Monday, January 01, 2007

On Board

Hardly anyone does ironing anymore. I certainly don’t as a rule, but after unpacking my clothes at the end of the big move, I had a few things that had become too wrinkled to wear, so I plugged in the iron and gave them a pressing.

It’s a shame our culture has separated itself from the act of ironing. With the fluid, back and forth, almost hypnotic motions, it’s almost like the yoga of housework. It gives one plenty of time for thinking or daydreaming.

Mama said she didn’t even get a washing machine until after I was a few years old, and even then, we always hung the wet laundry on the clothesline, as we didn’t have a dryer. She never had a dishwashing machine. It’s interesting that so many of our household chores have been taken over by machines - but ironing has pretty much stayed the same for a few generations. More of our chores are automated, but our relationship with the electric iron has changed substantially little over the years.

Back when I was growing up, I had to stand at the ironing board just about every morning. Mama made most of our clothes, which consisted primarily of thin cotton shifts in the summer and heavier cotton jumpers in the winter. That way she didn’t have to set in sleeves and worry with buttonholes. These cotton dresses, however, had to be ironed, and not only ironed, but starched. So every morning before school, I wet down my dress with spray starch (I can still remember that smell of the hot iron hitting that moist fabric) and pressed my dress to a wrinkle-free crisp, which, of course, lasted until I sat down in the car to go to school.

When I was in 9th grade, Mama had to go into the hospital to have a hysterectomy, and would be gone for a week or two. She was so worried that the household couldn’t function without her, especially where Daddy was concerned. Daddy worked as a bank teller, and as such, had to wear suits and ties and freshly ironed shirts every day. So Mama took me in her bedroom shortly before she left for the hospital and taught me how to carefully iron a man’s shirt. She taught me that I should first start with the back yoke, then move on to the rest of the shirt in a certain order. She taught me how to press around the buttons, how to iron the sleeves, and finally, how to hang the shirt up properly to preserve my hard work. She also tried to cook several casseroles for us to thaw and I’m sure had other plans for her impending absence, but I remember the ironing lesson most - and what immense responsibility I had been given to make sure my Daddy’s shirts were perfectly pressed.

It’s also true that Mama couldn’t relax on a family vacation until she was certain she had turned her iron off before leaving on the trip. I was relieved when they created irons that turned themselves off, so with my many worries in life, that’s one less to agonize about.

I’m glad I don’t have to spend entire days ironing as women did in the past. But I don’t complain if I have a few items to press once in a while. It’s very little investment of time, considering what a remarkable result is effected. So I stand there, moving my arm back and forth, back and forth, lost in thought, and I smile.

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