Things My Grandmothers Taught Me; Maxims for Growing Children
by Julia Sneden
"You mean you still iron?" There were chuckles and gasps of horror from the small group of women.
"I haven't ironed in twenty years," said Meg.
Margaret just shook her head. "It's more like 40 years for me," she said.
"Well," said Anna Claire, who at 40 was the baby of the group, "I've never even owned an iron."
Barcelona Part Deux, Kyle Taylor, Wikimedia Commons
There have been many times in my life when I felt out of touch with the modern world. Living through the teenage years of three children left me feeling positively antediluvian. Having to learn, unlearn and relearn four or five different computer systems during the past 20 years hasn't done much for my self-esteem, either, especially when my kids get it all so swiftly. But ironing? It never occurred to me that ironing was evidence of being out of step with modern times. Apparently the rest of the world sends cotton shirts out to the laundry, these days. Not this old-fashioned (not to say retrograde) woman.
Not only do I iron; I actually enjoy it. Handling the clean clothes, smoothing them on the board, gliding the hot iron as the steam hisses up around it, seeing the pristine, unwrinkled surface one has brought into being, is for me a sensual pleasure. I like the smell of the warm fabric. I like the appearance of the finished product. I like the muffled "clunk" of a well-placed iron. I like the tactile involvement of the smooth strokes. I like the fact that I can iron and listen to music or a news program at the same time. I like the fact that while I'm ironing, I can stand still. (Mind you, I like it best when I don't have to do it more than once in awhile. If I had to do it every week, as we did in the old days, I might be less enthusiastic).
My grandmothers taught me how to iron. In our multi-generation household, my parents or occasional hired helpers did the physically challenging work like gardening, vacuuming, window washing, carpentry, cooking, and laundry. My grandmothers and great aunt did less active things like polishing silver, ironing, setting the table, dusting, and drying the dishes. (Guess who washed the dishes as soon as she was tall enough to reach the sink.)
Ironing was a joint effort. The two grandmothers took turns, one each washday, while my great aunt read aloud to them. I would hang out nearby, just to hear my Aunt Martha read, usually from The Saturday Evening Post or The Atlantic Monthly. She could have read the telephone book, and I'd have listened. Her voice was light and gentle, and her diction precise without being fussy. Listening to her put me into a kind of trance, and at times my skin would actually tingle.
Our ironing board was affixed to the wall behind a tall, narrow, white door. When the door opened and the board came down, there was another, tiny board behind it which could also be unfolded as needed for small items. My mind's eye still sees my grandmothers pressing the little puffed sleeves of my 1940's school dresses on that small board, working them gently around to get the maximum puff without pressing in a wrinkle.
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