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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Irony Of Ironing










I am ironing. Mark this day on your calendar. I have not ironed is too embarrassing to tell you when I last ironed. So let us return to the first time I did. I was seven or eight. In our apartment. In the kitchen. Starting my apprenticeship. Learning the trade. The steps to a perfectly ironed shirt. The only kind my father wore, when money was tight, as it often was. On rare occasions he would treat himself to the Chinese laundry down the street, where the shirts, steamed and pressed, appeared wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. Each shirt starched and folded, a slim strip of paper, holding the knife edged collar and cuffs in place. The bar for perfection set impossibly high.

But there I stood, in the basement, beside the washing machine, taking mental notes as my mother fed the shirts one at a time through the wooden wringer atop the machine. Sleeves smoothed and folded into the body of the shirt and rung damp to dry. On the sink, a red rimmed metalware pan filled with cold water and instant Niagra powdered starch.  A dip into the milky liquid, then shirts pegged out to dry. In the winter, on a clothesline stretched wall to wall across the damp dark basement. In the summer, shirts suspended by their shoulders with wooden clothespins, dried stiff by the wind and the sun.

The wind up and now the pitch.

Nope. Not yet. Another step.

Sprinkling The blessing of the shirts. With water inside an old Nehi root beer bottle, corked with a pierced aluminum top. Sprinkle. Sprinkle. Stop. Drop. Roll. Or was that the recipe for tornado drills? Regardless, the end result, a pyramid of damp tubes on the TV tray under the window.

Now onto the appliances. The iron. Yes. I am ready. I am willing. I am able. No, not. Not hot. Yet. The iron must be sizzling hot. Spit sizzling hot. My mother plugged the iron into an outlet in the light fixture on the ceiling. Lugged the ironing board out and creaked into place. She spit lightly on the bottom plate of the iron she held in one hand and extended her other hand to me. Shirt please. Unroll. Collar and cuffs first. Shoulders next. The back. The right front. The left front. Collar and cuffs one more time. Hanger please. Unroll. Spit. Repeat.

A clarification is in order. My mother did not iron only shirts. She ironed everything. To perfection. Pants and jeans and sheets and towels and just about anything made of fabric stupid enough to sidle through the kitchen past the Nehi bottle. When I say she ironed everything, I mean everything. Even an innocent like me, on the way out the door to school, could be "touched up" with a hot iron so that the pleats on my skirt hung perfectly straight. I have the tiny scars just above my knees to prove it. That's what happens when you try to iron a moving target.

I am now free to share, perhaps our darkest family secret, as mom can no longer complain and one day my family will tell similar tall tales. One day, one dark day, I came home from school early and caught her ironing the brown paper bags from the supermarket. I didn't tell a soul, because if she was busy ironing bags, she didn't have a free hand to iron me.

I took a travel iron to college. It traveled to the back of my closet and I never saw it again. Times change. The late 60's meant Women's Liberation. Some burned bras. I, I trashed my iron. The birth of polyester. the rise of Dacron, lifted women like me into the world of drip-dry and wrinkle-free. The anti-ironing rebellion led to an era of polyester fashion faux pas. Pant suits, leisure suits, neckerchiefs, white belts and white shoes, long hair and side burns. Who knew the historical, cultural and social ramifications of laying down the iron. Freedom and mountains of very bad clothes, non-recyclable, instantly flammable, synthetically styled shirts and shorts, poured directly from a test tube, top stitched and stretched taut in colors only seen under the influence of psychodelic drugs. Clothes that are not vintage. Not retro. Suitable only for Halloween and old yearbook photo pranks on Facebook. Not a wrinkle in sight. Permanent. Perfectly and permanently pressed even now at the bottom of your nearest landfill.

And then I married. The son of a member of the secret society of brown bag ironers. Mere minutes after the dawn of Earth Day, natural fibers snuck back into the laundry bag. My husband, like me, learned to iron from one of the best in the business of steam vent management. Perfect. Perfectly pressed shirts. I watched him in awe. He watched me. Wanted me. To be perfect too. But I knew the secret. I grew up with two older brothers. If you do something badly enough, people stop asking you to do it. So I did. I admit it. I ironed badly. I was a liberated woman of the 70's. I'd burned a bra. Went a whole week without shaving my legs or my armpits. I could do it again. Well, I could threaten to do it again.

That was enough. Home free all the way to the dry cleaners.

Then I had two boys of my own and I taught them how to iron. But. This is important. They never saw me iron. Never.

