SURVIVING THE HAZARDS OF HOE MEK

Sorry, Dear Friends, for staying away so long. I have spent the past  seven weeks enjoying four frenetic ambulance rides up and down the Interstate scattering less attention-craving vehicles thither and yon. After as many hospital incarcerations, it was decided to dose me with a new med, and now all is cool at least for the time being. Thanks for your concern and your patience. 

SURVIVING THE HAZARDS OF HOE MEK

Being a female teenager in the 50s, it was expected I should “learn to cook and to sew; what’s more, you’ll love it, I know.” (From a popular song of the period.) I think classes in Home Economics, as they were called in the 50s, no longer exist. It’s a good thing, too. I have a strong suspicion I am partially responsible for the demise of what I nicknamed “Hoe Mek.” If that is true I’m not ashamed to admit it. It is one of my proudest accomplishments. And believe me when I tell you, it wasn’t easy. I barely escaped Hoe Mek with my life, but not without bruises and spilled blood.

My first sortie into the heady atmosphere of classroom domesticity scarred me for life, but I had no choice in the matter. Back in those unenlightened days, at least in Nashville, Tennessee, 7th grade boys took “Shop.” Girls took Hoe Mek, which was considered too sissified for boys just as Shop was too dangerous for girls.  My father and I had worked together on small building projects for years. I knew my way around a coping saw and a tack hammer with the best of them, but Bailey Junior High’s curriculum was sexually explicit. No exceptions

The Hoe Mek teacher’s name was Mrs. Wray. She was an acquaintance of my mother’s. Mother told me I must be very attentive in class, and I was to take care to not give Mrs. Wray any trouble. It seemed she had a “nervous condition.”

But try as I might, I managed to give her grief practically from the first day of classes. I never knew the answers to the simplest questions: “How does one starch a shirt?” “Why is the tip of an iron hotter than the rest of the iron?” “How do you boil an egg without breaking the shell?” I hadn’t the slightest idea. Still don’t.

The first hands-on activity was sewing. We were told to buy two yards of a nice cotton print, and bring it to the next class. We were going to make a skirt. I announced the coming purchase to Mother, and she said we would go to town and pick out my fabric on Saturday. I was not in the least interested in sewing, and even less in owning a cotton print skirt. But Mother was excited about it, and promised to answer any questions I might have at home. She would even introduce me to her own sainted sewing machine. I didn’t even try to appear interested.

I took my fabric to school as instructed, and followed Mrs. Wray’s direction. We did some cutting, none of which I remember, and set about basting the seams. I was happy to discover I understood the directions, and “with a song in my heart” (another popular song of the period) I proceeded to take long hand-stitches.

I soon noticed Mrs. Wray hanging out near my seat at the sewing table. At one time, I managed to glance unnoticed up at her, and she had a quizzical look on her face as she studied my stitching.

Suddenly, she yelled, “Mildred, you’re stitching backwards.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. “You’re sewing backwards. You’re using your right hand, but you’re sewing in a left-handed direction. Stop it this instant!” I hadn’t the slightest idea what she was on about. I asked her, but she was becoming more and more distraught.

Oh no! I had activated Mrs. Wray’s nervous condition!

She quickly wrote a note and told me to take it home to Mother just as the bell rang releasing me from her frenetic note-writing and material- gathering. She literally shoved me out the door.

This incident was the first in a long series of similar occurrences that continue to this day, which seems to indicate there is a wire crossed in my brain. I use my right hand, but somehow I do things in a left-hander’s direction. It’s caused no small amount of consternation, mostly among those from whom I have taken instruction, such as square dancing, pottery making and horseback riding. The first two caused amazement, but the horse didn’t seem to notice.

It soon became obvious to me Mrs. Wray thought I had some evil intent to send her over the edge by sewing backwards. Little did she know what lay ahead. When the skirts finally reached the sewing machines, I was terrified. My machine looked to me as though it was the one with evil intent.

