In my previous post I mentioned that my Mum, Eleanor, was a keen Girl Guide in her youth. Later she took up many youth support activities including being a Brown Owl. I found this badge in the Usmeum, and although I didn’t know her in those days, I do remember playing with the badge as a child (well, it was an animal).
I also found, in the archives, a handwritten story entitled Eleanor Owl. The paper was very old and fragile, browned and spotted with age. It carried no “statement of responsibility” (to use librarian jargon) and I didn’t recognise the handwriting, although I do have an idea who the author may be. I found it deeply moving when I read it, but sadly I must have moved it deeply into somewhere in the archives, as I now can’t locate the original. I do, however, have the copy that Mum typed up at some stage, so I am able to reproduce the story here:
A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time there lived a little girl. Of course, like all little girls she had a name, and her name was Eleanor Owl. Now, one might say, “what a funny name for a little girl,” because, as all of you know, owls are very wise and most terrificly [sic] old animals, but then, Eleanor Owl was a funny little girl alright. Mind you, not funny ha-ha, but funny peculiar, which after all is really the more interesting of the two. Maybe the reason for this is that she lived in a very huge house with quite innumerable rooms. It would take a little girl well over a week to walk through all of the rooms and Eleanor Owl always dreamt of doing it one day – when she would be grown up, of course; because a week is a week, and it would mean sleeping for seven nights away from her mother, and this is quite impossible for a little girl, quite.
Now Eleanor Owl had a tiny room in the huge house all for herself, and, I must say, it was a lovely room. The wall paper was blue like the corn flowers on the Porkshire Moors [sic], and all over the walls there were cartoons and pictures of children and animals and flowers. Now everyone knows what children look like and many of you know lots and lots of animals, like bears and wolves, lambs and goat kids, elephants and crocodiles, hares and rabbits. But there were also other and strange animals, such as no-one has ever seen; Eleanor Owl herself had invented them and given them names such as the cat-dog, the lizard-fox, the tiger-giraffe and the pig-parrot, and many, many others; for, as I said, Eleanor Owl was a funny girl and her imagination was bubbling over like orangeade when – plop the lid jumps off the bottle. Ad then the flowers on the wallpaper, the flowers – oh they were just too lovely for words. You opened the door of the room, and just so much as looked at the flowers, and mmm – what a beautiful scent!
Now Eleanor Owl was a good little girl, straightforward and sincere; but there was just one tiny secret that she kept all to herself; at night when everybody in the huge house was asleep, and the night wind from beyond the moors was gently caressing the branches of the birch tree just outside Eleanor’s window, making them sway to and fro and smile in their sleep – then Eleanor Owl was lying in her little bed, with the blankets, the sheets, and the pillow all pale blue, and – you have guessed it already – was not asleep. The moon, round, full, golden, jolly and secretive, was shining into her face, and Eleanor Owl was looking at him very earnestly and thoughtfully. There he was, good old moon, so near that Eleanor could see all the wrinkles round his nose, and yet so far, far away. Surely, it must take a long time to get there, and suddenly Eleanor Owl said, “Oh, I do want to get to the moon, I am so much interested”. Hardly had she said this, when the moon’s smile became even broader and – “golly” (said Eleanor), a golden beam came running straight down from him, right through the window of her room, to her very feet.
And the Moon said to Eleanor: “Because you are a good little girl, and don’t jump across the fences and climb up the trees, and tear your skirt, and lose your bow, and because you never annoy your mother except for leaving things lying round sometimes, – therefore your wish will be fulfilled; just get hold of my beam. Quickly Eleanor bent over to grasp the moon’s beam, and just when she touched it, a wicked black cloud whisked it away and covered the moon. Eleanor was ever so sad. But then she discovered that when she had touched the moonbeam, a wee little piece of it had broken off, and look – it glittered like the purest gold and yet it was lighter than the feather of a chicken just leaving its egg.
Not before long Eleanor found out that her little piece of moonbeam had the most magic powers one could imagine. Whenever she saw someone she had never met before, she had only to touch it, and then she would know her new acquaintance inside out, which, it must be admitted, is a most extraordinary thing for any little girl, be she white, black, yellow, brown, red, or of any colour in between.
But Eleanor owl was a headstrong little girl, and she still longed to get to the moon. Often she would look at him wistfully, but alas, no more beams would drop to her feet. Yet she never gave up hope.
Years passed by, and one day Eleanor Owl set out on her search for the moon. It was a long, long way and she met with ever so many adventures to divert her from her path, some colourful and alluring making her waver at times, others drab and dull, and therefore easier to cast aside. Part of the road she wandered alone, part of it she was escorted by proud and brave knight-errants; one of them, Hallan the Haughty was his name, didn’t really want to get to the moon, and tried hard to convince her, that she didn’t want it either. But she did.
Again many years passed and Eleanor Owl had grown a big little girl. Somehow the moon seemed to be as far away as ever, and you might think, what a pity! But it wasn’t. Because you see, if you try for years and years to reach out above the sky and up to the moon, you become serious and purposeful, and do not waste your time. And if you have become like this, you can well afford to miss the moon.
And lest you forget, Eleanor Owl has still her magic piece of moonbeam, so be careful.
I wish I had known about this beautiful story in Mum’s lifetime, as I would have loved to ask her about it. My guess is that it was written for her by her bother, Murray, who wrote humorous poems and songs, and to whom she was very close. At the start it appears to be written for a child, but the last two paragraphs indicate that she is older – especially the reference to “knight-errant” Hallan the Haughty. I know from Mum’s teenage diaries that she had a suitor named Allan whom she regarded as a “nuisance” (probably the same Alan mentioned as Murray’s friend in the 1941 logbook). It is possible that the story was written by her mother or even father, or boyfriend or another friend; but my money is on Murray. If I ever find the original again, I’ll do some forensic analysis and compare the handwriting with his letters. In the meantime, it remains a mystery.
With thanks to Owen Llewellyn for the microphotography