It has been many a year since I was at Hauser Junior High School and forcibly being made to take the home economics classes, so I really ought not to be commenting on what they may have evolved into over the years. They may have become something really worthwhile, helpful in operating a home.
I graduated in 1959, so one can just imagine what I and other girls were learning. It was a welcome relief when we were given two days respite in “shop” where we were taught something actually useful–like how to wire a lamp–and then making something which we could never make again unless we had the equipment, a plastic necklace, which basically amounted to one square of brightly colored plastic on a chain.
I dreaded going to home ec three times a week, which was three times a week too often. The sewing semester was a total disaster. To this day I can’t sew a button on well, though I can get it to hold in a bulky sort of way.
And, as for sewing a straight seam? It was out of the question. But I was fortunate that my grandfather was a tailor for Kuppenheimer, a well-known brand of men’s clothing. He was utterly embarrassed at the alleged skirt I brought home, pulling out the stitches and replacing them with his own. As a result, my seams were always a bit chopped up from being sewn and resewn, but at least I passed thanks to grandpa.
Trying to put in a zipper was about as bad as taking an SAT, while hemming was so pathetic that, even today, I’ve used paper clips, scotch tape and staples to hold myself together before I will try to do a hem. It has now developed into a psychological block.
I thought I would do better at cooking. After all, I used to watch the Francois Pope cooking school on television. I even had the cookbook from there and had practiced on the family. None had died or became sick, so I figured I could get through whatever teacher Joan Fleming could toss at me.
I could not believe that in eighth grade, feeling pretty grown up already, we were given a recipe for how to make a can of tomato soup. I mean, the recipe actually taught us how to open the can, add a can of water and heat the mixture over a burner until it turned into warm soup.
Frankly, I thought that was dumb, since soup, in our house, meant emptying out the fridge at the end of the week and seeing what we had left over and needed to use up before it spoiled. When I have time I still make it, and it comes out differently every time depending upon what is in the fridge. It was certainly more complicated than a can of Campbell’s.
Then, it was on to the salad, which we were to concoct to feed our teachers in a special lunch. Our mimeographed recipe called for breaking up the lettuce in bite-sized pieces. Mine, I guess, were too large.
My parents both worked so we ate out a lot. My salad looked like the salad at the old Richard’s Restaurant, now Lalo’s, on Harlem Avenue. By the time I got through, my salad looked like cole slaw … hardly gourmet. Mercifully, our teachers ate what we had cooked up for them, even the blueberry muffins we conjured up from Bisquick.
It was the first time I had ever come across Bisquick, some kind of miracle flour from which one could make just about everything. “Posh,” said my grandmother in Czech; she turned out homemade bakery by the ton every day. “The stuff tastes funny. Just use it at school, but don’t bring it home,” she said.
So much for Bisquick.
I don’t know if home ec should be retained or not. When I was in school, girls were mandated to take it while boys were mandated to take shop. It would have been nice to have had the choice, because, frankly, I would have had found more uses for shop and fixing things around the house than cooking.
I have so little time to cook that I have just about forgotten how. However, frozen foods are so good now, my cooking is done in a flash in the microwave oven. Thank goodness I have a daughter-in-law who knows how to cook, cooks well and likes to cook on special occasions or else we’d be in serious trouble.
I really would like to regain that skill of rewiring the lamp, learning how to unplug my sink, fixing the ball in the tank when the toilet won’t flush, fixing the belt on the vacuum cleaner and getting the propellant mixture just right on the snowblower. Now, there would be a course to offer: home alone survival.