frog Jumping Day, so we were going to race turtles.

My brother sure likes to stick to the rules but I told him that there better be a National Frog Jumping Day and he better tell me when it was.




Out in the kitchen, Mia poured me a cup of coffee.

“Patron, have you noticed that we have had no insects in the house lately?  That is unusual for summer.”

I had to agree with her.  There had been a welcome dearth of flies, gnats, and mosquitoes lately.  I wasn't sure why but I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.




Pa wouldn't let Scott and me ride to Green River on our own yet.  Luckily, he was having lunch with Miss Nancy on Saturday and we begged to go along to meet up with our friends.  Pa was agreeable.  In fact, he's been a lot easier to live with since he started seeing Miss Nancy.

My brother and I hoped they'd never stop seeing each other for obvious reasons plus we really liked her!



It was a sunny day when we set out for Green River in the buckboard.  We were careful to hide Murdo and Harlan under a blanket on the way to town.  I doubt Pa would have even noticed; he was too busy dreaming about his upcoming lunch date with Miss Nancy.

Pa pulled the buckboard up in front of the cafe.  With a warning for us 'not to get into any mischief,' Scott and I jumped out of the buckboard and raced for the alley behind the saloon.

Everyone was waiting for us with their turtles, including Missy Murphy.  I had told her all about National Turtle Racing Day and she wanted to join in.  I didn't see no harm in it but the other boys kicked up a fuss about it.

“Aw, let her race her turtle.  It ain't like she can win or nuthin.' “I protested.

“I can too win!  My turtle's just as good as any old boy's, probably better.  Just 'cause I'm a girl don't mean I can't win!”

The boys snorted, but decided to allow Missy into the race.  We all thought she didn't stand a chance against us.

Missy's prissy big sister, Laura (and Scott's girlfriend,)  was there, too, and as usual all gussied up and girly.  It was plain disgustin.'”

She turned her nose up and sniffed, “Melissa Murphy...how can you touch one of those horrid...creatures?!”

“There's nuthin' disgustin' about Swifty!  Your boyfriend Scott is racing a turtle, too, ya know!”

She fluttered her eyelashes at Scott and purred, “Well, yes....but he's a boy.”

“Well, la di dah!” snorted Missy, in disgust.



 “C'mon, are we gonna race our turtles or not?” complained Matt.

 “Hey, let's make this more interesting.  Let's bet...winner takes all!” offered Josh.

 “How much?” questioned Blair.

 “Fifty cents a piece,”  I said.

 “That's a little steep, ain't it?!” grinched Sam.

 “What's the matter?  Ain't ya got no confidence in your turtles?” taunted Missy.

 While we were all debating about our bets, several men staggered out of the saloon and wanted to know what we were doing.

 “Hey, that's sounds interestin.'  Hey, fellas...what say we bet on the turtles, too?  Winner takes all.”

 They all agreed, the wager being $3.00 a piece.




It was time for the race to begin.

We lined our turtles up at the starting line in the strong sun and I whistled to begin the race.

Ten turtles started to move lazily towards the shade.  Now turtles don't travel in a straight line or move very fast, so there was some confusion and bottle necking at first.   Matt's turtle Pokey ended up on his back so he was out of the race right outta the gate.  After what seemed like forever, one turtle crossed the finish line and into the shade.

Missy's turtle!  We was all beaten by a girl!  She gladly took all our money and gloated.

One of the men had bet on Missy's turtle and he took all the money in the pot.  His friends didn't look too happy 'bout it, neither.

We was all grouped about, jawin' about the race when Sheriff Gabe walked up and cleared his throat to get our attention.

“I see you've all been racing turtles.  Did you know that's against the law?”

“What?  Turtle racing is against the law?” squawked Scott.

“No, but betting on turtle racing is; it's on the books.  I'm gonna have to take you men to jail.”

“What about us?  We're just kids; are you gonna lock us up, too?” I squeaked.

“No, I'll just keep you all in my custody until your parents come and take you off my hands.”

We groaned. 

“Couldn't you just arrest us?” asked Scott, hopefully.  “Pa's gonna kill us!”




So we all waited at Sheriff Gabe's jail until all our parents staggered in, none looking well-pleased.

When they found out turtle racing was against the law and they'd have to pay a fine to get us back, they looked even less pleased.

Sheriff Gabe let us go after paying a fine and Pa escorted us to the buckboard.  He'd had to cut his lunch date short with Miss Nancy so he was feeling especially prickly right about then.

“Honest, Pa....we didn't know turtle racing was against the law.  We just wanted to celebrate National Turtle Racing Day,” I pleaded.

“I'm not upset about the turtle racing,” replied Pa.

