Friday, September 30, 2011

Dear Mrs Maloney

Thank you for teaching me the easy way to peel an apple, and also how to sew a zipper into a dress or a pair of pants, contrary to the instructions in the pattern package and definitely more neatly and accurately. These skills have walked with me through my days of many apple-peelings and dozens of zippers put in, fruits and frocks both handily completed with a minimum of waste and fuss.

Thank you also for your steadfast love of a dying art. When I came to Home Economics 8, mine was among the last of your all-girl classes, automatically assigned to 5 months in the kitchen and 5 months at the sewing machine, to learn the high school version of womanly arts. The boys got 5 in the auto shop and 5 in the woodwork shop, I think. That was the way it was.

Mrs. Maloney, I remember your smartly tailored dresses, worn with nylons and heels to every class. They matched the outfits worn by the women pictured in our textbooks (copyright 1957). These women brandished feather dusters and fierce smiles as they put the finishing touches on home sweet home in the moments before the man of the house arrived from work. While the rest of our teachers wore polyester pantsuits and platform boots, you alone kept a proper appearance.

Mrs. Maloney, why did you make us write a 5 step plan for every dish we prepared in your kitchen? I recall that it took us four classes to prepare for hot cocoa and cinnamon toast and one to cook and eat it. I can't remember ever cleaning up after, although we must have. Your counters, sinks and stovetops gleam in my memory, providing me with a standard that was and still is impossible to live up to in real life.

I remember the blouse I sewed in your class - a demonstration garment of epic versatility. It had buttons and buttonholes on the front and a zipper on the back - a blouse that allowed the wearer to enter from the back and exit from the front, or vice-versa. In the construction of one blouse, I learned about standard garment closures, quick escapes, and how to very nearly split a shirt into two separate pieces.

Dear Mrs. Maloney, forgive me for snickering at you when you reminded us in class to "trim the hairy ends" of our seams. Accept my apology for calling you "Moldy Maloney," and gossiping to my friends about you. The rumour was that you were widowed, your husband killed by the same pearl onions and peas in cream sauce that you taught us to cook once we had mastered hot cocoa and cinnamon toast. I realise now that you were not so very much older than we were. It cannot have been easy being our teacher. I hope that Mr. Maloney (past or present tense) appreciated you more than we did.

Dear Mrs. Maloney, most of what I learned in your class, I have forgotten. But the zippers and the apple peels stuck with me, and remain useful to this day. Because of you I know the magic of scotch tape and machine basting, and the fact that quartering and coring are best done before peeling, at least for people who want to make a pie in fewer than 5 days.

Dear Mrs. Maloney, when I heard that you died, I was grown up, with a real home of my own. I wondered if you remarried and had children. I thought about how how you must have felt perplexed every day at the indifference of your students. I wondered how you felt when the school district split your dying art nearly in two, and how you felt about the new names and new books for "Foods 8" and "Textiles 8," and the arrival of boys in the kitchen and sewing room.

I hope you weathered the storm of the 1970s. I wonder if you ever wore jeans to school, and if you found at least one student who appreciated you, hairy ends, 5 step cooking plans and all. I wish I could tell you that I do now, even if I didn't then.

Thank you, Mrs. Maloney, for your legacy. Every muffin, pancake and pie I have ever made is partly thanks to you. Every costume I sewed has been easier and tidier because of what you taught me. I have never again constructed a button-front zipper back blouse, but if I have to, I know how.

Thank you for being authentically you, for making an impression that has lasted. Thank you Mrs. Maloney. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

question: did you have a Mrs. Maloney?

mompoet - not her real name


Muhd Imran said...

That has been a beautiful tribute to your home economics teacher. Her efforts had not been in vain or wasted. You're one of the proof she was put here for a purpose, how ever small and however mundane it may seem then, it's deeper and so much more meaningful now and in there future too I believe.

I have a Mrs Maloney in my life too. I wish I can be as eloquent as you are in writing a tribute to somebody that affects you in a positive way. It feels so grateful to have a chance to know such a person in our lifetime.

Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Great post Sue!