Saturday, December 27, 2008

Finding Felicity

About one hundred years ago when I was a teenager in Melbourne Australia, my life changed course. Encouraged by my mother, I applied for a place at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School.

I was successful. MacRob was, and still is I think, the main public academic school for girls in Melbourne. Going from a suburban 'feeder' school to MacRob with its uniforms, prestige and location (inner city) was a big thing for a working-class kid from a single parent (albeit left-wing) family. I only knew one other girl starting there and we didn't really know what to expect.

It was strange but exciting. Suddenly I was surrounded by girls from the then Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. We had teachers with names like Mrs Raschka and Madame Lewellis. Life was about learning. There was something more to life after all, something better than post-war, white-bread, black and white, protestant Australia.

I didn't like everything about the school, but I did appreciate the exposure it gave me to a wider world; a world beyond a bigoted Australia grudgingly emerging from the 1950s.

I was a quiet girl, mostly on the sidelines. I'd listen and watch girls whose parents came from war-torn Europe, girls who knew what to read, who actually had a religion - and opinions. How I envied them. I wished I had the confidence to speak to them. They seemed so confident and all-knowing. They excelled.

There was one girl in particular, relatively quiet like myself, whose extraordinary intelligence, attitude to work, and perseverance, struck me. I hardly dared speak to her. I'd listen to her essays and her opinions. I poured over her contributions to the school magazine, Pallas. I saw what a person could achieve. And I never forgot her.

After MacRob and university, we all went our different ways. I traveled. Married. Had two children. Changed careers. Ended up living in New York. The friend I started at MacRob with, now lives in England. We are still in touch. But I've always wondered what became of that girl at MacRob who inspired me - I've always remembered Felicity.

Since growing up, every few years I've made an effort to find her. To no avail. Once the husband of a friend told me he'd been her neighbour as a child, but had lost touch. Other ex MacRob girls I'd meet would draw a blank.

And then last night I found her. She's in Melbourne. I called her from New York. I think she was dumbfounded when I told her why I'd been seeking her.

Me, I wasn't disappointed. She was just as I remembered her. Gracious, intelligent, sensitive and kind.

I'm glad I took the plunge. I'm even proud of myself for being so brave, as it was a bit daunting ... more in the anticipation than the happening.

So I'm writing this to have it sit amongst my Letters from New York, to encourage others - if there's someone you want to acknowledge - DO IT!

And thank you, Felicity.

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