Students can consider themselves very fortunate as they go through elementary, middle, and high school, if they have one teacher who makes a lasting impression. Students fortunate enough to be educated in Jackson County are blessed to have had many teachers who have made a lasting impression on their lives. One such teacher of this magnitude was Miss Elizabeth Curry. Miss Curry taught something of past school years that is not taught in most schools today- home economics. It is appropriate that I chose to revisit Miss Curry in the TIMES teacher feature this week considering my reference on social media of the lack of the very skills she made sure every student who passed through her class had.
Miss Curry presented herself in a manner that commanded respect for the subject she was assigned to teach. Miss Curry taught ninth and tenth grade girls how to sew well enough they could make their own wardrobe by semester’s end. She taught them the importance of individuality with emphasis on respect of others. Miss Curry taught during some changing times, when long hair became the thing because of the ‘Beatles’ and mini-skirts were the craze. She was quick to point out that every “fad is not agreeable with everyone’s body and we must keep that in mind when choosing our wardrobes.” Miss Curry was an excellent seamstress with skills to teach the art that were second to none. She took students who entered her classroom without being able to find the eye of a needle and transformed them into young ladies who could whip up a dress, skirt, pants, or blouse with a moment’s notice. Those were the three pieces of clothing you were taught to make because those were the only clothing allowed in schools at that time. Shorts were not ‘school appropriate’ and thus she did not cover that item of clothing in her teaching. She taught you to cut on the bias when you were cutting material, something that was somewhat of a challenge for those who had never picked up a pair of seamstress scissors. The challenge was short-lived as Miss Curry’s patience was above the norm.
The second semester of Miss Curry’s class was her favorite as witnessed by the gleam in her eye when she shared her vast knowledge of dining etiquette. She brought to the classroom, fine china, crystal, and silver, along with elaborate table linens to demonstrate the art of fine dining at its best. Those who have lived long enough still have fond memories of Miss Curry’s lasting impression on them.
Sandra Wilson says of Miss Curry, “For those who ever met Ms. Curry, you can honestly say you had met one fine lady, as real as they come! She instilled in all who were fortunate enough to be under her wings, the desire to set as fine a table as ever could be. She brought all the finer things into so many lives, many who had never seen, much less touched fine china, crystal, and silver by teaching us how to set a proper table, make a center piece, and to make finger foods for entertaining. She taught us how to diaper a baby, and Pampers were not an option at that time, using a big life size boy doll brought in by a student for us to practice the skills she taught. Ms. Curry was a one of a kind treasure and all her students loved her.”
Those same sentiments are expressed by Beverly Williams, “I first had Ms. Curry as a teacher in the ninth grade. I have to say initially I was very nervous because I had heard she could be very outspoken, stern, and strict so I was a little worried. I sat as quiet as I could for the first few days. When class was dismissed the fifth day of school, I told her what a pretty outfit she had on. As graciously as she always was, she said, “I made it.” In the weeks that followed, I found myself eagerly looking forward to her class and I sincerely liked her. I took her sewing class in the 10th grade and I loved it. Sometimes she would ask me to assist other students who were struggling either with cutting out patterns or sewing on the machines. Ms. Curry proved to be an inspiration to me and a good influence in many ways. I immediately knew I wanted to follow her ways, to teach the love of being a seamstress and to teach those who came before me how to set a table and appreciate the finer things in life as Ms. Curry had taught me. Even today, I think of Miss Curry often and all she taught me, and I hope she knows how much she changed my life.”
Miss Curry had the students make their grocery list for the week with her making the actual purchases. On the list you saw no ‘mixes’, only basic ingredients. Scalloped potatoes were made from potatoes dug out of the ground, peeled, sliced and prepared at school. The sauce was made for them, not poured out of a jar. Chicken salad was made with a fresh chicken, cut up by the students, stewed, and deboned for the salad, along with boiled eggs, and the rest of the ingredients. Student who completed her class were fully able to prepare a breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal for themselves or for a family.
One thing students remember was the importance she placed on the appearance of food on a plate. She could often be heard on a daily basis saying, “Food that is attractive is as important as food that tastes good. Add color to your plate and it will enhance the meal.” One of her favorite examples of adding color was adding a ‘sprig of parsley to your breakfast plate.’ Till today her students remember her saying, “A breakfast plate lacks color, yellow or white eggs do not add color to a brown meat and white grits but a sprig of parsley enhances the appearance and that enhances the taste.”
Home economics has been replaced by culinary and life skills in most school curriculums but if you have the opportunity to know and visit with a student from the 50s to the 70s, who had the pleasure of Miss Elizabeth Curry’s expertise, a short visit with them will enlighten your day.
From this writer, hats off to Miss Elizabeth Curry, a true lady with an art that the world could use more of today!