Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Humorous Take on Taking Home Economics...Nineteen-Seventies Style!

December 29, 2009

What follows is a humor column that ran in my local paper, The Union, back in September of 2009. Though the intention was to provide a humorous take on my own taking of a Home Economics class back when I was a wee lass in junior high school, a couple of folks seemed to see it as a slam against providing just such a class at all. That was not my line of thinking, but rather my thoughts -- and writing -- had intended to poke fun at my own rather inept attempts at gaining sewing and cooking chops. (We didn't cook chops...well, you get what I mean.) The column ended up serving a dual purpose in writing and perspective. Besides chronicling my Home Economics lessons in a marginally humorous way, I gained the added lesson about perspective and, let's face it, perspective is the lesson that keeps on giving, far beyond any other.

Jump-er Start

I’m convinced that an entire generation of baby boomer women were permanently scarred when they were forced to take “Home Ec” in school. HOME ECONOMICS. Just seeing those words in print reminds me of its unwelcome appearance on my junior high school schedule.
The girls all knew Home Ec was ahead, looming like some sort of rabid wild animal, threatening us on our path to womanhood. We understood that we had to take this class, as surely as the boys understood that they had to take Wood Shop and court the disaster that was the bandsaw. We also courted physical harm with the equally dangerous female version – the double boiler.
This looming disaster of a curriculum was divided into two equally terrifying units – cooking (or “burning” as it should have been more aptly renamed) and sewing. It was the latter that would burn a hole in my emotional psyche as surely as the double boiler burned a hole in my binder full of recipes, but a close second was the first unit -- Cooking.
We were to prepare a myriad of invaluable meal staples, such as hot chocolate made in a – yep, you guessed it – double boiler, long cooking oatmeal and cake, from “scratch,“ and the piece de resistance – biscuits which doubled as paperweights. To nicely compliment the stereotypical stew that was the cooking unit, we were expected to serve our homemade gruel to the football players who would eat anything. Usually. Evidently with the one exception of food fixed by “yours truly.” According to the female training standards of the time – cooking, cleaning, sewing and subservience – I was certainly no catch. On to the second unit which undid me early on, when we utilized “Simplicity” patterns that were anything but, although the goal seemed simple enough.
We were expected to make a ghastly blue serge jumper, complete with buttonholes, piping, stitching and, yes, darts. I knew I was in big trouble right after reading the step one pattern directions which intoned, “a double pointed straight dart is made exactly like a single straight dart, except that you start at the center of the dart and stitch to the tip.” Huh?
My finished monstrosity had two uneven straps, a button bursting off of the shoulder as though it were spring-loaded, and uneven stitching, complete with darts made so puffy by irregular sewing that it appeared as though someone was already wearing the jumper and they had a chest, rendering the darts necessary. It was my fervent desire to make short shrift of the short shift, but there was one problem. In order to pass the class, we were required to model our fabulous creations in a fashion show that would take place during one of our notoriously raucous junior high school assemblies. Sheer bliss.
Fashion Show Day dawned much as any day does when you feel as though you’ll die if it arrives. It dawned. I didn’t die. Physically. I’m not sure what the weather was like, what day of the week it was or how my hair looked. What I can tell you is what I was wearing – my homemade blue serge jumper. That day I made my way through the stage curtains, head held high, and I kept my eye on the prize. The stairs at the end of the runway.
All I had to do was proceed through the curtains, walk approximately five feet upstage, make a turn and then continue what seemed like a mere 17,000 miles to the end of the runway and I’d be home free. No problem.
I began my journey. I even managed to look at the audience and have a bit of fun as I executed a jaunty turn. One turn down and only 16,999 more miles to go. I was almost there, too, when it happened. The jumper began to fall apart right in front of, if not my personal eyes, certainly everyone else’s eyes. I was, literally, coming apart at the seams. I needed to hurry, so I kicked it into high gear. Platform shoes. That’s what tripped me up in the end.
I managed to catch myself before I could show the entire student body my student body, thereby proving that I had heeded my mother’s advice and was wearing clean underwear. I also managed to retain a shred of my dignity, along with the shreds of my dress, by holding on to everything -- the jumper, the stage, this hideous memory.
The rest of the show was comparatively uneventful. As I left the scene of the shortest modeling career in history, my Home Ec teacher, Mrs. Price, buttonholed me by asking if she could keep my jumper as an example for future classes. I never did ask her if it was an example of what they should or shouldn’t do. That was more information than I needed.

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