‘All this [s]he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as [s]he looked, [s]he lived; and still, as [s]he lived, [s]he wondered.’
– Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Wind in the Willows’. 1908.
Miss Violet Nelson, 1950s spinster teacher, puffed clouds of silky Lily-of-the-valley talcum-powder over parched décolletage, untouched (said some) by other loving hands for forty Scottish winters. She was tall for a woman of her time; graceful as summer’s weeping willow. Miss Nelson wrapped herself in unassuming fair-isle cardigans, hand-knitted slowly like her years. Her modest knee-length skirts in ‘tasteful’ twills or tweeds were woven by ‘new-fangled’ industrial machines: ‘Shop-bought’ (said some) as markers of a rising class. Her classroom hummed with radiator warmth while we her Highland infants, sat upright behind our inky oakwood desks in order of our labelled merit. Up and down between bowed heads Miss Nelson, bending, swaying, dusted us with chalk and magic worlds. She took the runny-nosed who wore the phlegm of disadvantage. She took the well-blessed, well-fed few wearing thick wool socks. She took the smart and not so smart to would be—could be lands—together. We messed about in boats with Ratty warmed our toes and ate hot buttered toast at Moly’s cozy winter fire. And for a time, a chapter’s length, wise Badger (unlike some fathers we had known) kept us safe. Looking back some sixty years, I understand Miss Nelson offered me her passion for creativity. Looking back, I like to think at least one year Miss Nelson got to see the Costa Brava. I like to think she tasted Spanish garlic in the eager mouth of some Emilio or Isabella. I like to think she stored the heat of summer lovers’ underneath her petticoats. I like to think Miss Nelson knew the value of the lifelong gift she gave us.
Lorraine Gibson is a Scottish-Australian anthropologist, writer and painter living on Birpai Country. Her poetry is published in Backstory Journal, Booranga fourW 32, Burrow Literary Journal, Hecate, Live Encounters Poetry and Writing, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Meniscus Literary Journal, Poetry for The Planet (anthology), The Galway Review, WORDCITY, and others. Lorraine’s non-fiction is published internationally in books and journals. Her ethnography ‘We Don’t Do Dots: Aboriginal Art and Culture in Wilcannia New South Wales’ is published by Sean Kingston Publishing: Herefordshire, UK.