Aunt Effie was the trendsetter in our family. She and Uncle Orlie built a tidy brick ranch house on what would become the good side of town. She was the first to have a dishwasher, a family room with a fireplace, and an aluminum Christmas tree with a rotating color wheel. Aunt Effie took her housekeeping seriously and proclaimed the virtues of kitchen carpeting before any of her three sisters. She was the first to step into the world of Italian cooking, with her homemade meatballs and sauce. I still have a handwritten copy of her recipe.
And so, on a particular Sunday afternoon visit to Aunt Effie’s house, no one argued or asked why when she commanded us to sit on the rose beige sofa and just wait.
“I have something to show you,” she announced. We sat silently, obediently, as she disappeared into a bedroom and emerged a minute or two later with a piece of navy blue fabric over her arm – I would guess about 2 yards. She held it in front of us and announced, “Just feel this!”
And then, with a flourish, “This….is….polyester!”
We stroked the thick double knit finish in awe.
And that was the beginning of the end.
Not of the world of course, but of the chore that consumed most Sunday afternoons at our house: ironing.
I learned to iron when I was eight or so; I’d watched my mom and older sister tackle the task for years, and loved the smell of fresh laundry and hot steam. When the day finally arrived that I could be trusted with the black and silver GE iron, it was a rite of passage. I started on flat items: dad’s white handkerchiefs. Pillowcases. Later, I graduated to white crew neck undershirts. (Yes, we even ironed undershirts.)
Mom was always good at simplifying her ironing, though. My dad’s heavy green work pants hung on the basement clothesline with metal pants stretchers in each leg to form the crease. Other pieces hung on the backyard line in the summer. Cotton percale sheets grew stiff in the sun, but smelled like fresh air even after they were folded and placed in the linen closet.
My brother’s dress shirts defied all shortcuts though. In the mid-1960’s, Mike was in the heyday of his teenage years. His preteen chubbiness was gone; he grew to a handsome six-footer who never lacked for friends hovering nearby. It was the era of the British Invasion, and style dictated that “all the guys” wore tapered black pants and white dress shirts. Every day. It was the only thing Mike would wear to school, despite mom’s plaintive questioning, “White?”
I know now what she was thinking. A white shirt can’t be worn twice. More laundry. And more ironing. Eventually, I learned her system for ironing a shirt properly: collar, cuffs and button placket first. Then the shoulders and back yoke. Sleeves next. Finish with the body. Have a hanger ready.
I don’t iron much these days, and I know a lot of people who don’t iron at all. Still, I felt a pang of nostalgia this week when Hasbro retired the iron game token from 21st century Monopoly boards. The game piece was described as an anathema – it was an old flatiron that had to be warmed on the hearth or wood stove. A cat will replace the trusty iron, to make life interesting for the Scottie dog I guess. The boot, race car, top hat, battleship, wheelbarrow and thimble remain, but I have to wonder if very many kids today know what a thimble is when they select their tokens and begin to learn the game.