Sitting next door to Alice

Amongst Mum’s repertoire of schoolgirl memories was the oft-repeated story of Alice and her lollies. Alice sat next to Mum in the one and only classroom, consisting of Grades 1 to 8, at St. Joseph’s Convent School, Cora Lynn, West Gippsland.

The story went something like this:

“Alice’s parents had a shop in Nar Nar Goon and nearly every day she’d bring in a bag of lollies,” Mum said. “We used to open up our desk lids and eat the lollies behind them so the teacher couldn’t see.”

“Did you ever get caught?” I said.

“No. Never.” Mum said, with a hint of pride.

The Alice story usually segued into the story about wet boots…

“Once, I got punished for walking in the puddles and getting my boots sopping wet. I had to stand at the back of the class.”

And then, on to the horse stories…

Little Meena, was a one time racehorse, and Mum’s favourite…. “I loved getting up to a gallop on her”;

and, the not so favourite old horse… “There was a cranky old horse that used to jib. Wouldn’t go to school, only back home. So that’s what we had to do”;

and, the time her sister, Joyce, fell off the back of the horse Mum was riding… “I wondered why she wasn’t talking. I looked around and she wasn’t there. I turned the horse around and went back the way I came and there she was lying on the ground, crying. Her arm was really badly broken. Mum and Dad had to come home from the (Melbourne) Cup”.

I loved these stories. All of them painted a picture of schooldays that were so different to mine. Growing up in suburban Melbourne in the 1960s, I didn’t have to be able to ride a horse to get to school. I could walk. It wasn’t far. There was one similarity though. My school friends and I had a cheeky little note passing habit that went on under our desks and right under the teacher’s nose. I don’t believe we were ever caught. There was a sense of fun in getting away with it.

Back to Alice…

According to Mum, Alice was a chubby girl, the inference being, she ate a lot of lollies. Over a lifetime of hearing the story, I imagined Alice was a very chubby girl, one who perhaps struggled to fit behind the desk. I also imagined that the two of them would be stifling giggles as they scoffed the likes of  jelly babies and aniseed balls behind the open desk lids. There was never any mention of coercion by either party; it appeared to be a mutual scoffing.

Why am I recalling this story?

I’m recalling this story because a photo appeared in my inbox recently that lends weight to the Alice story. Not that I ever doubted Mum but it made the story more real. My cousin has been going through some old photos her mother, Mum’s sister, had left to her. She’s been very kindly scanning and emailing them to me. Some I’d seen before and others I hadn’t. This one, I hadn’t:

c1925 St Joseph’s Convent School, Cora Lynn, West Gippsland. Mum (Teresa Bernadette ‘Berna’ WINTER (1917-2010) and Alice are highlighted in black and white).

It’s a photo of unidentified children in the classroom at St Joseph’s Convent School at Cora Lynn in the 1920s. (The highlighting of the two girls in black and white is my doing).

I instantly recognized Mum—the girl with the short bob and fringe—as she’d identified herself to me in a school photo taken around the same time (see photo below), possibly taken on the same day.

Seated next to Mum in the classroom photo is ‘a chubby girl’. Could this be Alice? If it is, which I suspect is the case, she’s not quite as chubby as my mind’s eye had imagined her to be, but she does have a bigger frame, shall we say, than Mum. And looking at the desk the two girls are sitting at I can see it’s the type where the lids open up, perfect for hiding behind.

I wonder if Alice had a stash of lollies in her desk this day? Perhaps they’d already scoffed them or they were planning to once the photographer had left.

I can’t help but smile as I look at this pair. They look so delightfully innocent. But I know their secret and I get the feeling that if I wink at them they’ll wink back. They haven’t as yet, but they might after I’ve had a couple of wines.

It is eerie to see the story materialize in a photo, especially an image that’s now over ninety years old. Not something I ever imagined would happen but I’m glad it did as it’s kinda cute.

c1925 St Joseph’s Convent School, Cora Lynn, West Gippsland. Mum, Teresa Bernadette WINTER (1917-2010) (circled); Roy WINTER, top row, second from left (Mum’s brother); and Nance COGHLAN, 2nd top row, 4th from right (Mum’s sister-in-law). There’s a clearer photo of this group on my first blog post  98 today…..well, she would have been

Having another look at the photo above, I can now identify Alice as the girl standing to Mum’s left. It’s nice to finally meet you, Alice, after all these years. And thanks to my cousin for sharing her photos with me.

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10 Responses to Sitting next door to Alice

  1. brian cockerall says:

    Great photos of Cora Lynn school days, Marg. – a joy to have and keep. Everyone should have an ‘Alice’ in their life.

  2. Heather Rose says:

    Marg, this is sensational. it reads like a lovely little story and is more delightful because it stems from a true life recollection. You must have felt like you had the final piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle in your (virtual) hands when you saw that photo and recognised your mum. great photoshopping too by the way! Keep ’em coming please.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Het,
      It was like the last piece in a jigsaw, one I never imagined existed.
      And, yes, the photoshopping tips come in handy sometimes.
      Thanks for the encouragement,

  3. Rosemary says:

    Nice story Marg. It got me wondering who the girls were either side of my Mum, Nancy and if they were her good friends.

    • Marg says:

      I wonder Rosemary. I only know Mum, your mum and Roy in that school photo…and of course, now, Alice.
      Thanks for reading,

  4. Bernadette says:

    Thanks Marg it’s a lovely story and, once again, written so well..xx

  5. Alex Daw says:

    I loved that story about your Mum’s sister falling off the back of the horse though I’m sure it wasn’t funny for her at the time.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for the comment Alex,

      Yes, I believe she felt pretty bad about it. Her sister ended up spending a long time in hospital.
      It is a funny story though,

      Cheers, Marg

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