Mrs. Quiggle

I didn’t know they made teachers so old, but Mrs. Quiggle was that old when she was my 8th grade Home Economics teacher. She perched on a high stool in the corner of the classroom, leaning over a wooden podium that she used as her desk. Home Ec was my favorite class, along with math — two classes that didn’t require a whole lot of talking in front of your peers, you just gotta follow the instructions. There was one instruction that I tried my best not to follow, and that was pressing the seam open after sewing a set of stitches. Oh good Lord, ain’t nobody got time for this laborious step, and I hated ironing more than sin.

Mrs. Quiggle could always tell though when I skipped the ironing nonsense, “Now, here, young lady, you didn’t press the seams open again! See how it’s puckered here and not lying flat as it should here? I’m going to need you to remove these stitches and start over again.” All I wanted to say in reply was, And I’m going to need you to retire, Mrs. Quiggle, before your body gets cold.

I sewed pretty sundresses with gathered ruffles and biased trimmed shorts. I made baked Alaska and chocolate fondue. I appreciated Mrs. Quiggle’s teaching and all, but I wished she’d stop bothering me about the pressing-of-the-seams. Why couldn’t she be like other normal old people who took breaks often and drank tea and ate Honey Maid graham crackers?

It was now springtime. I went to check the mail and found a letter addressed to my parents from Mrs. Quiggle. Well, hell, Mrs. Quiggle, you know my parents are still back in Vietnam, and it’d be a hundred years before they could come over! By the way, they don’t know English anyway. What is the point of writing this, Mrs. Quiggle, what could you possibly want to tell them — how I failed to press the seams between stitchings?!

I opened the letter, read the full-page of Mrs. Quiggle’s perfectly slanted handwriting to my parents, beginning with, Dear Parents of Phuong Nguyen.

I sobbed. I read it again and sobbed. Mrs. Quiggle wanted my parents to know that in all her years of teaching, I had surpassed the number of points earned by any student by a wide margin. I got well over 200 points, beating the last highest score of 70 something. (I should have this letter saved in a box somewhere — the same box where I keep my three children’s ultrasound images.)

She never had to remind me to press the seam again. I continued to sew through high school, through college, through mommyhood. The secret to a beautifully sewn article is in the pressing of the seams. This sets the stitches and removes tiny wrinkles. It’s like origami where each fold needs to be creased precisely and sharply before the next fold. It’s like doing the right thing the first time when we already knew what the right thing was. It’s like telling the truth the first time when we already knew what the truth was.

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