It must have been a scented candle someone was burning.
Why else would I suddenly — in the middle of a clothing store — be magically transported back dozens of years and hundreds of miles — to my high school class in Home Economics?
It was the spring of — well, never mind that — as I and the other girls on my team hoped we’d achieved just the right amount of charring on the glistening halves of pink grapefruit that had been cut, sectioned, and put under a broiler.
Why did we even bother? No one eats grapefruit anyway, hot or cold! Everybody I know these days picks it out of fruit cocktails for fear that it will deactivate their cholesterol medication.
In fact, this was probably the single most useless thing I learned in my entire high school career — and I am including trigonometry.
We made some other silly things, too — most notably, a crisply starched purple-and-white gingham-checked apron that would have been hopeless in battle against tomato sauce.
So much time was wasted, preparing us for a life we were never going to live. By contrast, there are so many things they never taught us, but should have.
Things like how to balance a checkbook (I still can’t); how to write a letter disputing a bill, or credit card charges; how to ask for a pay raise, to cover the credit card charges; how to fix a toilet; how to find the main water shut-off valve, once it’s become obvious that your efforts to fix the toilet are only making things worse….
Or even something as simple as changing a duvet cover.
“Mom! What’s a doo-vay?” asked one brother, watching me as I worked.
“It’s the plural of ‘dufus,’ you dufus,” said the other.
“So what does that make the pair of you?” asked their father, coming to join the show.
“Here, make yourselves useful,” I told them. “This is a duvet. Now, hold this for me… I’m going in!”
And I dived into the duvet cover, holding one corner of our newly-laundered comforter in one hand, and a safety pin in the other. My idea was to burrow up to a far corner of the cover and pin the comforter there, before I ran out of breath.
“Oh! I think I saw this on Youtube!” said one brother.
“Really? Was it shot at Sea World?” asked my husband.
“I heard that!” I yelled. “Rats!”
“No, seals I think.”
“I mean, Rats, I lost the safety pin and now we have to start over!”
I emerged, red-faced and sweaty at the foot of the bed.
“At least find that pin before you try again,” said my husband.
“Okay, I’ve found it. Now let’s try again — only each of you boys take one corner this time — you, go left, and you go right — and your Dad and I will just have to pin them in place from outside.”
“You’re not going to hurt us, are you?”
It’s a good thing they were there to help me. The last time I tried this, without them, I somehow lost sight of the exit and thrashed around for what felt like years, till the thumping noises and muffled oaths brought my husband upstairs. This time it was Family 1, Comforter 0.
“Didn’t they teach you about this in that famous Home Ec course of yours, Judy?”
“Of course they didn’t. They barely told us about pillows!” We all collapsed, exhausted, in a sweaty heap on the bed.
“It’s a good thing the new washing machine can handle comforters,” said my husband. “By the way — where is the instruction manual?”
“I don’t know! Why are you asking, anyway?”
“I thought I’d better read it, because you never will.”
Like I was saying…. Something else I never learned: How to read instruction books and make any sense of them — rather than slowly and vengefully tearing each page into little tiny pieces…pieces so small that no one else in your family will ever find them, or know what you have done with them….
“Judy! Where could you have put that thing? Don’t you have a file for ‘Equipment Instructions and Warranties?’ ”
“Oh, what a good idea! Too bad they never taught me that in school! Now where could that thing be…Honey, Why don’t you take a look in the duvet cover? Let me help you with that zipper.…”