by Eva Pasco
Spiraling down Jefferson Airplane's
Go Ask Alice when she's ten feet tall looking glass of the sixties, I find myself winding along
the linoleum corridors, a seventh grader at Lincoln Junior High. I spot a
yellow piece of paper the size of a credit card on the floor. Those coveted "passes" bearing a
teacher's John Hancock allowed us students a furlough of two minutes travel time out of
class to the lavatory. In this day and age when one is advised to wash hands for the amount of time
it takes to sing "Happy Birthday," those passes wouldn't have afforded much freedom--unless all you
intended to do was take a few drags on a cig.
Teachers stood outside their classroom doors to monitor these
"letters of transit." One sentinel was Mrs. L, the Home Economics teacher. Well-groomed, tall,
regal, and authoritative, she rounded up the usual suspects to interrogate for bogus passes
with forged signatures while her girls filed into the Home Ec room. Once inside her domain, you forfeited your identity by stuffing
your locks into a hairnet and donning a pinafore apron for the cooking segment of
I remember well my role for one such recipe
of the day-- breaking an egg over dry mixture. Too Timid to crack the shell, Mrs. L's
penetrating voice squeaked like a shrill violin, "I can tell you never bake at home." The buck
didn't stop with me. She'd threaten to trim bangs if they hung in your eyes. She'd
admonish you to stand up straight. She'd reprimand you to pick up your feet and walk gracefully
like a lady. She'd voice her displeasure with those who wore heavy makeup with a tsk tsk and, "Did your
mother see you leave the house like that?"
The worst part of Ick was sewing. I'd never
even threaded a needle, let alone wield a fork to crack an egg. To say I found it challenging to
decipher the foreign symbols of a Simplicity pattern, as well as possess the dexterity to
pin tissue paper on fabric and cut along dotted lines and around
notches, was an understatement. I can't tell you how many times Mrs. L had me "rip out seams"
because they were crooked. And how she hated seeing long strings hanging from those
garments! "Lazy women's threads," she'd call them.
Truth is, these A-line skirts were behind the
eight ball fashion plate--especially at Mrs. L's decreed modest length below the knee. The only
girl who ever wore this byproduct of Home Ick in public was statuesque, Sophia
Loren-like Nelda--and not by choice, let me tell you. Nelda happened to be in the cubby for
Mrs. L to pin up her hem. The fire alarm box sounded off for a routine firedrill. Mrs. L
coerced Nelda to come out of the cubby and file out with her raggedy-edged skirt grazing her ankles.
That's when I knew our teacher had a soft spot for us. Sensing Nelda's embarrassment, she draped her
own full-length coat over her. Once outside in the quadrangle, the rest of us girls shivered
and shielded Nelda from the Shop boys who didn't seem to mind their own full-length aprons
flapping in the breeze.
During the innocence of the early sixties, Mrs.
L presided over a curriculum designed to mold impressionable girls into refined young
ladies under the subject headings of cooking, sewing, babysitting, and good
grooming. Given the relaxed dress code and shakier moral grounds of today, I'm sure she
would roll her eyes and tsk tsk as a procession of girls entered her domain sporting
nose rings, pink streaks, tattoos, and belly shirts.
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