Ironing Day: Gift of Reflection

David - Greensburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 24, 2013
Themes: family, legacy, work
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I can almost hear the pounding of the old steam iron on Daisy Jean’s ironing board through each keystroke as I revisit a memory some fifty years later. It must be Tuesday, ironing day, as I sit on the vinyl-cushioned window seat warmed by the radiator beneath in our little frame house in the gritty Monongahela Valley steel town of my youth. I marvel at my mother’s late afternoon artistry as she jiggles stubborn trouser legs around the pointed end of the board, guiding and pressing out unwanted deep creases and ripples of wrinkles.

More intriguing is the conversation we share – she telling stories of her girlhood with Aunt Jewel at the piano playing “The Old Rugged Cross” or marching to the Greek market with her grandmother’s stern warnings not to pay attention to the men playing cards on the canopied sidewalk outside the fruit market at Walnut and Shaw. It is fun to teach her proper pronunciation of “puer” and “puella” from freshman Latin and relate all the details that made the Muretisch twins and me giggle our way through algebra class. Some Tuesdays are darker, and a combative Daisy Jean spews her own steam as she rants over the late night carousing of Nippy, my Dad.

Daisy Jean begins each day on the kitchen stepstool, coffee cup in hand. An unheld cigarette burns away in an ashtray on the red formica cabinet top on which she rests her right elbow as she meditates in her own unschooled way. My 15-year-old brain doesn’t quite wrap around the concept of morning reflection, but I focus on her lips moving ever so slightly in a trance-like sub-vocalization. I am eavesdropping on a very private moment, but she seems not to mind as long as I do not interrupt. It’s almost as if she must review every event from all her yesterdays before she can give herself permission to begin this ironing day – all the “what ifs” and “if onlys,” selecting the ones she will beat into submission on Tuesday’s ironing board. Seven hours of shaping and pounding school shirts, trousers, and housedresses hasn’t changed the dynamics of her motherless girlhood or sometimes turbulent marriage, but the release unburdens her mind, and our family of three has beautifully pressed clothing for another week.

Daisy Jean’s ironing has taught me the beauty of taking what life brings and doing my best to shape and press it into the best it can be. Today I live a materially more comfortable life, years away from that little frame house, but the pattern of reflective thought that I witnessed in my mother is very much a part of me.

I am touched by friends who struggle with economic hardship and health challenges – working hard each day, shaping what is possible, showing a way forward. I have plenty to ponder as my own reflection leads to a virtual closet full of possibilities for writing. I am haunted by a memory – the passion, the relentless pounding, the reshaping of those wrinkled garments as I attempt to steam and press a draft into something that may wear well. Indeed, every day that I write is a new ironing day for me. This I believe.