Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Ironing Chronicles



Recently Barb, of Sewing on the Edge, had a fabulous post about ironing. With her usual pithiness and humor she explained her family conversation regarding this domestic duty and it brought a big smile to my face. I am sure she brought that smile to many others as well. But more than anything she brought back memories, lots of crazy memories. So many that I couldn't wait to hijack her subject matter and spill it all out in a blogpost. How can one have such dear memories of ironing?

Once upon a time:

* I'll get out of the way the family history. It was a time in the South of "the Help" and we had a housekeeper who did our ironing as well as many other chores, including making the best peanut butter cookies ever. My mom took care of the wash and hung it all out. Hanging out laundry was a moment of respite from paying attention to her brood of eight kids, the oldest being twelve.  Then she would bring it in and dear Eva would sprinkle the basket of laundry with a pop bottle with a punched hole top. In the South they don't have soda. They have pop, at least they did back then. Then the laundry was twisted into knots and put in a laundry basket and put into the fridge. Eva would then iron it as time allowed, not necessarily at one big "standing".  I sure missed  Eva when we moved out of the country. My mom did too. When we came back to the U.S. she would always go visit Eva on our family visits. They became much closer over the years as they both dealt with first born sons skirting the fine edge of the law, an awful commonality. It  later became a very special relationship into their elder years which I think they both cherished. It was a different time back then.

* My baby sister learned pretty quickly that a house full of 6 teenaged boys was an incredible business opportunity. She was a liberated business woman before the concept even existed. Her business plan? Ironing on demand for her many brothers. They had begun to date, were basically slobs, and in need of her skills. My mom did not iron at that time, another whole story....One dollar would get a hot as a firecracker sixteen year old boy a crisply ironed shirt to wear out on his date with his latest heart throb. But dates cost money and one particular brother's line of credit had reached it's limit. BIG date comes along. Passive Agressive Sis says "sure I'll have your shirt ironed by the time you get out of the shower."  And she did. What dating brother didn't know was that she went into the sock drawer and took out every matching sock in the house belonging to any of the boys. Dad wore different  nylon-y  socks as did us girls. She left one of each pair, cut up the remainder and threw them in the garbage. She kept one pair. No male son in this family would have matching socks for days. She said if he paid up he'd get a sock. He didn't. She was also sending a message to all her other male sibs.Get it, brothers?  The fight that ensued in our home that night is legendary. He went out on his date, socks mismatched, and with all his cash dedicated to his evening with his teen sweety. Hey, nothing stops a horny 16 year old boy.  But two days later he paid up sis when he got paid for shoveling manure at a neighbor's farm.  None of the boys messed with Passive Aggressive Sis again.

* My sainted Mom had 8 kids, six boys and two girls. At this point we were long back in the US, living in the Northeast and the concept of any sort of "Help" ceased to exist. You need to know here that my mom had an incredible childhood. Think beyond Cinderella. Let's just say my widowed grandmother, her mom, would be in jail today for a long time for what went on when my mom was a little girl. That made a lasting influence on my Mom's life and had a major influence on ours. Us eight kids had NO, and I mean NO responsibilities. We never had to clean our rooms, help with the dishes, shovel the snow, cut the lawn. My mom's goal in life was for her children to have the most wonderful childhood ever, something she never had. She succeeded. It was special and I will always appreciate that she did this. I did not do much different with my own kids. So Mom took on the whole challenge of running the house and keeping things going for a family of ten while we played and ran and enjoyed our childhood. Can you see this being an impossibility?  Well, hell, yeh. So ironing was not her "forte" shall we say. No housework really was.  We had a hall closet where she stuffed all the ironing. If we needed a shirt for school uniforms or anything else to wear, it was stuffed in that closet. I can't tell you how many times I sat on the floor at the end of the hallway going through all that tumbled out out of the Ironing Closet. Our family actually called it "the Ironing Closet". Eventually I would find it and iron on the ironing board set up in my bedroom. Yup, all the sibs came to iron in my bedroom.  My mom didn't want to touch that thing! At one point the closet was really getting out of control. Eight kids made a lot of laundry to be ironed back then. Every time you opened the Ironing Closet the contents, which were piled to the ceiling, flowed out on to the floor like an avalanche in Tuckerman's Ravine. Then you had to find your target garment and stuff the whole mess back in. It was awful. One day I came home from school and went to dig out the next day's clothing from the Ironing Closet. I opened the door and nothing, a big NOTHING was in the closet. Seems Momma couldn't handle all that was in there and called  the Salvation Army to pick it all up. They showed up and hauled it all away while we were at school. It was devastating and clearly I still have the scars. Things I desperately needed for my dating life, things I had made with my own two hands, things I had to wear to school the next day, they were all gone. But my mom felt good when she saw her empty Ironing Closet. So much pressure raising six boys....if emptying the Ironing Closet helped her I totally understand. Looking back on what she had to deal with , I so totally understand.

