–by Jane Goodall (Jul 6th, 2017)
I put a great deal of credit for my mother because she was an extraordinary mother. When I was born I seemed to have an innate love of animals, I don’t know where it came from, I just had it and she always supported this. I was 18 months apparently, I don’t remember this, of course, but I was 18 months when she came to my room and found I’ve taken in a whole handful of wiggling earthworms to bed with me, and she said: “Jane, it looks as though you were trying to work out how they walk without legs.” And instead of getting mad at me and throw these dirty things out of the window, she said: “Jane, they need the earth, they’ll die here” and together we took them back into the garden.
I was four and a half years old and a very exciting thing happened for me. We lived in London where there aren’t that many animals and we went to stay on a farm in the country. In those days farms were farms and animals roamed around in the fields. One of my jobs was to help collect the hens’ eggs and the hens were meant to lay them in these little wooden henhouses. I went around each morning and opened up the lids of the little nest boxes. If there were eggs there, I put them in my basket. And, apparently, I started asking everybody: “but where does the egg come out of the hen?” Because I couldn’t see a hole big enough and obviously nobody told me to my satisfaction. So I still remember seeing a hen move up this little sloping plank into the henhouse and thinking: “ah! she going to lay an egg!” So I crawled after her. Big mistake. Of course, squawks of fear, she flew out and I distinctly remember thinking –remember, I’m only four and a half: “She’s going to never come back to lay an egg here…this is a frightening place.”
So I went into one of the other henhouses and hidden some straw at the back and waited and waited and waited… which was fine for me, but my poor family didn’t know where I was. Imagine how my mother was feeling, it was getting dark. She was out searching with everybody else. She sees this excited little creature rushing towards the house all covered in straw, and I know so many mothers who would have grabbed that child: “How dare you go off without telling us? Don’t you dare do it again!” Which would have killed all the excitement. But she saw my shining eyes and sat down to hear the wonderful story of how a hen lays an egg.
And I tell that story advisedly because if you think of that story in hindsight, is it not the making of a little scientist? Curiosity, asking questions, not getting the right answer, deciding to find out for yourself, making a mistake, not giving up and learning patience. It was all that and how easily my mother might have crushed that early curiosity and that little scientist in the making might have gone in a different direction.
She went on supporting my love of animals by finding books for me to read about animals thinking: “Will Jane learn to read more quickly?” Of course I did.
We had very little money. We couldn’t afford new books. One day I found this little book and I had just enough money saved up from my pocket money to buy it. That little book, which I still have, was called: “Tarzan of the Apes”. I took it home, and I took it up my favorite tree, a beach tree, and I read it from cover to cover. Well, little girls of 10 are often pretty romantic and of course I felt passionately in love with Tarzan. And what did he do? He married the wrong Jane… 🙂
I was 10 years old when I started my dream that I would grow up, go to Africa and live with animals and write books about them. And everybody laughed at me… so I say World War II was raging. We didn’t have any money, Africa, you know, there were no planes going back and forth, we thought of it as the dark continent. We knew very little about it and I was a girl and backbend girls didn’t have those opportunities, those adventures were for the boys. “Jane get real” “Dream about something you can achieve” “Forget this rubbish about going to Africa”, but not my mother nor her family either. She used to say that: “if you really want something, you’re going to have to work really hard and take advantage of opportunity and never give up.”