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Home Economics

  • Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis
Home  Economics

I never realized just how much there is to learn about running a household until I had Mrs. Elizabeth Barnes for Home Economics my senior year. We were very lucky that year; the gas company had donated new, gas stoves for the Home Economics classes, and Mrs. Barnes had allowed male students to join her senior class. 

Mrs. Barnes had the foresight to realize that times were changing, and men would need to know how to help at home, and women would need to learn to manage working both inside and outside the home. She taught the importance of budgeting household expenses as well as budgeting our time. She wanted us to know how to behave in any social situation, which included knowing the proper way to set a table, serve food and use good manners.

In the event we might someday be hired to wait tables, plan banquets, or even operate our own restaurants, she knew that seemingly unimportant information would be useful. As I later helped plan and serve meals at church luncheons or civic club banquets, I was grateful for her foresight. 

Always the epitome of a Southern lady in the best sense of the word, Mrs. Barnes taught by example. She said, “Good manners are always based on consideration of others,” and that lesson includes even how we dress. She said it shows respect for others when we make an effort to appear neat, clean and appropriately dressed. I supposed that is why we dress better for church and other sacred or special events. Nobody dresses down for the opera or an inaugural ball, I’ve noticed.

When I see young people dressed either to offend or rebell against their elders, I think of Mrs. Barnes, and wonder what she would say if she could see sagging pants with underwear showing, dangerously short shorts with holes in them, and tee shirts bearing rude messages. Adolescence is famous for being the most rebellious years, but the smartest people I know survived them by simply remembering to be considerate of other people, including their parents.      

My husband, Dan, and I have lived in the North, the South, the Midwest and the West, and nowhere have I seen better manners than in the South.  I assumed I would always live in Marianna, but Mrs. Barnes foresaw that many of us were likely to end up in places where the cost of living is higher.

She taught us how to budget our income but, in some areas, she warned we might have to budget more for housing. She was so right about that! For fifteen years, we lived in California, where housing costs are the highest in the nation. By the time we made house payments, we had to live close to the bone on everything else. She emphasized the importance of saving, but that is hard to do in areas  where the cost of living is high, so when we had the opportunity to return to the South, we put our house on the market immediately. We discovered that in Georgia, we could afford two houses for what one would cost in 

California.

Mrs. Barnes noted that budgeting would change during different stages of our life. Starting out as a married couple, housing and transportation would be a big issue, then providing for children would increase expenditures, especially if higher education was included. Medical costs would soar during our last years, so we should put aside money for that too.

She made cooking fun for us, telling us that all our senses are used when we cook. Our hearing tells us when something is boiling too fast; our nose alerts us to food that is burning, and our eyes let us know when the pie crust has browned enough, or if egg shells have accidentally made their way into eggs being scrambled. “Nobody is born knowing how to cook,” she said. “It is a learned art as well as a skill.”

She said we should all have a special dish with which to impress guests, and taught us how to make Baked Alaska, starting with whipping up a perfect meringue. (As a young bride, I sometimes impressed guests by making that desert but after adding four children to our family, I became far less inclined to  show off. )

What I remember best about Mrs. Barnes is the respect she showed her students, male or female, richer or poorer, and even when we weren’t paying attention or doing as well as we could have. It is sometimes hard to show respect to people with whom we disagree, but it is important all the same that we do. When one of my neighbors was insulted by another one, I asked her how she managed to politely ignore it.  “Oh, Honey,” she replied. “He doesn’t know any better. He’s a Yankee.” 

“Careful, Gloria,” I warned. “I’m married to one, you know.”

“Oh, that’s alright, honey,” she consoled me. “ Everybody makes mistakes.”    

A video of Elizabeth Barnes on her daughter, Betty’s Facebook page, says it all about Mrs. Barnes, “Good intentions are the seeds of good actions and everyone should sow them and leave it to the soil and the seasons as to whether they or any others gather the fruit.”

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