We couldn't believe our luck.

“You're not upset with us?” asked Johnny, hopefully.

“You didn't let me finish.  I'm not upset about the turtle racing, but I am upset by you boys betting.  You both know how I feel about that!  And, finding out that betting on turtle races is illegal was the topper!”


Johnny looked up and gave Pa his  best“ puppy dog” look. 

“Are ya gonna whup me and Scott?”

Now Johnny and I have different approaches.  Me?  I'd rather not ask a question in case I might not like the answer. 

Johnny?  He's too nosy.  He'll ask the question, no matter that a lot of times the answer is rather painful!

“Even though I think you both probably deserve it; I'm not going to take the two of you to the barn when we get home.”

“You're not?  How come?” 

I glared at Johnny and hissed, “Don't push it!”

“Johnny, my boy, if I tanned you and your brother every time I thought you deserved it, I don't know what would wear out first – the seat of your britches or my arm.”

“So, you're not going to punish us?”

“I didn't say that.  I figured if the both of you can afford to bet fifty cents, you must have plenty of time on your hands and money to burn.  So I'm going to withhold your allowances for a month, that should just about pay your fines.  I'm also going to give you both some extra chores to keep you out of trouble.”

We both groaned. 

“No money for a month?  I think I'd rather get a whuppin!'” whispered Johnny.

I rolled my eyes and nodded in agreement.

Whack!  We jumped up in the air when Pa gave us both a mighty swat to our backsides.

Besides having eyes in the back of his head, we forgot about Pa's acute hearing.  Johnny swears that Pa could hear a gnat break wind...well, Johnny actually puts in it a less delicate way.

I'm inclined to agree with my brother about Pa's hearing.

Pa grinned at the surprised looks on our faces.

“Well, boys.  I could take the two of you out to the barn when we get back to Lancer, but the original punishment will still stand.”

“Uh no, Pa.  That won't be necessary,” we both exclaimed as we raced for the buckboard, Murdo and Harlan in hand.





So we went back home, did extra chores and went without an allowance for a whole month.  It was a mighty long month, too!

After our punishment was finally over, I sneaked up to Scott's room and ripped up that damned calendar!

...But not before I noted that May 13th is National Frog Jumping Day! 

I wonder if betting on Frog Jumping contests is against the law, too?


-The End-


1.  National Turtle Day:Turtle racing is an event in which participants typically place turtles in the center of a circle and watch them walk around until one of them crosses out of the circle. Initially popularized as an event geared toward children at county fair and picnics in the Central United States, it has since grown in scope and popularity and other variations of the event have been held.

Several variations of turtle racing exist. While turtle racing typically takes place on land, turtle races have occasionally occurred in pools as well. Some races begin with the turtles racing from a starting location and end when they reach a designated finish line. Outdoor races occasionally start the turtles in a sunny spot near a shaded area and the turtles by nature race into the shade.  Other races begin with the turtles all being placed in the center of a large circle, the first to pass outside of the circle is deemed the winner. In some cases, a large lid is placed on top of the turtles before the race and the race begins when the lid is lifted off of them.  The turtles are often distinguished by numbers painted or taped on their shells.

Turtle racing may also be illegal if bets are collected due to gambling regulations. In the United States, arrests have been made due to illegal gambling at turtle races almost as long as turtle racing has existed there. In 1930, members of the Boston Police Department raided a turtle race at which spectators paid a fee to sponsor a turtle and won a box of candy if their turtle was victorious. The police confiscated the turtles and candy and the organizer of the race was fined $60. The turtles were returned to him however, due to the lack of a proper police facility to store them.

2.  Frog Jumping Day is held each year on May 13th and is a great day to jump like a frog.  Or, is it    intended to jump “over” a frog.  Either way, May 13th is a fun day.

But, is this truly the reason for this day?  The roots of Frog Jumping Day go back to Mark Twain's first short story.  It was first published in 1865 as “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.”  Later, he published it as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”  It is also known under a third title, “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

While there are many links and references to Frog Jumping Day evolving from Mark Twain's short story, there has yet to be a determination for this particular date.  May 13th is neither the date of Mark Twain's birth, nor his death.  (Please note I took poetic license since my story takes place in 1861.)

3.  “Tripped/Slipped” borrowed from Ronnie's story 'Home.'  I thought it was ingenious.

4.  Kendall, Rory, and Blair Talbot are property of Janet Brayden who kindly let them come out and           play with the Lancer boys.

5.  Fifty cents in 1861 would be worth $13.89 in today's currency.   Three dollars in 1861 would be   worth $83.33 in today's currency.


June 2014

Responses always appreciated at vickinelson@mediacombb.net





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