Days of the glass-bottomed sea turtle

I was sick for more than a week when I was eight. I don’t remember the diagnosis. I only remember fever, racking waves of coughing, towels and pans for catching you-know-what and a vaporizer running constantly, infusing the sheets, my pajamas and stuffed animals, my books, the whole soggy, cough-filled room in a camphor haze of Vicks Vapor Rub. 

And Doctor Doolittle. I can appreciate why the books have been pulled from many libraries for belittling images of Africans, but they were my companions in those fevered days. I read three or four at a time. In one, the good doctor and his entourage toured the undersea in a glass-bottomed Victorian sitting room inside a giant, graciously accommodating sea turtle. She was of a certain age and had saved a nice young couple who didn’t make it on Noah’s Arc. I believe she brought them to South America. To read a little and lie back on the faintly damp sheets and dream of touring the ocean bottom in a glass-bottomed turtle, taking tea and cakes with well-mannered animals—it wasn’t a bad way to spend the day.

Probably it was a nervous time for my parents, with two smaller children to tend and keep healthy, but aside from the pain of coughing and other GI upsets, I relished the comfort of being cared for. My mother brought me bananas mashed in milk, applesauce, soft-boiled eggs, often ice cream. Every evening, I’d hear my father come home from work and ask, first thing, “How is she?” and my mother saying, “The same.” Then he’d come upstairs, find a space to sit on my cot littered with stuffed animals and books and we’d talk or he’d watch me cough.

The sickness slackened and I was moved outside to a hammock for the sun to dry me out, as my mother said. Then back to school. But it was a soft and magic time, carved out of normal life like a sitting room in a glass-bottomed sea turtle. 

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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4 comments on “Days of the glass-bottomed sea turtle
  1. Betty Pagett says:

    Yes, stories that saved us. For me I was Jo in Little Women…off in the attic of my soul.


  2. What a perfect image, the attic of my soul.


  3. Iosifina says:

    I was struck by the lovely soft foods your mother gave you, especially bananas mashed in milk. My mother gave us as our first food after a sickness milk toast…a slice of toast soaked in warm milk…yuch! I also liked your lying in a hammock to dry you out. Good idea!


  4. Yes, bananas mashed in milk sounds a little yucky but it’s just the thing for a ravaged throat. For fever, coke syrup in chipped ice. You knew there was sickness from the sound of ice being hammered in a towel. And coke syrup for nausea.


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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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