We hardly ever call a blouse a blouse in these days of tops and tees and such. Yet in Mrs. Helsel’s 1967 eighth grade homemaking class (to which only girls were admitted – boys were relegated to ‘shop), we were required to sew an A-line skirt and a blouse. With darts, a tuck sewed perpendicular to the rib-side of the garment. I remember perusing Sears and selecting a dark-not-navy poplin for the skirt and a simple lightweight bedsheet-white cotton for the blouse, then eagerly combing through P.B. Carroll’s for just the right colored spools of thread while being mindful not to omit straight pins, crimson pin cushion in the shape of a tomato and a Dritz tracing wheel with indigo carbon paper. I still possess these items in my closet, though they haven’t seen use in decades.
For my care and precision, I received a duly protested B-minus at the end of the term. My garments were thoughtfully crafted if not perfect, but the teacher was adamantly unmoved. Mrs. Helsel, a short woman with copper red hair set with foam rollers in a retro bubble style popular in the 1950’s, didn’t seem to keen to my dark eyes, snarky sense of humor and shapely curves. As homemaking was my only non-academic subject, she might well have been the only teacher who ever disliked me as a student. Her small rebellion was to give me the only B I was to receive in a sea of straight A‘s.
In those times and perhaps it remains so to this day, I could sense a teacher’s yearning for the occasional student who reflected their worth back to them as Educator, and I was known to provide good grist for that particular mill. Raised Mormon in a heavy-handed household, I knew how to play by the rules. But hormones had begun flowing in earnest, and I had my own trail to blaze which included, still includes, an eclectic choice of colorful companions. And though I savored these unique comrades like small victories each time I donned that simple A-line skirt, it wore me like a shortcoming and I eventually abandoned it to Goodwill.
As a post-script, forty-five years later with bouts of sewing in between (a Sesame Street Ernie doll for my eldest that was as tall as she, numerous custom Halloween costumes, a neverending stream of sewing and mending), I ventured across Hawaii island to a tiny import store. It was there I selected yardage from a few bolts of lovely welterweight Japanese cotton fabric, and within a few days began laboring over my sewing machine, turning out two Aloha shirts, one pair of wrap-around pants and a vest for Christmas presents. All gifts were received with great admiration, and my husband still garners the occasional compliment from admiring strangers. I would wager a bet I’m the only one in that eighth-grade class still sewing, much less enjoying it.
And no, I never went back to church.