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November, 2011

Mrs. Hurt

by Julia

I wish I had a picture of Mrs. Hurt, my home economics teacher in High School. However cameras were not used so extensively back in 1937-1940 when I attended school, and I did not own one. If I had a Year Book I would find a picture but I couldn't even afford to buy one of those either. So I shall have to paint a word picture of this woman who was so influential in my life.

I began high school in the 9th grade, after graduating from Junior High School. While in junior high I had taken a beginning sewing course and had made a slip and pair of pajamas. In high school I signed up for Home Ec., as it was called, and that included sewing as well as cooking. My teacher, Mrs. Hurt, was a rather tall woman, not fat, but what was referred to as "big-boned." She seemed to me quite commanding, not in an intimidating way, but just quite sure of herself. Of course in those days it would never occur to a student to talk back to a teacher, so she would naturally have expected no trouble. However I soon found that she made the lessons quite interesting, talking to us of the importance of wearing the right colors for our individual skin tones, the proper "findings" as I remember she called them. Basically she taught that wearing the right kind of slip beneath a dress, having hose with the seams straight, gloves that were sparkly white, the proper purse to accent the outfit, and a hat that fit the whole look were all necessary to project the well dressed lady.

She had a large collection of color samples, so we took several days to select just the right colors for each student. Mine turned out to be a maroon and a teal green, among others, which I was told would be most flattering. Then we had lessons on how to choose a pattern which would be appropriate for our size and shape. Only then could we buy a piece of fabric to make a dress. My first dress was a figured maroon rayon material. I shall never forget the thrill of making something which was cheaper than a "bought" dress and looked great on me. Mrs. Hurt was very strict in that seams had to be sewn just so or she would have us rip them out and do the whole thing over. I soon learned it was counterproductive to hurry carelessly. Proper mending was stressed also, for nothing was more detrimental to a person's looks than a rip or tear showing.

Julia in San Antonio, TX, about 1946
I remember well the lessons we had in cooking also. It was still Depression days, when many people still had no job and little money for food. In our household, we raised chickens and rabbits, my Uncle who lived on the same block had a cow, and we had fruit trees and a large vegetable garden as well. So food was not the difficulty that it was for some. However, Mrs. Hurt's lessons were geared toward making nutritious meals with cheap commodities. She taught us how to take a tough cut of the less expensive beef and cook it wonderfully. She taught us to cut up a chicken and apportion the pieces so that three meals could be prepared from one chicken. Soups and salads could be made with almost anything, and they could be delicious too.

The sewing and cooking lessons were very helpful, and I have benefited immeasurably from them as I raised a family on the minimum I could, so we were able to always save some money for our later years. This was very important to both me and my husband, because we had experienced tragically the many hardships brought on by the Depression. So it is with gratitude for those lessons that I am writing a memoir of Mrs. Hurt.

This dear teacher gave me much more than lessons in sewing and cooking. In my school days there was no air-conditioning, so summer could be quite stinky for some. My grandfather and step grandmother, with whom I lived, were of the old school, I guess you would say. You took a bath once a week on Saturday, so as to be relatively fresh for church on Sunday. I could swab a bit under the arms, but a bath was not a daily affair. Even changing my clothes daily was unheard of, and I had to argue just to be allowed to change twice a week. One day in class Mrs. Hurt brought out a small cardboard box and proceeded to take from it a small jar of Mum, a deodorant. She never looked at me but explained to the whole class the importance of staying odor free. Of course I felt the talk was directed straight at me, but she passed out samples to every girl. I never after that failed to find enough money to buy a jar of deodorant.

My grandfather had a job with the Katy Railroad, but during the Depression, when both my Father and Uncle lost jobs, he was supporting all of us. So money for school clothes was in really short supply and I often wore hand me downs from our neighbors daughter. They mostly didn't fit and were certainly not my style. One day, Mrs. Hurt asked me to remain a few minutes after class. She said that she had bought a blouse thinking it would fit, but it was really too small. She thought maybe I could use it and wanted to give it to me. She brought out this beautiful maroon (just my color) blouse and handed it to me. Now I've already told you she was tall and big boned; probably a size 16 at least. I was barely size 12 and flat chested to boot. I knew there was no way she could have thought that darling little blouse would fit her. My heart just slopped over with love for that woman!

Finally, there is one more thing to earn my place of honor for Mrs. Hurt. I don't remember exactly how I learned that I had been voted into the National Honor Society, but one day I was informed that I was now a member. I was astonished because, although my grades were good, I had not been able to participate in other activities to show superior citizenship, which was another criteria for being accepted. I enquired around and found that each proposed Honor Society student had to have two teachers as sponsors. Mrs. Hurt had gone to my Journalism teacher and suggested that they be my sponsors. Now when some former classmate asks me what page I'm on in the Yearbook I can say I'm not in the Yearbook; I didn't have the $5.00 to get my picture taken, and I didn't have the $5.00 to buy a year book. But then I add proudly, "If you look on the National Honor Society page, you will see my name."

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