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Looking Back to Walter Reed-Those Required Home Economic Classes

Some people love to cook and sew...Not me!

For those of you who remember Walter Reed, I’d like to pay homage to those requisite home economic classes we were forced to take.  Remember those cooking and sewing classes?

I wasn’t very good at either of them, but of the two, sewing was a real chore. I was dismal at sewing. I’m not very good at following directions anyway, so putting me in a class like this was a recipe for disaster.

I remember having Mrs. Ahlberg, who did her best. First, we had to make those zany gingham aprons.  I suppose it was necessary, as we were also required to take a cooking class, where aprons would certainly come in handy.

Despite Mrs. Ahlberg's efforts, I wasn’t very good at lining up those little squares so the seams would look even.  Try as I would, I just couldn’t get it right. My finished apron looked like a bad Jackson Pollack painting, when it was supposed to look more like the mathematical paintings of Victor Vasarely. Strike one.

Then, we graduated to making skirts. Oh boy. I didn’t even like wearing them, let alone trying to create one. On top of it all, Mrs. Alhberg had really bad breath. She’d pop those tic-tacs all day, but after that first whiff of peppermint, that familiar stench of coffee, and whatever she’d had for dinner the night before would return. She’d lean over me, breathing her instructions, and I would almost pass out. Perhaps she liked to pull a cork between classes? Who knows? 

In that low menopause voice she’d gingerly instruct me to take that dart apart, and redo it. Gently, I’d ease my quad into the lever that controlled the sewing machine, and then I’d be off to the races again, with the needle hammering into the fabric like a mad woodpecker.  Soon, the skirt was flying off the table, caught in a web of thread.

Then, I’d have to take it apart and start over.  I was too embarrassed to wear my skirt to school, so I probably dumped it in the dog bed at home and hoped Cha Cha would make some use of it.

But despite my failure Mrs. Ahlberg was a good teacher, and extremely patient. She even signed my yearbook.

Cooking class wasn’t much of an improvement. I guess they thought that two tomboys like my twin sister Teresa and I would have a better chance of catching a man if we at least knew how to cook and sew.   Why didn’t they just let us play softball or volleyball for an extra two hours a day? I was much better at playing sports than I ever was at home economics.

I’m sure I burned my share of scrambled eggs, and failed at setting the timer to bake some cookies. Probably, I was looking out the window wishing I were on the guy’s football team.

Oh, those requisite classes.  Not sure if they teach them anymore, but if they do, maybe kids can have a choice as to what electives to take, so they don’t get crammed into gender roles that might not agree with them.

Mary McGrath July 28, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Thankfully, things have changed quite a bit since then, eh? Wish you could have taken my sewing classes for me Richard. I would have filled in for you in shop. Aren't we all born with certain attributes. Hooray to parents who let their children excel in whatever tickles their fancy.
teresa mcgrath July 29, 2012 at 11:20 AM
love the stories richard
Bam Carle August 03, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Wow! I had Mrs. Ahlberg, too, and Mrs. Arrowsmith for cooking. What's really funny is that I was just thinking about them both while shopping for custard cups last week. I can remember making: a potholder, a tote bag, an apron and a skirt, but I forget in what order. And I was so sorry to read of Mr. Fitz-Gibbons passing. I believe I was in his very first class at Reed back in '67 or '68, when Friday was "pants day" for girls and we didn't have to wear a dress or skirt...did I just say that? How totally weird that seems now.
teresa mcgrath August 03, 2012 at 01:54 PM
thx bam....arrowsmith for cooking...she was less judgemental than alhlberg
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