My first day at the machine began surrounded by an aura of unaccustomed calm. Mrs. Wray took her usual position standing over me. My confidence built slowly and before I knew it, I was busily  pushing my skirt gathers underneath the presser foot. I may even have been humming a little ditty, as I happily ignored the sinister watchfulness of Mrs. Wray.

“No, Mildred!” she suddenly shouted, successfully destroying the mood. “You’re doing it again! You’re sewing back…”

I looked up at her while the sewing machine continued to gobble up gathers. Mrs. Wray screamed again just as I felt a jab of pain. I looked down to see a logjam of gathers under the needle. The fabric was rapidly turning red, and I realized underneath the fabric my finger was impaled on the needle.

Mrs. Wray’s hands flew to either side of her head as she quickly backed away from me. Some of the girls helped her to a chair; some ran for the school nurse; and some helped me get my finger out of the sewing machine. Blood was everywhere. Mrs. Wray, whose nervous condition had her in its grip, continued to scream.

I’m not sure about the order of events after that. I do know Mother came to pick me up. She took me to the doctor, who told me how lucky I was. The needle had only grazed the outside of my index finger. It looked, he said, a lot worse than it actually was. He added I should be more careful when operating a sewing machine.

The photograph you see below was taken the following Monday. During the ensuing weekend, Mother called Mrs. Wray to ask after her health and to apologize for my behavior, after which she went to the fabric shop and bought another two yards of a “nice cotton print.” She sewed it up into a gathered skirt, put a clean band-aid on my finger and sent me off to school. She suggested I might want to avoid Mrs. Wray, if at all possible.

The picture was taken for Bailey Junior High’s annual. Its purpose was to show off the 7th Grade Girls’ sewing skills. I showed off my mother’s sewing skills. The photographer showed off his people-arranging skills by placing the Giant Girl (me) in the center of the shot and placing the cute, short girls in descending order by my sides, making me appear even taller, but what the hey! Given the indisputable fact I was already the star of the show, like it or not, I guess it was appropriate. Oh, by the way, that was the first and LAST time I wore that skirt.

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HORSES ‘N’ HATS

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

At the risk of butchering Lord Tennyson’s romantic sentiment, I will paraphrase it like so: “In the spring an old lady’s fancy bombastically turns to thoughts of horse racing. It is, after all, Kentucky Derby week. I’ve been crazy about the Derby since I was a mere stripling. But more about those good ol’ days later.

The Kentucky Derby is as much about hats as it is the “fastest two minutes in sports,” as the news pundits put it. I love to watch the pre-race activities to see the hats and the stables where the horses peer out from their stalls. They obviously don’t know or care which of them will wear the roses and will become famous just after those two minutes. Right now, California Chrome is the favorite. But who knows? I carefully study the horses and pick my own favorite.

It’s actually a two-day event for me. The Kentucky Oaks is on Friday just before the third Saturday in May. It’s for fillies only, and it’s almost as exciting as the Derby.

I love hats. Some of the hats I see on ladies strolling through Churchill Downs are intentionally silly and fun, but I’m partial to the truly beautiful hats. Come to think of it, I suppose that’s subjective.

My favorite hats are those auctioned off in that most unique of Derby events, “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby.” The hats are sponsored by Maggie Mae Designs and are designed by Sally Faith Steinmann. The woman is a genius. Each hat is inspired by a thoroughbred at Old Friends. It’s a charity event that benefits one of my all-time favorite places to visit: Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm.[See Links Page] in Lexington, Kentucky. I know many of the horses retired there, mostly by reputation. It’s a special thrill for me to reach over the fence and pet one of my many horse heroes.

Another of my heroes, who is very active in the race horse business is Rosie Napravnik, one of the few female jockeys working today. Rosie distinguishes herself every time she races. She is pictured wearing several of the hats in the portfolio of auction hats on the Old Friends web site.

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Rosie Napravnik wears a hat that would be perfect for the Kentucky Derby. (Equisportsphoto.com) But on Derby Day Rosie will wearing a different hat. (photo timesunion.com)

Now, hold on.  I didn’t forget. I promised you a good ol’ days story.

 Citation poses for the camera. He was a beautiful bay.


