Despite Miss Pattie’s efforts, I still can’t sew

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 20, 2001

“I like it when you write about Duck Hill,” somebody told me theother day.

Duck Hill, the Montgomery County hamlet, is my hometown. Most ofmy family still lives there.

So, I’m writing about Duck Hill today, specifically about aformer school teacher of mine. Chances are you’ve never heard ofher. Her name was Pattie Sledge, and she died recently at the ageof 88.

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“Miss Pattie” — that’s what everybody called her — was thehome economics teacher at Duck Hill. Lord only knows how many girlsshe taught during her career, which also included some teachingtime at Alva, Horn Lake, Spring Hill and Gore Springs. Plus, sheworked in Washington, D.C., during World War II as a cafeterianutritionist.

I don’t know the exact number of years she taught at Duck Hill.Since her death, I’ve reminisced with some other former students ofhers, and we agreed it would be safe to say that she ruled over thehome ec class for at least three decades. According to herobituary, Miss Pattie got her teaching certificate in 1936 andtaught for over 40 years.

Miss Pattie was a common denominator, so to speak, for Duck Hillgirls. Maybe we didn’t go to the same church, like the same clothesor music, or take part in the same school clubs or sports, but weall had to take home ec.

For me, it was just one year — in the eighth grade. No doubt, Iwas one of Miss Pattie’s more ‘domestically-challenged’students.

The sewing unit was the worse. We all had to make an item ofclothing, which was difficult enough for me, but we also had towear it to school (how embarrassing) to get a passinggrade.

My mother, well-aware of my lacking ability, chose a simple,straight skirt as my project. There are two things that I vividlyremember about my sewing experience.

The first is that I struggled and struggled with that thing. Theleast of my problems was that I cut a big hole in the side with thepinking shears. Finally, in desperation, I went to Miss Pattie andasked her to give me an F — to just put me out of my misery. Shewouldn’t do. We patched the skirt, and I wore it. I think I made aC.

The second is that my daddy threatened to do bodily harm notonly to me, but to my mother, Miss Pattie, the principal and theschool board if I took home ec another semester. That’s how bad Iwas. I never learned to sew, but Miss Pattie certainly tried toteach me.

Not everybody in my class was as inept, though. Some liked tosew.

I remember a classmate, Carol Ann, got carried away with thedress she was making. It was only when she tried it on that sherealized she had stitched up the arm and neck holes, too, when shedid the side seams. She had the best looking sack any of us hadever seen.

Although my time in her classroom was short, to this day I oftenthink about Miss Pattie.

Maybe it’s when I see a woman out in public with curlers in herhair. Or somebody who’s wearing white shoes before Easter or afterLabor Day. Or somebody who’s mixed plaids with stripes and/or polkadots. All were taboo to Miss Pattie.

There were other ‘Miss Pattieisms,’ and I thank another formerstudent, Joyce Collins, for reminding me of them: Always wear aslip. Every woman needs a good girdle.

While all of that seems old-fashioned now, I must say that MissPattie was ahead of her time. As Joyce put it, “She was a liberatedwoman long before it was cool to be one. She was no ‘SouthernBelle,’ although she probably knew all the rules of how to beone.”

How true.

Miss Pattie was well-educated and well-traveled. She wasself-reliant, having lived alone at the family home in Alva untilnear the end.

I didn’t get to go back for the funeral, but I was told that itwas a fitting tribute and lots of her former students attended.

I hope they had their slips on.

Write to Nanette Laster at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, MS39602, or send email to She’d love to hearfrom you.