Times change as they often do. I bought a new shirt. By mistake I washed it the way I wash everything one big happy family. A 100% cotton blouse hanging on the back of the door waggling its sleeves at me for two whole weeks. A wave of nostalgia washed over me and I found the iron behind the "just for emergencies" 72 pack of TP in the closet. I plugged in the iron. Spit for luck. And cried.

Because, there beside me, iron in one hand and the other on my shoulder, was my Mom. "A little touch up maybe?" She winked and her lovely face vanished into the mist of steam.

These days I have wrinkles, the ones you cannot iron away, the kind you earn. I am hard pressed to tell you that I miss the woman who taught me that any job worth doing is worth doing well or not at all.

Choices, she said, make good choices. 

I did. I chose not to be perfect

No matter how things come out in the wash.

These days I do my ironing out and smoothing over,

by saying sorry and hoping for forgiveness. 

It doesn't always work, but when it does

it feels just like

a perfectly ironed shirt,

lovingly wrapped up in brown paper

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Random Acts Of Kindnesses






Or Tweeted Out...

They come and go so fast, are done in such an unself-conscious manner, you barely have time to acknowledge the act itself.

Often, you stand speechless as the anonymous donor drives away or strolls out the door. Barely time to wave a thank you, let alone compose a note of gratitude.

Yesterday, I was listening to the radio and the host was talking about this very subject. Random acts of kindness. I was busy being busy and not paying particular attention to the conversation, until a caller told about being in line behind a mother of two young boys just about to check out at the grocery store. You know the spot, the one designed to make every parent anxious to please. The rows and rows, boxes and boxes filled with candy and small toys, eye level with youngsters in tow. Young people trying to be good and patient, while sorely tempted. The mother, the caller described as soft spoken, but obviously struggling to pay for the necessary items on the counter, let alone special sweet shiny treats. Her youngest child asked, "Momma please?" The older boy said nothing, just glanced up at his mother's face, knowing the answer without the question. What she did reply was this, "I only have enough money for one." The older boy looked down at his younger brother and without hesitation, smiled and said, "It's okay Mom, let him have it. I'm fine." Then he laid his hand on his brother's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

The woman standing a few feet behind, the witness to this child's kindness, felt tears come to her eyes. The family ahead left the store, but the woman behind quickly added a toy to her cart, paid in haste and raced out of the store. She caught up to them in the parking lot. She placed the toy in the older boy's hand and addressed the mother. "What a fine family you have raised." Without looking back, she drove home. Listening to her story, I felt my own tears start. I was shocked. At myself. Such a simple story. Such a tiny act. What's the matter with me?

Then, after a commercial break, the nightly news. The news wasn't good. It wasn't kind. It was, generally speaking, awful. And I thought, that's what we hear about, day in and day out. That's what we see on the nightly news, read on our front pages day after day. Random acts of violence. Only not so random, often more than not, very very intentional. To the point where it is a shock to hear kindness so clearly spoken.

Random kindness, with no expectation of return.

An anonymous donation of nice.

I put it out of my mind, until this afternoon as I drove into the drive up lane at Wendy's near home. A young man, in the driver's seat, of a beat up, battered and bruised, little red car, waved me ahead. His car. Dead. I  could hear him trying to get the engine to turn over with no success. Teeth grinding gear grinding. I rolled down my window and asked if he needed help. I could see that he was embarrassed and lost as to how to prevent the long line of drivers snaking behind him from losing their patience.
Before I could say another word, two grown men, grown up meaning about my age, grandfather types, walked up to the driver's window. One man directed traffic, and the other got in front of the car and began to push it back into the parking lot. Once out of harm's way, the first gentleman got in his car and moved it to a different space. He then returned and the grandpas pushed the little red car into the abandoned spot. Striding toward the car, an employee of the nearby tire store approached the driver as the two grandfathers got in their cars and drove away.

The young man stood in the parking lot and ran his fingers through his hair. Random kindness. HERE and then THERE before he could say a word. And the cherry on the sundae? Not one driver in the line behind ever honked or complained or shouted. All in all I would say everyone was in awe. Of the moment. Two minutes. Tops. Problem solved. No thanks necessary.

 I will remember, though, the last thing I saw before the men walked away. No words. Nothing said. Just a hand on the boy's shoulder and a smile.

Random acts of kindnesses. I forgot. Misplaced the thought. In too much of a hurry or the lines too blurry to need two reminders in one day of how kind the world can be.  When we least expect it and when we need it the most.

Last year, when I busted my knee, I joined a fitness club and started walking in the pool. It hurt and I wanted to quit...but after walking one length of the pool, I heard clapping. The women of the pool were clapping. For me. A round of applause for trying.

