lessons from ironing

Isn’t it funny how a certain activity can spark a string of memories that jump from one event to another until the memories arrive at the present activity that started it. That happened to me today. I was ironing, something I have not done at all in many months and something I try to avoid, generally speaking. When the need arises, however, I can rise to the occasion as I did today. Little did I think that it would take me on a trip to nostalgia and remind me of lessons I’ve learned, or at least studied.

When I was growing up, my mom and dad were very strict disciplinarians. Part of that discipline included a high standard of performance for learning and for executing a task. And, so it was an expectation that ironing would be a skill that my older sister and I would need to perfect. It started with the wash, which my mom always did in the basement with a machine that had a wringer. I always remember her standing over the big sink, removing clothes from the tub of the washing machine and wringing the clothes into the sink. It sure seems like ancient history now. After washing clothes, it was time to starch special items, like my dad’s formal white cotton tuxedo shirts that he wore as a musician every night of the weekend. I remember my mom spreading the shirts on the kitchen table, covered with plastic, and with a starch solution in a special shaker bottle, sprinkling the shirts, rolling each up into a log and then storing them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until they were ready for ironing. What that meant was that the starch had permeated the material of the shirts, leaving no dry spots.

Time to iron either after school but usually on Saturday. I would set up the ironing board in the designated spot in the basement, remove the bag of shirts and begin the labor of love, ironing my dad’s shirts into a crisp, totally smooth work of art. I hadn’t really realized until today how complicated a task it is to iron a cotton shirt. I should say, to iron a cotton shirt well. There is a defined routine, starting at the collar and cuffs, the shoulders, the sleeves and then the body of the shirt. Before you start on any of that, however, you must check the inside of the shirt and iron the parts flat that could bunch up unexpectedly and ruin the job on the outside of the shirt. It’s also important to move around buttons, zippers and other do-dads so as not to damage them or the shirt. It could take a good thirty minutes to iron a shirt this way.

I think ironing like this taught me a lot. It taught me discipline at finishing a job I start and finishing it on time. It taught me about being efficient. If I didn’t want to be standing at the ironing board for hours, I would need to get to work and keep a pace. It taught me about the details and about not creating more work for myself by adding my own wrinkles. And, last, which like the others I’m still working on, it taught me about patience. Ironing a tuxedo shirt requires patience, or you will end up ironing in wrinkles, which is the cardinal sin of ironing. I should probably practice that again some more.

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© 2004–2010 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

One response to “lessons from ironing

  1. I am relearning the fine art of ironing as I am required to wear a suit at least four times a week…

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