It began with a mundane household chore: the ironing of a shirt that looked like someone had twisted it into a thong.
So I fired up the iron and got to smoothing out wrinkles while my 11-year-old daughter looked on.
“You know,” I said, “there was a time when women used to sit in front of the television and iron the entire load of laundry — pants, underwear, the whole deal.”
“Really?” she asked.
“My Grandma Betty used to iron the sheets.” My wife added from across the room.
I remember my own mother, before she went back to work when I was 13, would set up in the den with the channel set to the daytime soap operas, which proliferated in the days when women were expected to stay home tending house. There she’d knock out the whole thing, including my father’s shirts and three kids’ worth of togs. I don’t think my mother ironed the sheets — I know for a fact she detested ironing, and she gleefully abandoned the chore after returning to her career.
Grandma Betty had an entire room on the farm in Kansas devoted to ironing and sewing, separate from the laundry room itself, where she’d grimly patch clothes, reaffix buttons and, perhaps, sew herself a dress once in a while.
My own grandmother, in suburban New Jersey, had a version of that same room, right off her bedroom: countertops lined with fabric scraps and drawers full of thread, the ironing board dominating the center of the room.[pullquote]“My Grandma Betty used to iron the sheets.” My wife added from across the room.[/pullquote]
I myself learned to iron in eighth grade during a mandatory home economics class, where our first task — before venturing into basic cookery and rudimentary sewing — was to iron a handkerchief into a neat, crisp triangle… so it would look on point, I suppose, for that second in between the moment the user pulls it from a pocket and when he fills it with wet boogers.
Handkerchiefs— the functional kind, as opposed to the pocket square — are so very last century, right up there with daytime soap operas and ironing the sheets.
Part of my daughter’s deal is that she likes to act as if she already knows something. So she took these stories of forced domesticity in stride.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I know.”
And then my daughter, though I am positive she has never done this thing in her entire life, gave me, an experienced smoother, some ironing advice.
“If you put a piece of foil underneath it you don’t have to iron the back,” she said. “I saw it on YouTube.”
Where was she, I wondered, when Grandma Betty needed her?