* My MIL is the exact opposite of my Mom when it comes to domestic abilities and priorities. Many have heard me say she could teach Martha Stewart a thing or two  and I ain't kidding. You cannot imagine the perfection of domesticity in my husband's family home. I have to honestly say she taught me, albeit indirectly, everything I know about housekeeping. I was totally intimidated by her skills.  She is one of 7 girls  and 14 children. Their mother taught them to run their homes like a boot camp and they did. I have never seen anything like it before or since. Every Monday was laundry day. All available sisters would arrive bright and early at MIL's home. One would man the washer/dryer/clothesline. Another would pull out the three ironing boards and three irons. One would be in charge of emptying ash trays, making tea, and preparing lunch. And then the action would start, ironing boards manned and these sisters would iron their brains out.  The gossip would fly like barbed arrows in the Amazon. You did NOT want to be their object of discussion.I know I often was. That was when the conversation turned to speaking in French. EVERYTHING got ironed, socks, dish towels, you name it. And they had a hell of a time doing it. It was all very impressive, very intimidating and glorious female fun.  Arguments would ensue over how to properly iron a shirt, do you fold your sheets in quarters or thirds and most importantly who, in their opinion, did not know how to properly run a clean organized home. Well, you know I was on that crap list! I could write a book about what I saw and learned from these women. But watching those three ironing boards imposing order on their lives while the smoke from their Marlboro cigarettes wafted into the ceiling of their 200 year old colonial was an image I will always hold dear.......... never seen before, never since....

So, thanks, Barb, for inspiring this post and bringing both smiles and memories back. I imagine more than one of you has an ironing story to tell as well. Thanks for listening..........Bunny


34 comments:

  1. You NEED to write that book! A fascinating peek into two very different families. I only have four boys (and one girl) and laundry is still overwhelming. I can only imagine the desperation your mom felt to throw out everything in the ironing closet:)

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    1. She had to bear a lot with my brothers, believe me, and that empty closet said "I have some control". She was a great Mom.

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  2. Love the ironing closet story. My sister had one too. She has 8 kids, 6 girls, 2 boys. I remember going to help her move, and she told me not to open the closet at the end of the hall. She was leaving everything in it. Being OCD myself, of course I opened it. It was jammed full all the way to the ceiling of ironing. When I asked what they wore since verything was in there, she said anything that needed ironing went in there and she bought new.
    Her kids are all fun, and wonderfully phenomenal people, have house fulls of kids themselves and cleaning is something that is pretty relaxed unless you have the elders from the church coming when everyone in the family gets involved with cleaning. I don't think she irons even to this day. But her husband does! LOL
    Thanks for the memories!

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    1. Love your story. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. What a fascinating story! Thank you for sharing it here. My mom had an ironing machine (forget what they called them) and learned how to use it for everything. Still, housework was not her thing, and clothes often mildewed in the bushel basket. Sometimes she put the bushel basket in the freezer. My sister and I never had to do any housework, either, and how I wish we had learned tidy habits. Life would have been so much easier if housework was second nature instead of a huge hurdle to surmount.

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    1. I'm sorry you have such a challenge with housework. Somehow, everyone of us eight kids somehow figured out how to keep a clean home. I enjoy housecleaning a lot and wish I had more time for it. Maybe these stories explain my compulsion for neatness and order. Hmmmmm.....

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    2. The ironing maching was called a "mangle" and we had one too. My mother taught me how to use it when I was 11 or 12, and it became my job to do a lot of the ironing for the household (I was the oldest of 6 children). Back in those days, the mid 60's, before permanent press fabrics, I ironed my father's shirts, boxer shorts, and handkerchiefs, and all the bedsheets and tablecloths. Using the machine was kind of fun, so I didn't mind. I had totally forgotten about the glass pop bottle with the sprinkling top, and putting the dampened clothes into the spare refrigerator, but we did that too! I wish I still had a mangle, because then I'd iron my sheets. There's no way I'd do it manually. And it's infinitely easier for tablecloths. I HATE doing those. I think there's one somewhere I washed 4 or 5 years ago, still waiting for me to iron it!