Citation poses for the camera. He was a beautiful bay.

My favorite Kentucky Derby winner as well as Triple Crown champion was Citation. He was three – all Derby horses are three — and I was 11 years old.  It was 1948, and the Derby was to be on the upcoming Saturday. I was wildly excited about it, so I was horrified when Mother announced that my sister and I were invited to Patricia Murphy’s  birthday party on Saturday. When I told her I couldn’t possibly go, she further indicated attendance at the party was mandatory. Saturday came and because Mother was never one to suffer rebellion, I kept my disappointment to myself. I also made secret plans that I dared to hope would work out. The party was indoors, and the house was full of both kids and grownups milling about. Mind you, there was no TV in 1948. I searched the house for a portable radio, but found none.

In a corner of the living room there was a huge floor-model radio. I was happy to discover the Derby’s call to the post time coincided with the time for the opening of presents, which were stacked on the dining room table. I figured I could easily sneak away when no one would notice. Feeling both confident and hesitant, I silently sidled up to the radio, and selected the station on which I knew the race would be broadcast. No one was aware I had left the celebrants.

It was almost time for the Derby when the birthday girl, Patricia, decided the presents should be piled on the coffee table and the overflow on the floor. She would open them while seated on the sofa as everyone watched. That made things a little iffy. Their backs would be turned to me, but I ran the risk of them hearing the radio.

I positioned myself with my back to the radio and a hand behind me grasping the knob. I would wait till there was a loud exclamation about the presents, and then I would turn the knob to a barely discernible volume. Suddenly, everyone decided to sit on the floor, which would leave me standing at the edge of the crowd. Why did it have to be this hard? Didn’t these idiots know it was time for the Derby?

I had to go for broke. I waited for a shout of delirious astonishment over the unbelievable present, then I slid down to the floor, and as I did so, I quickly turned the knob to what I thought would be super low. No one seemed to hear. So far so good! Leaning against the radio, my ear on the speaker, I listened to the race. I held my breath as Citation came from behind to win.

I forgot all about being quiet, about the party, about the crowd, about Mother, about everything. I leaped up and shouted, “He did it! Citation won! I knew he would!”

There was an immediate silence. Not a sound. All eyes were on me. I looked at Mother. She was staring daggers. I sat down and waited for the din to resume, which it did after what seemed like hours.

On the way home Mother delivered a stern lecture about being unfriendly and rude, not to mention my unrelenting determination and sneaky behavior. I was to call Patricia and apologize for my unseemly actions. In addition, I would write a heartfelt note of apology to her mother.

I knew I had it coming, but to this day I consider it a small price to pay to hear Citation win the Derby. People who know about horse racing named him the third best horse of the 20th century. Man ‘o’ War is first and Secretariat second.

But Citation will always be first in my heart. I’ll never forget him.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED

Peter, Paul and Mary recorded a song that went something like this:

    Times have changed. All the good times that we had are gone now
     Passed this way. Only mem’ries will remain tomorrow

I can relate. If you are as old as I am you know that time zips by so fast it takes your breath away. If you’re not as old as I am, take my advice: don’t blink. You won’t recognize your world when you open your eyes again.

My grandsons and I tried to relate to each other for a while. Many times they would bring me a song on one of their ever-changing electronic devices: “Listen to this one. I think you’ll like it.” I listened, but alas, it just didn’t do it for me. I told them I kind of liked it, but they could tell I was just trying to be as cool as they hoped I would be. We were so close when they were little, but it too soon became evident we were drifting apart. As PP and M sang:

We thought our dreams would be enough for a while and all the plans that we made             Hey, we had loved, that was all that we had. Now even that don’t seem the same

But, thank goodness, I got over it. I finally stopped trying to see their sweet baby smiles when I behold their grown-up handsome faces. I still don’t like their music. I still marvel at the activities they take part in, the TV shows they watch, their must-have cell phones that text, take pictures, play music, communicate with satellites, their adoration of Dr. Who, the clothes they wear….ah, the clothes they wear! Nowhere are the changes so eye-popping evident than in the apparel they choose for the prom.

