The talk about Shakespeare reminded me that I don’t recall ever having studied anything about him at school. Thinking about school — or lack thereof — set in train many personal memories which I would like to share.
Not learning about Shakespeare could be because I left school at the end of the fourth form — back in the day when your school journey was defined by prep, grades one through six, then high school for six forms, followed by tertiary education if you had the money or won a scholarship.
I deliberately wagged school the day the exams
that qualified one for a scholarship took place. [My memory jolted: it was for the school leaving certificate and final exams to pass that year. I didn’t need a scholarship to complete high school] Why? Because I didn’t want a choice. I had decided to go to Mount Gambier in South Australia for a State Enrolled Nursing course. I badly wanted to leave home. To complicate things, I fell in love. I was sixteen.
Being a country girl, I was perhaps the last of a generation believing work was something to fill in the time until marriage. But I wanted to do better than my mother with her stories of how she could have had a dairy farm if she had married the right bloke, and not the one who swept her off her feet. Who knows, the dairy farm still might have led to six kids and the battered wife of a drunkard.The man I married did drink, but he had prospects. I was too hasty setting my cap.
Anyway, I was talking about school. The day after the exam I was summoned to the Principal’s office who, along with one of my teachers, insisted I should reconsider my future. I would easily get a scholarship to complete go on to tertiary education. They said a special sitting for the exam could be arranged. If I really wanted to leave home, they said they could arrange alternative accommodation.
Was I a fool for turning my back on this chance to ‘better’ myself?
Until high school, I had always wanted to become a teacher. But then I discovered that other kids did not regard teachers in the same high regard as I did. I don’t remember if I considered being a primary school teacher before I went off the idea. I just could not think of anything else I wanted to ‘be’. I knew I was lazy. I breezed though school with little effort, well, not much. Nursing seemed an excellent idea. I would get paid to learn. I would be housed and fed.
I am like my dad. Like he did, I have a huge range of interests. I start things and never finish them. Jack of all trades, master of none. Dad was dead set against “the fate worse than death.” I don’t know why he held nurses in such low regard. My mum used to work at her local hospital, I’m not sure in what capacity, probably an aide. It was a shock when she first saw a baby born. I supposed someone explained to her how it got in there! I digress. Dad had little say in what I did. Mum was officially a deserted wife and dad’s visits were few and clandestine. We never had it so good before, when mum got on the deserted wife’s pension.
Before I went nursing I had a dream. I wanted a motorbike. I wanted to ride that bike around Australia.
[PHOTO goes here: of me, aged sixteen]
I still remember the day that I stood outside a scooter shop in Mount Gambier, a few months into my training. I almost went in and put down a deposit. If I had, then that meant I had no intentions of following through with the March marriage mooted the following year, after I gained my qualification.
I put down a deposit on a sewing machine and a stereo instead. Mind you, I couldn’t afford records nor dress material while I paid them off.
My life would have been completely different if I had sat that 4th form exam, if I had said, yes please, to the headmaster’s offer.
But then I would not have my present life. I would not have my two children, my grandchildren. I would not have Mr R.
And there is still a dream I can fulfill. Since grade three I have wanted to write a book.
When my sister died, one of the last things she said to me was how she wished she had followed her dream, and not worked so hard to make money. Her death catapulted me into action. My novel, dedicated to her memory, will be completed this year. (well, this year then … 2016]
Amazing, isn’t it? How one word — Shakespeare — can lead to so many tangled memory strands.