Regan Burke, May 2016
When Joe was born, my mother arrived with an iron and ironing board so I could iron the baby’s clothes. My mother, Agnes, went to church at the ironing board. It relieved her hangovers, and calmed her nerves. In every house we moved into she found a sanctuary for ironing – a laundry room, spare bedroom, basement.
No, Agnes did not iron for a household of four children, did not present us with ironed sheets and pillowcases or freshly pressed school uniforms. Her ironing was reserved for her alone. She laid out her oxford cloth shirts or linen dresses on the ironing board, placed a dampened dish towel over the garment and pressed down with a hot iron until steam rose up, then moved to another spot, re-dampening the towel when it dried out. Her eyes winced at the uprising of clean hot steam. The acrid smell of damp cotton or wool down below flared her nostrils. As she conquered the wrinkles at hand her furrowed malcontented brow smoothed out. Agnes’ younger sister, Joanne, after a few bourbons always eulogized her with, “Your mother loved to iron.”
Forty-nine years later I still have the iron Agnes gave me. It has a hole in the top for water which is converted to steam in the hot iron and whooshes out of the 39 holes on the sole. The sole is stained from undistilled water and from those years when I fell for the convenience of spray starch. Numerous falls off the ironing board onto a hard floor have blunted the tip. The faded red, white and blue settings sit atop a dulled black heavy plastic handle which is wrapped with a discolored turquoise electric cord. I can still see myself in the mirror-like shine of the chrome sides. And it still works.
I should have discarded it long ago. I’ve packed it up and moved it from every place I’ve lived since 1967 always keeping it in the corner of the closet shelf over my clothes. I’ve tried to replace it with new irons, but they last only a few years and I go right back to the trustworthy General Electric 39-holer.
Wrinkle-free fabrics have made Ironing unnecessary now. Lower-end baby boomers and their offspring don’t even know how to iron. When it became fashionable or rather acceptable to wear wrinkled linen in the 1990’s I chucked the old ironing board. Something stopped me from discarding my vintage iron, however. I still use it to press scarves on a folded towel laid out on the dining room table.
At craft fairs I see old irons decorated with decoupage and sequins transforming them into doorstops and bookends. Maybe I’ll spray paint my iron anniversary gold and give it to my son on his birthday next year. I’ll paint words on the bottom: Happy 50th Birthday To Us. Will he wonder why I kept the iron my mother gave me all these years? I certainly do.