Mother’s Red Copybook

There’s something incredibly special about being able to read an English Composition that my late mother wrote on October 2, 1935. She would have been fourteen then and poised to set off for boarding school after being schooled by a governess with her brother and sister. They lived on a farm which had no schools nearby so my grandparents went down the governess route.

I have to confess that I’ve never met anyone else whose mother was taught by a governess. It seems extremely ‘old-world’ ~ a term that Mother used to say a friend of hers once attributed to my grandmother.

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Back Cover of Mother’s 1934/5 Copybook

Old-world or not, the red copybook is all I have to evoke thoughts of Mother’s time with the governesses. She talked a fair bit about those days and how she and her Big Bro did everything in their powers to encourage the governesses to let them do English, History and Geography ~ anything rather than maths!

The governesses lived in and most came for just a year at a time ~ some for less as they were very isolated. Mother recalled how she was very fond of some of the governesses and how she kept in touch with a few for many years after they had emigrated to America and Australia. Others, she wasn’t so keen on and was thrilled when they would depart the scene. Reflecting back, she used to think what a lonely life it must have been for these young women who were part, yet apart, from the busy farming family.

Here is that English Composition that Mother wrote on October 2, 1935:

WOULD YOU RATHER BE A BIRD OR A FISH? 

I would rather be a bird than a fish. I would love to be able to soar into the blue sky and roost among the leafy trees in summer. If I were a fish I would be very cold and clammy and live in the same bit of the river, assuming I was a trout, all my life.  I would see much the same things every day. Of course, I would be able to swim but I would prefer to fly.

If I was a bird there would be danger too. Guns, birdlime and net would be used. Or if I was an attractive bird, which would be most unlikely, mischievous boys might set up a trap with a riddle and a piece of string, and some dainty which birds love for bait. If I were caught alive by this or any other method and put in a cage I feel sure I would pine away and die.

Another deadly menace to small birds is the hawk, who swoops down on his prey and carries them  squawking away  to be killed and consumed by the hawk.

A bird would be able to travel and see new places and new birds. Also they are more intelligent than fish. Birds eat nicer things than fish. Berries, fruit, especially strawberries, and other appetising things. I can’t say I would relish worms so much, though. Perhaps if I were a bird I would like them as much as they appear to. I daresay I would never be the early bird, though.

Most birds sing sweetly, and that would be another advantage to being a fish, for if they communicate with each other they do so very silently.

If I were a crow I hope I would have the decency not to inflict my voice on the other inhabitants of the rookery. Or perhaps I would imagine, like the crow in the fable that I was sweet and enchanting.

Still I would like to be able to sit on the topmost branch of a leafy tree in summer and warble in the sunshine.

However, I doubt if I will ever be a bird or a fish, but if I am I hope the gods will be kind and make me a bird  (not a crow or a crane, though, please!)

It’s fascinating how some turns of phrase that I associate with my late mother, like ‘I daresay,’ appear in this piece of writing. In ways, the composition seems childish to me ~ a far cry from the sort of essay one might expect from a fourteen year old nowadays. On the other hand, it shows a deeper knowledge of nature than one would be likely to find in our modern social-media- oriented world.

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First Page of the Original Essay in Mother’s Handwriting.