Merville’s Memories

I have so many of Mum’s memories recorded in numerous note books that I know I will miss pieces, or have them out of chronological order but I guess the important thing is to have them recorded somewhere.

Although life was tough for anyone growing up on the land during this era, any time I talk to her, Mum’s memories of her childhood are filled with good times. It rare for her to remember anything negative except to point out it happened. Her stories are usually more humorous that sad.

Not too long after their shift to Winton, Mum recalls a trip she made with her mother. “We went to Queenstown, just her and I but with some of Mum’s friends. We went on the train to Kingston and then caught the boat to Queenstown. It was so wonderful being on a boat on the lake.” She couldn’t recall why they had made the trip, or how long it had taken but the journey across the lake had been a vivid memory.

Mum enjoyed school. I often felt it was sad that she left at 14 to help on the farm when I think she could have gone on to achieve so much more. But she’s never suggested she regretted that decision. Yet again, she isn’t the type of person to worry about having regrets – they’d just be a waste of energy and you can’t change the past.

“The school was a brick building with six rooms and I always enjoyed my lessons and the teachers were all good or seemed to be to me. The only time I remember getting the strap was in standard 6. The girl I sat beside didn’t like arithmetic and I did so I did my lot and then did hers for her and our teacher gave me the strap, just one on the hand but I reckoned she should have got it because she asked me to do it.”

Attendance certificates were issued each year to students who had not missed more than 5 half days of school throughout the year. Mum still has all her certificates except for her Standard 4 year – the only time she recalls being sick. Her and her three younger brothers all contracted English measles and spent two weeks at home, in the same double bed. The doctor was called because they wanted to drink water and their mother wasn’t sure if she should be allowing this. This was the first and only time Mum (as a child) ever saw a doctor.

I once asked Mum if she had had any favourite teachers and she named Mr Nelson (John Smith Nelson 1925-30) who interestingly was her teacher in standard 6 – so I assume the one who gave her the strap. I found an article about Winton teachers and Mr Nelson’s quite long entry included these words –  Mr JS Nelson, tall, fair, blue-eyed, slender, of soldierly bearing, was a returned service man – a man with no time to waste on unnecessary trivialities. An active man he expected those around him to be likewise and no Head Teacher ever had a better staff and no playground was ever better supervised. Mr Nelson was a man of vision…and earnestly believed in the formation of a full-scale secondary school in Winton….when he left Winton (at end of 1930), on promotion, as well as primary school, a secondary department, a manual training centre and a dental clinic all operated in separate buildings (on the school grounds).

There are more memories of Mum’s school days, but I’ll continue them next week. I had a photo of Winton school to share but it is a wooden building and as Mum talked of a brick school, I realise my photo is of the ‘old’ school which burned down on 20 Oct 1926. I don’t have any school photos of her, but do have this one of her with her sisters taken c 1925, so during her school years.

Four Robertson Girls - Ina, Minnie, Nessie, Merville c 1925

Four Robertson Girls – Ina, Minnie, Nessie, Merville c 1925

Merville c 1925

Merville c 1925

Notice the ribbon in her hair? It’s not one of her fondest memories. Minnie used to make her wear not just a ribbon, but a ridiculously huge ribbon – she probably also told Mum she needed it to counter how ugly she was.

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