Lori Allen — As in cooking, life isn’t complete until you clean up after

04/23/2013 4:42 PM

05/20/2014 10:43 AM

She was a short, plump teacher with a stylish silver bob.

Her lips were pursed tightly, and it was hard to tell if she was angry or just focused. She wasn’t cuddly or coddling and for the most part, we didn’t like her.

In fact, as middle school girls, we often mimicked her or repeated her scolding words mockingly at each other. But we were only able to do that because we were listening.

Mrs. Mary Lund was feared and respected in our small farming community’s junior high; the middle school of my era. In an old building where legends and ghost stories had reverberated for years in the nooks, underground tunnels, hardwood floors and coved ceilings the “home ec” room was one of the most beloved classrooms.

While it had the traditional desk and seat classroom, it also contained five mock-up kitchens. It was in that classroom that many of us small town kids were taught not only the wonders of the culinary world but where we learned about cleanliness, manners and customs in other cultures. It was where we developed a sophistication and appreciation for things not found in our daily lives on the farm.

Oh sure, it was just “home ec.” It wasn’t math or science. But I learned some lessons in Mrs. Lund’s classroom that, at times, could easily be more important than some of the ones I learned in science.

The five sacred kitchens were pristine and off-limits until that special day that we were allowed to cook. That glorious moment was preceded by day after day of prep work and classroom instruction.

It didn’t seem as if it would be worth the wait or the fuss. But the day we got to don our aprons was one to be cherished over all others.

As we entered the sparkling mecca of gleaming Formica and stainless steel sinks, we were filled with nervous excitement. So much to remember — all under the watchful, hawk-like eye of Mrs. Lund.

This is where we learned that you don’t begin cooking until you have cleaned and prepped the area. You make sure you have all of your ingredients before you begin cooking. This is where we learned that making a meal includes preparation, planning, table setting, cooking and cleanup at the end.

Finally, after everything was consumed and cleaned, we held our breath while Mrs. Lund came around to do final inspections. We stood at attention as she began her examinations of each kitchen.

She checked the sink drain for even the smallest crumb. She slid her hand across the table searching for the tiniest gravy spill.

An audible sigh of relief was heard as Mrs. Lund would hesitate, purse her lips, and then sign off on your kitchen. We watched the other teams get their inspection in silence, often secretly hoping she would find some infraction, and we could watch the violators suffer the wrath of Mrs. Lund.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I draw from those experiences. When I teach my kids that, yes, the cleanup is part of the process I try to purse my lips together when I search the granite trying to find a spill or crumbs.

I think of Mrs. Lund. I think of her when I am creating my lists of things that need to be done before guests come for dinner. And sometimes as I am sitting at a fancy reception and see others wondering which one is their bread plate, I think of Mrs. Lund. Still.

I don’t think any of us ever thanked her. I didn’t really even know at the time how valuable her lessons were.

If you had asked me then who my favorite teacher was, I would have probably mentioned the funny one or the one who taught my favorite subject.

Mrs. Lund would never want to reduce her role to a popularity contest. She held us to high standards because she knew we were capable.

She didn’t coddle us or let things slide because we were “kids.” When we made the grade we were proud of our accomplishments. And that’s just what she was would want.

Good teachers rarely get the recognition they deserve. Often their contributions are only remembered as years go by and their true value is finally realized.

People move on and are too busy to be grateful to those whose actions had a lasting effect. Mrs. Lund is retired now and still lives in my small hometown.

As I seal the envelope on the note of thanks I jotted to her, I wonder what took me so long.

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