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  4. Thank you for sharing that story. It made me smile.

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  5. What a delightful story. I didn't have an ironing closet when my kids were small but I did have a sock basket of mismatched socks. And we won't even talk about the "junk" drawer. :) Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Oh my, you made the memories flow! My mother had a basket of ironing, which would get pulled out and taken care of once a week while she watched "Guiding Light". I can't tell you how the image of her steaming, pressing, smoking, and watching came back to me in a split second with your mention of the closet and ironing. I can even smell the spray starch, just thinking about it. Thanks!

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    1. Oh, the starch = that was no spray can. The sisters made their own mixing up a huge batch at the beginning of the day.

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  7. I learned to iron at 11 and took over the whole family's ironing every week. I was paid 5 cents per item so I did earn a nice little allowance. I used a bottle with a sprinkler top,stored the clothes in the fridge and had to have everything on a hanger. Once I asked my mother for a raise and her reply was that I was using HER electricity so the answer was NO. I stopped ironing when I got married at 21, up until then my mother never touched the iron. After I left home, my grandmother was pressed into service and she ironed sitting down watching soap operas. You get really fast and efficient when it is your "business". This week a bride told me that she has never owned an iron and will have to buy one before the wedding as she was raised by her father and he never owned an iron...imagine! Thanks for the stories, Bunny!

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  8. What a great story Bunny!!! My mom had the pop bottle with sprinkler on top as well and would sprinkle, roll in neat hot dogs, stack and pop in the fridge and pull them out and iron the whole lot of things. She was always so neat and tidy. She ironed dad's underwear, sheets, etc. as well. Shocking!

    Obviously, I iron as well - particularly with all the sewing I do. However, our kids - another story. One daughter has an iron and uses it when absolutely necessary, but brings me the heirloom things to iron. The other daughter - she bought a good steamer and uses it for the "grandma made" garments. LOL! Doubt that our son ever irons anything, though he was taught to iron his shirts. The youngest - well, that's still to be seen once she graduates. :)

    Thanks for a great story! I think you need to write a book as well - it would be a great read!

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  9. Growing up, we were taught to launder, fold, and iron our clothes at young ages. There was no ironing closet for us. We washed and folded our clothes. And, those that needed to be hung, were hung right away in our own perspective closets. We ironed as we needed them. We were taught this by my mother who ran a very clean and tidy household...we were taught to keep our house/rooms clean as well. Nothing unkempt. That's just the way my mom was. ans, she still is today. Now, birth father was a different story. Whenever I would go to visit him we were always making a trip to the Laundromat. He never washed or ironed his close. He took them to the cleaners to have them ironed. I have taught everyone in my household to clean and iron there own clothes...much less stress on me.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. Sounds like your Mom and my MIL are kindred spirits. I remember helping put laundry away in the drawers. The neatness and order were amazing and so impressed me. All those ironed socks and tee shirts were perfectly folded and lined up. So, so different from my own home. I tried to soak up everything I saw of my MIL's skills. It didn't hurt to have an army of sisters to help pull it all off, however.

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  10. You are a great story teller. I really enjoyed reading your post.
    My mother passed away when I was young and I lost too much of my youth keeping up with housework, homework, a part-time job, raising my sister and caring for my alcoholic father.
    When I finally became a parent, I too decided that my kids would have a childhood free of domestic chores. They are all adults now and cope just fine.

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    1. It didn't hurt us at all. I think it is a philosophy worth espousing. I have such marvelous memories of playing, wandering the woods, building all sorts of things, all for hours on end. I am sure this contributed to my desire to have a life today centered on creativity.

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    2. Just want to add, for comparison's sake, that every Saturday, when my husband was a little boy, he and his brothers could not go play until they waxed and buffed every one of the magnificent hardwood floors in this 12 room colonial. They worked their butts off to go spend time with friends who would be waiting at the door for them to finish. They would usually finish about 1-2 o'clock in the afternoon. Like I said, she ran a tight ship. He does do a mean floor today too!

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  11. I remember helping my grandmother with the ironing, the little sprinkler bottle, sticking the items in the fridge, you brought it all back. and this was in the pre-air conditioning days - remember those? thanks for a great post.

