The end of the Ironing AgeAug 04, 2020 01:37PM ● By Lilli-Ann Buffin
“Don’t do it, Buffin!” my friend yells at me like a rescue worker talking a person off the ledge.
But we’re on the phone. And this is not a life-threatening situation.
In fact, we’re talking about ironing. Yes, ironing. You remember, the act of smoothing out wrinkles using a hot, flat metal device?
My friend is appalled that I still iron “in this day and age.” Of course, I saw the end of the Ironing Age coming. Some years back, another friend bemoaned the fact that her son had outgrown several items while waiting for them to be ironed. In more recent years, I’ve had phone conversations cut short by my long-distance friend, Joyce. Hearing the dryer buzz, Joyce drops the phone and sprints for the laundry room. She refuses to iron a single item—ever.
Back at the peak of the Ironing Age, we had an “ironing pile” in our home. Eventually, it grew to several piles. Soon, baskets full of wrinkled clothing occupied half of our basement. With six people in the house in the days before permanent press, this mountain of wrinkled fabric did not take long to develop. Toward adolescence, I realized that once an item made its way into the ironing pile, it was as good as gone—outgrown or out of style before it’s ever seen again.
My mother, an early pioneer in the whole working-mother movement, had very little time for housework. Mom tried various strategies to deal with the ironing chore. One example was the mangle that appeared in our home as a hand-me-down from my grandmother’s house. The darn thing was HUGE and looked menacing. “Mangle” seemed like an appropriate name, and maybe that is why the device sat untouched despite the effort of moving the monster 100 miles.
Then there was the freezer period. Mom read a time-saving hint that if you rolled up your laundry while it was still damp, put it in a plastic bag and placed it in the freezer, it would be easier to iron. Years passed with rolls of frozen laundry taking up our freezer space. It is not that we forgot about those frozen bundles: we peered around them daily when we went to the freezer to pull out something for dinner.
Now don’t get me wrong, some ironing did get done. Clothes were selected on a priority basis—whatever had to be worn that day became the priority. By the time I got heavily into ironing, my dad was wearing dress shirts to work every day and my sisters and I had school uniforms with blouses and cotton gym suits. Each morning, I trudged downstairs ahead of the others to iron the day’s priority items.
It was in the summers that I really got into ironing. There wasn’t much else to do. While we didn’t have the daily school attire as a priority in that season, sheets, pillowcases and tablecloths needed to be ironed if you planned to use them. Most summer clothing was made of cotton. No reliable permanent press existed that was worthy of the label. I would set up the ironing board in front of the television and watch soap operas for hours. Tame by today’s standards, those old soaps were still pretty provocative for a teenager who spent her summers ironing.
My aforementioned friend Joyce, with the built-in sensor for the end of the dryer cycle, got her sex education while ironing—or pretending to be ironing. After she discovered one of her older sister’s college textbooks on human sexuality, Joyce would go downstairs under the pretense of ironing and spend hours looking at pictures of naked people in various sexual positions. Joyce was so fast at ironing that she could make up for the lost time, and her parents never knew the difference. Perhaps, the trauma showed itself later in her obsession with the dryer cycle.
Ironing was never that exciting for me. Most often I used that ironing time to daydream and reflect on my own life. As a youth, some important life lessons came to me, not from the school board but from the ironing board. Chief among the tutorials was that all of our lives contain wrinkles and embarrassing piles. All we can do is cope resourcefully, stick with our priorities and attack the creases, piece by piece.