Monopoly players have said good-bye to the iron, welcoming a cat as the new player piece. As kids growing up in the 1950s, my sisters and I played Monopoly often, and I have to admit, I don’t think any of us ever chose the iron. My personal favorite was the shoe. Still, the iron performed a central role in our lives. Washing on Monday. Ironing on Tuesday. I learned to iron, as many girls did, bringing wrinkle-free order to stacks of handkerchiefs.
Ironing was so integral to the week that I devoted a chapter to it in my memoir Growing Up Country. Since publishing this memoir, I’ve learned that laundry and ironing hold almost as many memories for rural women as taking care of chickens. And that’s saying something.
Though I still have an iron, I use it as little as possible. But I can be as nostalgic as the next person about losing Monopoly’s good old iron. So as we bid the iron adieu, here’s an excerpt from my memoir, from the chapter – “Laundry Lessons.”
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When Grandma Jensen came to stay with us, which she did every summer, she took over ironing chores. She ironed hankies, too, but not her own. Each night she washed her own hanky in the bathroom sink and plastered it on the screen of the bedroom window to dry.
In the morning, Grandma donned one of the cotton shirtwaist dresses she wore every day. She pulled on nylons, rolling them down to just above her knees, and covered her pure white hair with a silver net. Finally, she plucked the now-dry hanky from the window screen, folded it and put in in her pocket.
When Jane and I took on the 4-H shirt ironing demonstration – and for one summer claimed squatter’s rights at the ironing board – I can only imagine what Grandma thought.
As tedious as the hours of ironing could be, they were also the hours when Grandma watched ‘her shows’ as Mom always called the soaps.
A dedicated follower of the perpetual heartaches and never-ending trials of Search for Tomorrow, Guiding Light and As The World Turns, Grandma set the ironing board up in front of the TV in the living room and tackled the ironing while she caught up on the day’s stories. Piece by piece, she drew shirts and pillowcases and hankies and dresses from the laundry basket, stretched them on the ironing board, flicked water with her fingertips and eliminated wrinkles in our clothes while the characters in her dramas solved the problems in their lives.
Every week the basket of ironing was full again with the same laundry; every week the soaps offered the same problems to be solved. Because of Grandma, the hopelessness of soap operas and the never-ending challenge of laundry are tied together forever in my mind.
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