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    1. Yes. I never wore shoes back then except for Church on Sunday.

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  12. Oh Bunny! Thank you for sharing. What wonderful memories. I too ironed. At an early age - think standing on the kitchen chair to reach the ironing board. Now, the mangle...that one always scared me.

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  13. My mother hated to iron. She paid me a penny a piece to do the family's ironing in the late 50s and 60s, and since my father used 2 handkerchiefs a day and we wore mostly cotton, I was rich! We had a mangle, and I learned to iron men's shirts without a wrinkle. I wish I had one today for fusing interfacing. I always keep my ironing board set up, and this is one of the "chores" that I find relaxing. Sorry for such a long post, but...memories!

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    1. I would love to have a mangle too, Judith. Sounds like you had it mastered and your pockets were swelling penny by penny. My sister knew she had my brothers by the cojones so the dollar a piece charge. She is so funny.

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  14. My mother taught me to iron, and I enjoy it, although I have very few clothes that need ironing. There is instant gratification, the wrinkles smooth out and the item looks crisp. My mother used a pop bottle with a sprinkler head, it's long gone but I got my aunt's when she died and I still use it. My mother used to put sprinkled clothes in the refrigerator, too.

    My mother used stretchers for my father's khaki work pants, does anyone remember those?

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    1. Yes, definitely, but I haven't seen them in years. I love your philosophy. It's clear you really enjoy the zen of it all.

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    2. I used to enjoy the Zen of it, too, back when I was a teen. I ironed my dad's khaki's and hankie's back in the sixties and my mom used the pants stretchers, too. Those pants still needed some ironing, though.

      I didn't enjoy it anymore when I had to iron for my own family and got very used to permanent press. I do, however, still enjoy ironing a new piece of fabric and imagining the finished item :)

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    3. I used to enjoy the Zen of it, too, back when I was a teen. I ironed my dad's khaki's and hankie's back in the sixties and my mom used the pants stretchers, too. Those pants still needed some ironing, though.

      I didn't enjoy it anymore when I had to iron for my own family and got very used to permanent press. I do, however, still enjoy ironing a new piece of fabric and imagining the finished item :)

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  15. I enjoyed this post, what an interesting peek into two different domestic arrangements.

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  16. What a great story! Your sister must be quite a gal! I grew up ironing the school uniforms, no permanent press back then, also dad's boxers only no pay for us! My mom still has the pop bottle (it's also pop in Detroit, where I was born) with the punch top. It was root beer and covered with paint and glitter, made by my younger brother. Only my husband and middle son iron, the younger son and daughter pretty much wear knits. Everyone I know think I'm nuts for ironing sheets, so I don't tell them about the kitchen towels. I have a small steam press that I love, and would love to have a mangle, but at 2 grand I don't think so. I keep the ironing board up in the family room and watch TV while ironing.

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  17. Ohmygoddess Bunny, this has to go up there as one of my favorite sewing blog posts ever!!! Love your stories!

    All of these ironing posts lately are bringing up such memories - for me, and clearly for others as well. I guess there's just something about an iron....

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  18. Oh my goodness what a post! Loved it . I HATE ironing I am with your mother on that one . What a culture shock for you in your MIL family . Did you ever consider that your husband might have been attarcted to someone slightly less driven?

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  19. Bunny, I love reading your blog no matter what you're talking about. Just love the way you write. And this post was especially fun as it took me back to 'the good old days'... of ironing day with my dear mother and grandmother and their coke bottle water sprinkers. I love ironing...I love the fragrance that takes me back to kinder, less hectic days. I love to see the magic happen behind my iron and to me nothing says "fresh" quite like a well pressed, cotton shirt. When I complained about a wrinkled dress, Grandma used to say, "you can tell the quality of a fabric by how much it wrinkles (or not)". I get that now ; ).

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  20. Hi Bunny, I have just recently found your blog. Thanks so much for sharing about the ironing... it made me laugh/cry for the loss of your favorite things. It's really surprising how many people don't know how to iron! I used to iron for people when my kids were growing... people had me iron everything!!! Would you believe boxers! But I do have fond memories of my gramma using her mangle to iron... she was amazing! She could iron shirts and they turned out wonderful! Sure wish I had thought to ask her for the mangle when I was younger. My Aunt long since sold it. From that memory I can't smell the steam from my iron without thinking us those days.

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