Recently, I was reminded about how in my final year of school, Michelle, Angie and I, had this wonderful game of hockey in the classroom between lessons. Using Angie’s orange, we scrabbled together determined to be the one to shoot it into the goal. The goal post naturally was the teacher’s desk! There was much laughter and shouts of encouragement. Then Mich managed somehow to push the pulverised orange through Angie’s legs and whack it into the goal post. It made a loud ‘thuck’ sound as it hit the back of the teachers desk and promptly split into pulpy segments.
There was laughter and then suddenly everyone fell silent. I crawled out from under the desk, my hands full of decombobulated orange to find myself facing our form teacher, Sister Elizabeth.
The look on her face said it all!
Glory be, that was forty years ago exactly. Forty years since I walked out of the gates of Brescia House as a young schoolgirl. I had my future ahead of me and I knew where I was going. Drama school and then I was going to hit the stage with a BANG!
I was such a fresh faced innocent!
I thought of the other girls in my class. Where had life led them? It was then that the idea struck. Why not have a 40 year reunion? Imagine how marvellous it would be seeing my old classmates again and discovering where life had taken them.
Sometimes Facebook is so wonderfully useful. I set up a special Facebook Group for we school friends. I then messaged everyone suggesting a 40th school reunion. Barbara Barregar was one of the first to reply: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
I smiled at Barbs’s typical enthusiastic response. And so the two of us began hunting out other classmates. And gradually we heard from people that had disappeared from our lives for eons. A lot of them were too far away to make the reunion – Canada and Australia. I was totally delighted that two friends, Michelle and Tilly decided to come all the way from Switzerland and England.
I wrote to Brescia House explaining about our 40th School Reunion. I asked whether it would be possible for us to come to the Brescia assembly on September 10th. One of us would explain who we were to the girls and why we were there. I received a positive response and a generous offer to show us around the school after assembly.
I had kept in contact with Angie because her daughter went to school with my niece. I had heard nothing from Angie on Facebook so I gave her a call.
“Gaye, I don’t go on Facebook much and I’m afraid I’m not coming to the school reunion. I’m not feeling good in myself. I won’t be a great person to be around.”
“Hey, there, Ang, I’m not feeling good about the way I’m going to be appearing. I have to walk with a stick as I now limp, I’m deaf and spastic. That is not the girl my matric form is going to remember. Look, I’ll bring my stick, if you bring yourself! I’m phoning you tomorrow to find out if you have booked your air ticket, okay?”
The next morning, I received the following message from Angie:
“Gaynor, it is all your fault!!! I’m flying up on Saturday morning and going straight to the hotel garden from the airport. I am looking my usual scruffy self. The waitresses will be in better form than me! REMEMBER your STICK!!! That gives me confidence!!!
I laughed. Angie was coming!
I flew up to Johannesburg and on September 8th, I, and my delightful stick with ladybirds crawling up and down its stem, made our way across the lawn of The Secret Garden of Norscot Manor. Angie will like this, I thought wryly to myself, Gaynor and her stick!
‘Please don’t let my disabilities make a difference to how my school friends relate to me,’ was the thought that encircled my heart.
A beautiful table was laid out in the garden and people were clustered around it. I drew nearer and someone called out:
“Gaynor, at long last!”
I was encircled by hugs from people that had known me when I was thirteen years old. I looked into faces that I had not forgotten. We were all older obviously but when we looked into each other’s eyes it was with a sense of deep recognition. We sat down and began to find out how forty years had treated us. I was asked afterwards how the food and service was. I honestly don’t know. We were too busy talking to worry about such mundane matters as food and drink. We were filling ourselves with each other!
On Monday, September 10th, we met at school, as planned. We entered the school hall from the side which took us past the stage entrance. The girls turned to me and whispered: “Gaye, do you remember?”
I saw the stage steps and my memory was tugged. The first time I had performed on a stage was as Louis in The King and I at school. It was so odd in that I was unable to recall the play because of my deficient memory but I knew those steps!
It was a special assembly. Each matric girl was presented with an uniquely made alumni scarf. They were called up individually and the scarves were entwined around their necks. It was the schools way of saying: ‘Brescia will be wrapped around you. We will be with you always.’
The headmistress turned to the school and said: “Today, we have some of the matric class of 1978 with us.”
At this the entire hall gasped.
“Gaynor Young will come up and speak to us.”
I went up to the podium and looked down at this mass of young, interested and slightly awed faces. I mean, 1978 was definitely in the olden days!
“Hi there, all you Brescia girls!
No doubt you are looking at us thinking: Glory, what are all these elderly women doing in our assembly?
All of us are here because: We too are Brescia girls. We are actually you matrics in 40 years time! In fact, Michelle Wittwe, Angie Nash and Barbara Barregar were founding members of this school. They were in sub A, 52 years ago!
I love life. It holds excitement, dread, joy, addiction, depression, happiness, sadness…..And it is these up and downs of life that cause us to grow. That is why we are here – to grow, to expand within ourselves. Life is made up of choices. It is how we make the choices that determine the kind of people we become. Brescia has taught you: ‘service, dignity, kindness, respect, tolerance, reverence, confidence, excellence, faith, hope and love’. Things happen in life that we have no control over. Using these attributes that Brescia has shown you, you will find yourself able to overcome the worst of times. You can either be victims or victorious.
Choose to be victorious in this life you lead. And choose to meet up with all your school friends 40 years from now. It is truly an enriching, delightful experience.
It makes my heart laugh!”
We finished by singing the school song. It seemed seared into my heart. I opened my mouth and sang for all I was worth. It didn’t matter that I sang out of tune. We 1978 classmates joined hands and together with the rest of the school we lifted voices and sang:
Sing we a song of service
Honour and truth and praise
Ours is the royal watchword
Ours will be loyal ways
Bright as the badge we carry,
Gemmed with the guiding stars
And neath the crosses banners
Our claim to service ours…….
After assembly, we ‘old girls’ were shown around the school by a lovely lady, Helga. It has certainly grown in size. It was enormous. Forty years ago, there was one class per year. There were 22 girls in our class. Now each year has three classes. The grounds were ravishing with gorgeous secluded nooks and crannies. We discovered a beautiful statue of Saint Angela, the Ursuline patron Saint, serenely sitting on a bench. I got a lovely photograph of Tilly and St. Angela.
We were standing chatting in the staff room when suddenly in walked Sister Notburga! We knew her from our time at Brescia. She was a general factotum and used to drive us to our hockey, swimming and tennis matches if we were playing away. She was a fun nun whose face was always ready to spread into a wide, open smile. Now she was stooped with age yet that wondrous smile still remained. I wanted to cry I was so moved seeing her once more.
Brescia House had been a young sapling when we had gone there forty years ago. It has been transformed into this beautiful Oak tree. Children can play in it’s shade. They can swing from it’s branches. They can climb higher and higher, looking outwards.
The view from the top is startling.
The world stretches before them………