... "Board" memories
After many years of faithful service, and with a couple of creaks and sighs, she unfolds, moving not so daintily to a better position for work. Now in semi-retirement, this old friend stands ready to help. A little wobbly, but who wouldn't be at 100+ years old! We work well together -- we always have; and when we do, it is truly an act of love.
My old faithful friend is my great-grandmother's wooden ironing board that I rescued 45 years ago when both my Mother and Grandmother decided to update their equipment to metal, breathable ironing boards with lots of perforated holes on the ironing surface. One that opens and closes with a simple lever and was covered with a pretty printed cover.
Nannie's board was solid wood, new and the top of the line sometime in the 1890's. It has a three legged wooden arrangement with wires that all must slide together against a wooden cross piece to form a tri-pod for support. It sports three layers of wool felt for padding and a muslin covering with years of wood stove flat iron yellowing marks planted along the center strip. The padding is held on with v-shaped hooks connected with a little spring so the surface is kept nice and smooth.
"What do you want with that old thing?" they asked as I rescued it from the pile for the dump. "It was Nannie's and someday I'll use it when I get married" replied a 9 year old Mainer with Yankee determination.
When I got married, out came the wooden board. I was thrilled. My husband was not. He asked "what are you going to do with that old thing?". It was so obvious to me -- iron! I remember the day I learned to iron as clearly as if it were yesterday.
My Uncle Bill was having one of those mornings that could have been on a sit-com except it was real. Aunt Mary had been in bed with pneumonia for a week, four teenaged boys were getting ready for school, breakfast was underway and there were no ironed shirts. Uncle Bill was a farmer and a hard worker, but not the Mr. Mom type. I had never ironed before -- my mother thought 8 was too young to learn, but Uncle Bill saw this as no obstacle and decided to put an extra pair of hands to good use. I would do anything for him, but I needed a lesson. I will always remember the loving patience he used to show me just how to iron a man's shirt.
"You start with the collar like this. Stretch it out smooth and then press it with the iron. Then you do the button side from the back like this. Now the other front. Here is how you do the cuffs and sleeve so the seam and crease look good. Next you do the back. The shoulder piece is kind of tricky, just be careful and it's not that hard. Keep your fingers out of the way. Now you try."
I started with a flannel shirt (probably couldn't have hurt that if I tried). Then on to the youngest son's shirt (it being the smallest) and worked my way up to the Senior in High School while Uncle Bill tackled the oatmeal and the toast. We were a team. The boys looked great as they left to catch the school bus with their shirts all pressed by me! It was an act of love, shared from Uncle Bill through me to his four sons. I was thrilled with my newly acquired adult skill and couldn't wait to show my mother.
After that, I ironed my dad's hankies, his undershirts, the pillowcases, and the linen dish towels. Eventually, all of the clothes were just part of the task. In our family, ironing wasn't a dreaded chore, it was a part of the routine that made the house the home.
My Aunt Edie (always seemed elderly to me but probably wasn't) would come to live with us in the winter. She would just naturally gravitate towards the ironing as a way to help out. We would iron together as I studied; sometimes I would read to her and she would iron; then when she took a break, she would drill me in spelling or history facts, and I would iron. When I would sew, she would press the seams and pieces for me. We blocked sweaters together. Even science projects revealing invisible ink (lemon juice) messages--needed an ironing board! Unrolling posters and trying to straighten hair happened at the ironing board.
More often than not, my mother would be working at the ironing board when she would take the first glimpse of my report card.
Thank goodness I grew up before perma press. I would have missed the predictable routine and rhythm of ironing.
We shared wonderful times together around the ironing board. Clothes looked better and felt better. Family communications were smoother, no pun intended. I always found it easier to talk out a problem if I had something to do with my hands at the time. Of course, I go with the flow of wrinkle free, easy care clothes now.
The children of today are missing out. Most probably haven't much of a clue as to how to set up an ironing board and "do up" a white shirt for their fathers to wear.
I taught my son how to iron just as Uncle Bill taught me. He does a good job with no grumbles, probably because he sees it as I do.
All of this came flooding into my thoughts this morning as I set up the ironing board to press a couple of cotton men's shirts. Not a chore, not a bother, but really...an act of love.
September 5, 2003