“Gift shops.” The term conjures up my former love/hate relationship with them. More love than hate. Hate is actually too strong of a word.
On the low end, I used to think of gift shops as pushers of cheap and unnecessary plastic thingies: thingies that were bound to break, clutter our lives, or be out-marketed by the next great thingie. Meanwhile, strong perfume lingered on the high end gift shop items, which were either highly breakable, overpriced, or extremely self-indulgent.
I was wrong.
Gift shops afford us the opportunity to bestow our friends and acquaintances with specialized goods or mementos. They help us to honor achievements or commemorate milestones. Shopkeepers invest their time and money in filling their shelves and stockrooms with pertinent and potentially meaningful items for their customers to obtain on short notice. Gift shops help us to honor our friendships.
They also provide a place to hear about community events, the weather, and, at times, chatter about current events. Shopkeepers also contribute time, money, goods and services to local organizations and events.
When we moved to this area Betty owned the Marshfield Hills General Store. She provided good cheer, great coffee, and a great deal of helpful information to this new resident. With the general store attached to a village post office, her store also served as a hub for neighborhood social exchanges.*
Our first Christmas here we also met Chris at Humming Rock Gifts. The owner, Chris, served as one of her neighborhood’s unofficial mayors and coordinated many community events. Just as importantly to me, she stayed open late my first Christmas Eve when an unexpectedly long return home from corporate work found me in very late pursuit of a few more items to share out-of-town the next day.
Both Betty and Chris have become and remained treasured friends. In a roundabout way it is because of both of them that I met Diane the Turtle. Diane doesn’t talk about her age. Diane doesn’t shy from it. She’ll be 50 in December and she is a live turtle.
It was because of Betty that I was in New Hampshire on Saturday. It was because of Chris that I stopped by the TwinDesigns Gift Shop in Bristol, NH owned by twin brothers Jim and Brad Tonner. (Betty is also a twin to Judy. That’s not really relevant to this story but I love Judy just as much. Hi Judy, thanks for the tip about the garden center sale shelf!)
Through professional associations and a mutual friend, Chris has known Brad and Jim for more than 30 years. Prior to owning their shop, Brad and Jim did design work and produced promotional goods. Their shop is filled with many items with their customized work and sweet philosophy of life. I had been encouraged to meet them.
One of the first items to catch my eye was a book entitled, Let's Be Nice, which provides young and old people examples of moments and events affording us the opportunity to be nice. Brad and Jim had written the book; Brad illustrated it. I knew I’d like them when I met them. As I walked through the store I saw other books and items produced in a similar style and philosophy. Their store offered something not fitting in my narrow description of gift shops above. It was something beyond a tangible good. Yes, gifts shops and shopkeepers like Betty, Chris, Brad and Jim offer hope and joy at times. These four did!
At the back counter of the TwinDesigns Gift Shop I heard peals of laughter from the proprietors and some customers. There stood two brothers who surely love what they do and the people they serve. We hadn’t met for more than 45 seconds when I was invited to a celebration for Diane, who would be celebrated for her 50 earth years this coming December. (I don’t know her age’s equivalence in painted turtles’ lives.)
Yes, as Jim put it, she arrived in the Tonner family as a ten cent turtle when he was a bed-ridden young boy recovering from a long hospitalization at home in traction. Through the ingenuity of family, he had a pulley system rigged outside of his window and was bestowed gifts on many days from family, friends and neighbors. To this day, he claims he doesn’t know who left the little turtle for him. Diane may have arrived as a gift to Jim, but she was raised and tended to by the entire family. That love has been returned in her longevity and stardom.
A bit about her name. A mural-sized enlargement of an old black & white photo of two women in a canoe adorns one wall in their gift shop. In the photo, the twins' mother is in the bow of the canoe; her sister in the stern. Not seen is another Diane, an aunt's daughter, who was so good to Jim during his recovery. It was because of Diane’s kindnesses during his extended recovery that Jim named the turtle Diane.
Within two minutes of meeting Brad and Jim, Jim invited me to meet Diane in her own little side room. The walls leading to the room, the walls in her room, and well into the next room are covered with photos of Diane and her visiting fans. She has quite a reach with her fan base! She even sports her own webcam, streaming at www.DianetheTurtle.com.
According to Reptiles magazine, painted turtles in captivity have been known to live upwards of 50 years, although the average life span is shorter, 25-30 years.
Last December, Brad and Jim hosted a 49th birthday party for her. More than 800 turtle cookies were enjoyed. They are planning a big celebration for Diane’s 50th to be celebrated December 1.
Fifty years is a feat either way. It's also a strong indication of the love she's received from the Tonner family. While I visited, Diane showed signs of having nibbled on her lettuce and hand fed strawberries. It may be food that feeds her but her longevity could also be a result of her total environment. If that's the case, then it's joy, laughter and love that nourishes her. I wouldn't doubt she could live another 25 or 50 years.