Last month my sister and I were talking about libraries and we suddenly both looked at each other and said, “REMEMBER THAT TURTLE WE USED TO SIT IN?” and our kids sort of looked at each other like we were crazy, and we are, but not about this.
I think everyone has at least one thing that they loved as a child and that they wish they could find again, always searching for it at thrift shops but never finding it. For us, it’s the yellow turtle.
We spent hours each week in school libraries and on bookmobiles but twice a month our mom would take us downtown to the big library in the next town. It was enormous and the children’s section was a large room in the corner that smelled of old books and new bindings and cellophane, and it was quieter than any other place on earth. It had a muffled, reverent silence like a church and it made everyone speak in a whisper even without knowing it. But that wasn’t the best part of the library. The best part was the turtle.
Technically the children’s library section had several animals present, all made to sit on while you read. All shaped out of a hard hollow plastic. The second best animal was the giraffe (the size of a baby giraffe) that had a hollowed out space in its backside where you could sit and read and rest your head against the neck of the beast and your swinging feet became it’s tail. But the best was the turtle. It was low to the floor but enormous (to a child’s mind anyway.) In my head it’s as big as a boat but probably it was 3 or 4 feet long and only a foot or so off the ground. It was made to perch on top of as you read (like a giant mushroom with no stem) but we discovered that the underside of the turtle was concave, so we would flip it over on it’s back, crawl inside the turtle, and rock while we read. I can still hear the welcoming thud that the turtle made when it flipped over and I can feel the smooth, cool surface of the underside and the bumpy textured surface of the shell, and the gentle motion of rocking as if I was safe in a cocoon…in a ship that cradled me, amid a sea of stories and of quiet that beckoned you to read.
I wasn’t surprised that Lisa remembered the turtle but I was surprised to find that both of us had been looking for one for years. Presumably for our kids, but deep down I think we both would have bought it for ourselves. We’re too big now to comfortably hide in the deep recesses of the turtle with a book but we still feel it beckon us. And perhaps the memory is enough. Maybe finding it would ruin the magic. But I suspect we’ll both keep searching.
It made me wonder if everyone is like this. If everyone has a thing they search for…something from childhood that they never got, or want to recapture. A physical thing…like a book long out of print, or a toy a neighbor had that you always wanted, or a song that you knew but now you can’t remember, or a silk blanket that your grandmother had that you loved and that disappeared and you never found another blanket that comfortable or comforting again.
I have lots. Some books that I’ve found again at thrift shops and now treasure. Some that I still can’t even identify enough to search for them. Some songs that I’ve found. Some that are lost. Some things that were better in my memory, as things often are. Some things that are talismans that take me back in time. But still I search for the turtle..carrying the memory of it inside me just as it once cradled me.