Tuesday 29 August 2017

I'd like to introduce you to Rosina - Hilary Hawkes

I’d like to introduce you to Rosina.

You won’t have heard of her but she was someone quite special.

Rosina, or Rose, was an advocate for children’s books and reading. Not in an official, wide-reaching way. Just in an everyday, ordinary life kind of way. She had an infectious passion for stories and books.

Born in 1904, Rose grew up in an era when girls were expected to give up jobs or career ideas when they got married and devote themselves to child rearing and homemaking. So, after leaving school aged about 14, working first as a maid and then as a children’s nanny in England and Ireland, Rose knew this would eventually be her destiny too. There hadn’t been many books at home when she grew up but she treasured those that were. She often saved some of her small earnings to buy more. One of her favourite ways to relax was with her head in a book.

When her own daughter was small, through the world war II years, her gift for inventing stories and characters and reading other people’s stories too brought comfort and reassurance to her and other children. She made story telling times magical and memorable through some quite scary times.

“Stories give children happy moments,” she said once.

Rose had an extraordinary creative gift for sewing too. Later, she would invent her own patterns and then produce the perfect Paddington Bear or Worzle Gummidge or Womble or whatever book character a child loved most. These lovely soft, safe toys would be generously donated to sick or in-need children along with a book. Rose believed that the way to share her love for stories and story characters was to show how they brought comfort and cheer just at the right time. And they always did. She accumulated piles of often hand- drawn and hand-made thank you letters from young recipients who would never forget her kindness.

Had Rose been a young woman today I bet she would have had a successful career in which her talents would have reached their full potential. But making money from her abilities didn’t occur to Rose. Even her own made-up stories and poems were never intended for publishers – some remained in notebooks in drawers, most stayed in her head. And her lovely extraordinary watercolours and drawings were stored away too. Yes, Rose could paint too.

I do feel slightly sad that her talents weren’t seen by more people. After her death at age 101 her daughter, my mother, (yes, Rose was my grandmother) safely stored the evidence of Rose’s gifts for many years. Then in time some of them came my way. One box contained handwritten diaries that Rose had started writing in as a young woman and continued into her late nineties. They are a record, the memories, of a life and world of a remarkable woman who lived through changing times.

“You’ll know what to do with these, Hilary, won’t you?” she’d said to me on more than one occasion.

Reading them and then typing them up into a largely unchanged (because it was all so beautifully written in the first place)  “book” for family and friends to enjoy took many months. It was a wonderful task and I felt completely immersed in Rose’s world, life, observations of people and her fantastic sense of humour. We've called this family book Memories.

Rosina  might not have become a children’s author or writer or illustrator or character inventor the world has heard of, but her gift for passing on a love for books and stories undoubtedly inspired many hundreds of children to grow up wanting and valuing  books. And that, really, is the aim of all children’s authors isn’t it?

Hilary Hawkes


Sue Purkiss said...

Goodness, what a wonderful story!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks for sharing this Hilary. How lovely to have that box of diaries and notes. Marvellous to have such a real connection to the life of your grandmother through her words and paintings. I had one single blue glass necklace from my grandmother and a note in her Bible which had a single word written on it. 'Mizpah' I've since learnt that Mizpah apart from being a place in the Bible is interpreted as signifying an emotional bond between people who are separated, either physically by distance or by death. You have this with your grandmother.

Lynne Benton said...

What a lovely post, Hilary! Your grandmother sounds a wonderful person. Many thanks for telling us about her.

Hilary Hawkes said...

Tank you, yes, she was an inspiring person.

Dianne: I too have an inherited 'Mizpah' item - an engraved 'badge' that had belonged to my father's mother. She'd given it to him when he joined the army as a very young man. It's a lovely meaning. How special to find that note in your grandmother's Bible and to have the necklace.

Penny Dolan said...

Beautiful post about a very memorable woman, Hilary. How wonderful to be able to know your grandmother, not only through everyone's stories, but also through that kind of reflective attention given to words when you are typing them up.

I recall a small silvery "garland of leaves" brooch of my own grandmother, and that carried the word "Mizpah" in gold on the front. I never knew - pre-internet - what the term meant emotionally for sure, or the story, but sensed the loss and longing.