Topic: Memories of School by Enid C. Meyer

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Memories of School by Enid C. Meyer is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

It was just a little country school with two teachers, two rooms and two play sheds where we could eat our lunch on a rainy day. The sheds were known as ‘The Boys’ Shed’ and ‘The Girls’ Shed’ and were strictly segregated. The boys would attack any girl who ventured near theirs, and the girls would send a curt message to any boys who came near them.

The entrance to the school was marked by large white gates, and then the path divided around the triangular rose bed, which had a border of thrift around the three sides and was out of bounds except for the annual weeding when Gala Day was imminent. There were geraniums growing under the window of the little room with caterpillars we put in jars with some of the leaves. We wanted to see the beautiful butterflies emerge when the caterpillars had spun their cocoons and hatched. As we set the jars on the windowsill in the sun there was little chance of this happening, but we always lived in hope.

Growing in isolation was one shrub that somehow survived the rough and tumble of the playground, an escallonia with a distinctive scent and red flowers and sticky leaves that caught flies and insects. I looked for it at the school reunion, but sadly it had gone.

In a corner outside the office stood a tank stand with a tank to catch rainwater for the pupils to drink. This was cleaned periodically by a member of the school committee, or perhaps someone asked to do so. Among the items removed were a long-lost football, several tennis balls, a school blazer and other clothing and a dead cat and possum. Children stood around watching with great interest as the tank was cleared of any more rubbish, the cover replaced and the water replenished from a tank on a truck brought from a nearby farm. We got a lecture from the driver about making sure that cover stayed in place!

The teacher, whom I will call Mr Smith, was past his prime, but because it was war time he stayed on teaching past his retirement age, as his war effort. He had a hard time controlling the big Maori boys and was not slow in putting them in their place with a few cuts of the strap. The discipline meted out was fair, though, and law and order prevailed most of the time. He and his wife and family were immigrants from England and not truly accepted by the district, who had such a fondness for the previous teacher they had trouble in making them feel welcome.

Mrs Smith took us for sewing and spent much of her time teaching us first aid and encouraging us to pick wool off the fence where the sheep had snagged their coats and bring it to school for local ladies to knit socks for the soldiers. We spent time hunting the paddocks for briar rose buses, picking the rosehips to make rosehip syrup for the babies and looking for ergot in the cocksfoot grasses to be used in medicine. I am sure I got at least five heads of ergot, three handfuls of wool and about thirty rosehips, so I did my bit for the war. And briar roses smell so sweet it was fun to look for them.

We all joined the Junior Red Cross and made veils of organdie to wear to meetings. We had our photos taken wearing the veils and carrying placards. I was ‘Service’ and I wonder if it was that which set me on a life of toil?

The little girl Smith was teased unmercifully. I have a school photograph where she turned her head away from the camera at the crucial moment because someone pulled her hair.

Of course, I was always good and never got into trouble. Well, hardly ever. Sometimes in the winter time we were allowed to stay inside the big room to eat our lunch. The open fire would be good and one of the older boys told to keep it alight while Mr Smith went home for his lunch. The children would toast buns and bread on long forks made of wire and sometimes one would fall into the fire and burn. Such burnt offering were retrieved and thrown around the room.

Once I was dared to place one of the burnt buns on the teacher’s chair. So I did. Mr Smith sat down to start the lesson, only to rise and pluck the offending item from the seat of his pants. He asked who had put it there. No one owned up until he became so angry that they saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and the class pointed accusing fingers at me.

I was taken to the office in a sober state of mind, and sorry for myself. Mr Smith raised his eyebrows and said the words that have stayed in my head ever since.

“Enid, I am so disappointed in you. I would never have believed that you would do this.”

And he gave me three of the best.

Those words have kept me straying from the straight and narrow all my life, and the strap didn’t do me any harm either.

But they shouldn’t have dared me, should they?

 

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This page archived at Perma Cc in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/3SA8-KQ2L 

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