The high school in the Ohio town where I live had its prom this weekend. I couldn’t help but think of my own prom at good ol’ East Nashville High in 1954. Wait a minute. Can that really be 60 years ago? Of course “Times Have Changed.” In all that span of time the horse and buggy evolved into the internal combustion engine.

I scrounged around and found some pix of my prom days. Please excuse the quality. All I could do is scan the photos of the queen and her court from my annual. I couldn’t find my own prom picture, but a frantic call to my friend, Corinne, in Nashville, turned up a photo of a picture taken of her at her boyfriend’s 1956 prom. Close enough. Corinne can always be counted on. The woman is disgustingly organized.
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If you should be as old or maybe as southern as I am, you might recognize the bouffant skirts on our dresses.  In addition to making us look like we belonged on top of wedding cakes, they were hideously uncomfortable. We selected wide hoops to wear under or over (I forget which) multiple crinoline petticoats. These monstrosities scratched our legs, driving us to distraction. Even worse, if our mothers made us wear hose, they were hanging in shreds from our legs at the close of the evening.

Sitting down was impossible. If we were about to pass out from the vapors (we were southern ladies, after all) we had to remember to hike up our hoops in the back before we sat. Forgetting to do so forced the front of the hoop to leap up in front of us, sometimes high enough to expose the equally uncomfortable Merry Widow long-line bra and combination waist cincher. It was seriously boned and gouged us unmercifully wherever the bone tips ended.

It is little wonder the girls of today, and probably the girls of long-ago yesterdays got smart and elected to wear much more comfortable and elegant dresses than we wore. There is also a wonderful tendency to aspire to different looks, whereas we elected to wear only pastel tulle and netting in near-identical styles.

PROM_1956_250The boys at East High were also Twinkies. They wore white dinner jackets, tuxedo trousers and black bow ties.  I noticed in Corinne’s photo, her boyfriend had on a standard satin lapel tuxedo. My friend, Dave, sent me a note with pictures about our prom. It’s a more personal viewpoint. I had to scan it and I hope it’s readable. I placed it at the end of this blog.

The boys at our 2014 prom wore tuxedos and their accessories were carefully selected to match their dates’ dresses. It’s become the fashion for a few friends to gather at one of their homes to meet and take photos before leaving for the prom. Many families in our town pay for limousines to make the event even more special. I have included some photos of my grandson and his friends all dressed up in way more comfortable, but equally gorgeous prom outfits than my friends wore.

Daughter Mandy and her boyfriend, Steve, at their 1978 prom. Steve wore a “bamboo tux.” The lime green and blue tuxes of the early 70s were calming down by 1978. Both Mandy’s dress and his tux were inspired by Saturday Night Fever. It was disco time!

Below is grandson Evan and his girlfriend, Ariel, before their 2014 prom. Ariel is so beautiful. I guess we’ll have to wait a few years before this era is named.

 

The before and after prom activities have also changed. After our proms, we went out to dinner in the most expensive restaurant our dates could afford. Because it was a special night our curfews were set up to 1 am. No curfew the rest of the year was that late.

The 2014 activities were very different. After picture-taking, the groups went out to dinner at a nice restaurant, then on to the prom. They danced to a dee jay, whereas we had an orchestra back in the day.  After the prom the modern day celebrants went for a casual meal, then to one of the homes to change into their everyday clothes. Or maybe I have the order mixed – never mind. The rest of the night was spent bowling, or watching a movie or just hanging out until they split up: the girls into their slumber party (if that’s what it’s still called) and the boys into theirs.

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I hear a good time was had by all, but because it is so uncool to be very effusive, they said something like, “Yeah, it was okay.” Being an ordinary, usual, everyday grandmother, I had a great time because they were all home safely. So…

      Peace of mind, peace of mind, where’s the happiness we should be having?
      We can’t find all the answers in the good times we had 

Maybe it’s not such a sad song after all. Maybe the message is we shouldn’t seek the happiness in our long-gone good times, but in the good times our kids are having and our own good times now and in the future.

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