I heard this totally true tale some years ago. Heaven knows why it came back to me today; sometimes you just remember things and isn’t that lucky?
Out on a gig in Florida, I met a woman I’ll call Joyce. She was in her late fifties, I’d say. We had a few hours in a car together, driving out to Pensacola past the blooming cotton fields, just 30 miles or so in from the coast. We liked each other right away. In these kinds of situations (okay, in most situations) I’d rather learn about someone else’s life than talk about my own, so I unofficially interviewed Joyce as we drove along. Of course, one of the first questions I asked her was how she learned to sew. Joyce was very good at sewing, you see.
She chuckled. “Well, I’ll tell you the real story, Mary, because I like you. I don’t always go into it because it’s really very sad.”
I leaned forward in my car seat. (Not like, a baby car seat. I was in a normal car seat.)
“Neither my mother or grandmother did much sewing, so I sewed my first stitch in high school,” she said. “I took a home economics class* my freshman year. The cooking lessons and so forth, that was okay, I guess, but I just loved the sewing. Took to it right away. Before long, I was making all my clothes and clothes for my friends.”
“The woman who taught all the home economics classes was a nice woman and a good teacher in her way, but — and this is the terrible part — she was… Well, she was a drinker. A terrible alcoholic, you know, and she would come into the classroom in the morning, even in the middle of the day, smelling like liquor. She lived alone, I seem to remember. It was terrible, really sad.”
“Oh, Joyce!” I said.
“So, by the time I got to the end of sophomore year — it might’ve even been earlier than that — I had gotten so good at sewing and making clothes and home things, you know, like curtains and ironing board covers and all that, I was helping the other girls quite a bit. Well, one afternoon, she asked me if I would teach the class for her.”
“She was drunk?” I asked, my eyes big.
“She didn’t come out and say that, of course, but oh, she was in terrible shape. And that was how it started: I ended up teaching all the sewing lessons in the home economics classes my entire junior and senior year…while she slept in the coat closet.”
My mouth hung open.
“Joyce,” I said, “You’re telling me you taught two years of high school economics classes as a high school student while your teacher slept it off in the coat room??”
“Didn’t anyone say anything??”
Joyce shook her head. “No one said anything. We were having fun and turning her in just didn’t seem kind, I guess. She was a nice woman.”
“No wonder you’re so good sewing,” I said, trying not to stare.
“Oh, I’ve still got plenty to learn. But it’s true that if I was good at sewing before all that, I got better fast, having to have my lesson plans ready,” Joyce laughed. “Anyway, that’s how I learned to sew.” She paused. “But I usually just say I learned in high school.”
Wherever you are, Joyce, thanks for the story. And wherever you are, Home Economics Teacher, I hope you’re in a better place.
*This field of study is formally called Family and Consumer Science, but Joyce used the term “home economics classes” when she told me the story, so I’m going with that.