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