I wrote about that day. I wrote about the women of the pool and their random acts of kindness.

I didn't forget them.

I forgot to remember

The women of the pool, the woman in the check out line, the elder brother, the grandpas in the parking lot...are Olympians

They go the distance. 

One major difference. 

No Win, Place or Show.

Not for the ribbons and the fanfare. 

They Simply Show Up. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Great Dad Just Great






Just Like 


How you ask, how do I know this? Because yesterday I looked in the mirror after I finished shaving and found two white curlicues of hair growing out of the top of my right ear.

Great Dad. Just Great.

Then, after I yanked them out and made my eyes water, I noticed your male patterned baldness on display just above my eyebrows and unconsciously reached up and patted the thinning spot on the back of my head.

Great Dad. Just Great.

I pulled open my sock drawer, looked down at my feet and spied the bare spot spreading from my ankles to about three inches up my calf. Your ankles are bare there too.

Great Dad. Just Great. 

Just about the time I thought I had pulled myself together, I grabbed an old golf shirt and wondered where I had seen it before. I saw it on you. We have the exact same shirt. In the same exact color. With the exact same logo.

Great Dad. Just Great.

I shrugged it off as I tucked in a different shirt into my jeans, zipped myself up, and buckled my belt. My belt. I am wearing a belt with my jeans. And my gut, my gut is hanging ever so slightly over the top of my pants.

Great Dad. Just Great.

It is a beautiful sunny bright blue Saturday in June and I am mowing the yard. Trimmer first. Mowing and mulching. My yard. And when I am finished I will vacuum out the car, wash, rinse and polish with a chamois that I keep on a hook in the garage right next to my red tool box, the one you gave me when I moved into my first place. I know that if I call you right now, Mom will say you are busy doing exactly the same thing. The only difference is that I have a cell phone and you still have a land line.

Great Dad. Just Great.

So I'll just put on my headphones and listen to a few tunes. Just to chill. I'll just listen to...oh, man, oh, man, oh man...we listen to the same bands. This is really really bad. This is unbelievable.

Everywhere I go there you are and everywhere you go there I am. 

Great Dad. Just Great. 

I'm okay I say. I'm okay. It's just that Father's Day is looming on the horizon and I've been thinking about you a lot, so it's perfectly natural to notice a few similarities. I mean, I did follow you around when I was a kid. I did stand in your shadow and played with the hose while you washed the car. And I did ride along to the hardware store where we fondled tools and I watched you heft a socket wrench or two. You taught me how to mow and how to drive and how to shave and how to swear under my breath so that Mom couldn't hear.

Great Dad. Just Great. 

But I have to draw the line somewhere.

Be a man.

Stand on my own two feet.

Take responsibility for my life.

So, though we share a few mannerisms and peccadillos, I refuse to cross the line.

I don't mind looking a bit like you.

I just won't sound like you.


I mean I'm standing here watching my kids parked in front of the TV and I can hear your voice in my head. Your voice when I came through the door late at night, after curfew, with beer on my breath. Your voice when I dented the car door backing out of the garage. Your voice when you came up behind me when I was doing research on the computer, and then tried in vain to talk to me about sex.

Great Dad. Just Great 

I just yelled at the kids. I don't know why. I just did. The words just rolled out of my mouth, something about it being a beautiful day and why are they sitting on the couch I paid for with my hard earned dollars, and didn't they have to finish their chores, oh no, no, no, I used the word chores. There's more. I can feel it building. I know exactly how this conversation is about to go, so I slap my hand over my mouth, and now the kids are staring at me.

Great Dad. Just Great. 

Then I hear it. Your voice. The one you used on the first day of Kindergarten, when you told me to be tough, while your voice broke in little pieces all over the front seat as you turned your head and nudged me out the door.  The same voice when I scored my first goal in soccer, yelling my name, my name, like it was, you know, special. Your voice when I left home for college. Standing in the parking lot, both of us with our brave faces on. Study, you said. Study hard. Then we both turned, and I was the one who looked back, to see your hand raised over your head, waving me on my way.That time I took the stage, guitar in hand, with my band. The night before my wedding, with index cards in your hand, the words practiced over and over on the plane, now stuck in your throat. The words you couldn't speak, well, I heard 'em anyway.

And then. In the hospital, with my son, in my arms, and your arm around my shoulder, as we said it at exactly the same time.

I love you son. 

Great Dad. Just Great.

I guess some things bear repeating. 

I love you Dad.

It's exactly what I want to say, and what I am longing to hear.

I'm a lot like you and it's...

Happy Father's Day

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