Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Real Women Don't Order

In 1948, back in the village where I’d gone to high school and with no particular credentials, I was happy to earn an occasional $10 a day as a substitute teacher.  (Today’s equivalent in buying power, $98.)
Different world then – the principal told me “There’s still such a labor shortage, I’d be happy just to find a baby sitter for the day. " I remember that because I felt insulted. 
At that point I knew how to boil water but not much else, so I hesitated to take over the Home Ec classes.  (Do they still call it Home Economics?  Do they even still teach it?) Then the ailing teacher called me herself..“Just look in the second drawer down in my desk. There’s an assortment of menus. You can talk about what to do in a restaurant. Many of those girls have never eaten out.”

Turned out – I asked them – more than half the girls had never been in a restaurant. Ours was a central high school – kids bussed in from farm hamlets all over the county. They’d grown up with The War, shortages of everything including cars, tires and gasoline. Many had never been to Canandaigua, 25 miles away. Only a few had been to Rochester, a full hour away by car. So while they could have taught me a lot about Cooking and Sewing (many were wearing dresses they’d made themselves) I had no trouble stretching restaurant discussions into full 50-hour periods.
One’s purse, for instance, never goes on the table. And then there’s that confusion about the two sides of the menu – what’ are a la carte, prix fixe, table d'hote? --that one required some time at the blackboard, which was, as I remember, still black in those days.
We didn’t spend much time on the question of tips, because we all assumed you’d find yourself in a restaurant only when you were with your family, Daddy paying, or else out on a date.
In the finer restaurants, you’d be handed the ladies’ menu, the one with no prices listed. You and your escort discussed what you’d like to eat and then he alone would undertake to address the waiter: “The lady will have the trout…” If my granddaughters have trouble believing the world was once like that, I’ll send them to those old black-and-white movies. We’ve come a long way, baby.


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