I am not good at ironing—my primary philosophy is “first, do no harm.” I try to iron only on rainy days. If there is no rain (and the west and southwest is in the middle of a record drought, so it’s sparse) I just give up and take everything to the laundry. I can’t wait forever. In any case, when I get ready to iron, I bring a tall glass of iced tea, and a small fan. I set up in the guest/tv room. I put on comfortable shoes.
As I begin to iron I think about the patterns in the wood floors. I wish the iron would get hotter. I remind myself that I was going to get a new ironing board cover. I think about how stupid television commercials are. I switch the channels.
Then slowly, focusing more and more on the act of ironing—how fabrics react differently to water and heat, the pinpoints of water drops on my face as I spray directly into the fan to cool off, the color and smell of hot unwrinkled clothing—I begin to think ironing thoughts.
When I was young, my Dad wore white cotton, oxford cloth, long-sleeved shirts and carried a white cotton handkerchief. Mom would spread them out on the dining table, sprinkle them, roll them tightly, and zip them up into a plastic laundry bag. The next day, when each piece was thoroughly damp, we would set up the ironing board in the living room, turn on the television and begin to iron.
As a very small girl, I could iron the handkerchiefs. How proud I was to help. How thoroughly and precisely I ironed, folded, ironed, folded and ironed again until each was a perfectly crisp rectangle about three inches wide by six inches long, exactly the way Dad liked them. Later I was allowed to help with Dad’s shirts, and my ironing antipathy began.
Those shirts were ironing hell. Hard, wrinkled fabric that required pressing to bring them into wrinkle-free submission. It was hot, awful work for which I received 50¢ each. If not for the money, I would have refused to iron again. For many years, every time I needed to iron, in the back of my mind were those shirts, and my Dad requiring them.
Then, once while ironing, a program aired on public television about the ancient people of the Southwest desert. I watched as the Ancients hunted game, big and small, with wooden shafts on which were mounted spear points bashed out of flint or quartz—a rock on a stick. They moved from place to place following animals and mostly starving. Gathering seeds and bugs and rodents, they ate anything that would contribute calories to their diet. Their lives were short and often ugly. And I became ashamed of my own foolishness, to think that the only things I had to complain about that day were the wrinkles in my clothes and my resentment.
Since then I iron if I feel moved to iron, or I don’t, but I no longer resent it. And you know, with the emotion removed, I think someday, I might actually get better at it!