I grew up in the days when 4-H was a thing. It still is a thing, a very good thing, but you just don’t hear as much about it in most communities any more. Or perhaps I’m just out of the loop. The last time I attended a county fair and saw a few girls sitting at a 4-H booth, I chatted with them and told them how I was a member from age 8 through my teens. They shyly and politely smiled at me and no doubt thought “wow, that must have been a really long time ago.” I decided against reciting the 4-H Pledge to them which to this day in still ingrained in my head. I didn’t want to become that creepy old lady who hung out too long.
In my day, in my community, there were two primary areas of interest for 4-H’ers: agriculture and home skills. Although I had friends who raised livestock and learned how to milk a cow at a young age, and I had a 4-H leader who lived on an active farm, most of my focus was on things like learning how to cook, sew, do tie-dye, build terrariums and make ice cream. Ok, maybe the making ice cream thing only happened a couple of times, but once you experience hand-churning for several hours, you don’t forget the experience.
Truly the skills I learned in those days continue to serve me well today. The fact that I had to give cooking demonstrations in front of audiences helped me get over any fears of public speaking. It goes without saying that learning to cook and bake has kept me and my family fed. Because I learned to sew, I made much of what I wore through my teens and even after. I made a nifty outfit of brown corduroy pants, a yellow turtleneck and a brown, yellow and orange ski jacket (what can I say, it was the early 80’s); I made each of my formal dresses for my high school dances. I even made my Maid of Honor dress to wear in my BFF’s wedding (she was by the way also a 4-H’er). We all learned how to model our creations, knowing how to step, pivot, and return without tripping all while looking at the audience – another confidence booster.
And throughout every lesson was the key message of practicality. We were taught to never waste money or resources: scrape the butter off the wrapper to make sure you got it all, save leftover fabric for crafts, and any time you saw a cute piece of clothing in the store, consider if you could make it for less and for better quality.
All awesome training for life. And yet… somewhere along the way, I started cutting corners. I started cheating. I think a lot of us move along at such a fast pace in life that as we get older some of the skills we developed in our youth get pushed aside or go unused. We start to take the easier and more efficient route to get to the end point, even if there’s some small voice in our heads that is going “tsk tsk tsk.” Perhaps we learned how to fix small appliances in shop class. But now we wrap electrical tape around a broken handle until we have time to take it to a repair shop or buy a new one. Maybe we learned how to solve complex mathematical equations but prefer now to use a calculator. We likely learned how to iron, but now hang our clothes in the bathroom and hope the shower steam takes out the wrinkles. Or we know how to change our oil but take our car back to the dealership for maintenance.
For me, sewing was the first to go. My sister, who was an even more avid 4-H’er than I was, still sews beautifully today. Me, not so much. As a matter of fact, some time ago I lost a button off a pair of my favorite pants. No worries, I thought, there are still two hooks there. Then last week, one of the hooks fell off. Ok, I thought, I should probably fix these. But instead I washed them and wore them again today. And sure enough, the last hook gave out. I spent the last couple hours of the day hoping my zipper would be enough to keep my pants up, wishing I had a safety pin. Speaking of pins, I have another pair of pants where one of the hems is coming out, so I’ve been walking around with a safety pin holding it up. For months. I know I could fix it. I should fix it. But heck, the pin is working just fine. Once in a blue moon, like tonight, I’ll get out a needle and thread to sew on a button. But most of the time now I will hide a cheater fix until I can get to a very efficient and talented alterations seamstress.
I do still cook and bake. Yet I’ve learned to cheat there too. I have pre-cooked, pre-cut chicken in the freezer for quick meals. I have brownie and muffin mix in the cabinet when I don’t have the energy to create from scratch. I now consider sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or pre-made frozen meatballs acceptable dinner food.
I shop for clothes. I no longer consider if I could make them at home for less.
I buy ice cream, I don’t churn it myself.
We all cut corners. We let past skills and talents languish. But that’s ok. It allows us to put our efforts into a whole different set of skills and talents, like being partners, wives, co-workers, moms, entrepeneurs…. And real women.
I think the next time I get the chance to meet some enthusiastic young women who are learning vital skills in 4-H or any other youth development organizations, I will encourage them to learn like sponges. Tell them to take the time to hone their skills. Become talented, strong and self-sufficient.
Then I will hand them safety pins and tell them trust me, some day you’ll be glad you have them.