When we moved in 2005, we moved our iron and ironing board with us. And that’s the last time I had seen them until Sunday. In a strange fit of whimsy I decided to free them from behind the hampers in the hall/laundry room. I vacuumed the dust bunnies from underneath the board, threw the cover in the wash, and wiped down years of dust off the iron.
I had this notion that I would iron my husband’s shirts as a nice surprise for him for Father’s Day. So I set up the board, plugged in the iron, and found a dish towel to sub for the cover. As the iron skated its way across the wrinkled fabric, I felt what can only be described as a sense of retro-virtue.
I remember my mother instructing me in the art of ironing when I was about ten years old: do sleeves first, nudge the tip up into gathered fabric, and mind the cord so that it doesn’t drag behind and undo an area you’ve already pressed. And the number one rule: never leave a plugged-in iron unattended. (Our cat was a skilled jumper and my little brother was an inquisitive preschooler.)
For all my careful training, I didn’t actually end up doing a lot of ironing after that one summer. Most of our clothes were wash and wear—polyester was big in the 70s—and Mom started sending Dad’s shirts out to the cleaners.
But the point was that Mom taught me how to perform this task in preparation for my future as a wife, or at least as a wearer of unwrinkled clothes. Except that as a grown-up and wife, I rarely do. I can honestly only remember getting out the ironing board three times in my adult life: once to press a cotton blouse before a job interview, once to smooth out the fold marks in a tablecloth for our first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner, and once to remove wax from 24 batiked handkerchiefs that had already turned my dryer a deep indigo. (A batik project with my second-grade class had sounded so fun at first.)
As I ironed, I considered the possible repercussions from this experiment in domesticity. Was this ironing business going to be a regular occurence? Both my husband, Dave, and I work in a small, casual office where nobody cares what you wear or if it’s wrinkled. And Dave goes to work after he takes the dogs to the beach. So even if he begins the day in a clean, pressed shirt, he’s sandy and wrinkled by 9 a.m. Do I care if my clothes are wrinkled? Enough to throw them back in the dryer with a wet towel maybe, but not enough to set up the board, wait for the iron to heat up, and actually iron them. Not when I could spend my time writing instead.
So no, this was not the beginning of any sort of routine. Besides, it’s now Wednesday, and Dave didn’t even notice that his shirts looked any different. So it was not quite the surprise I had intended.
But I hate to think my training was a complete waste of time. At least I will be able to instruct my own daughter in the art of ironing. Some day she may have an interview, or need to smooth out a tablecloth, or remove wax from an ill-conceived art project.
I guess I just want to be the kind of mom who prepares her daughter for anything and everything, as I feel my mom did for me. But I can’t help thinking that if I never get around to teaching her how to iron, she will still manage to live a full and happy (if somewhat wrinkled) life.