When I was eight or nine years old, I learned how to iron. I recognized it for what it was: a rite of passage into womanhood, and also an additional, unending chore that I would start that day and never, ever finish.
"We'll start with pillowcases," my mom declared, handing me a freshly laundered stack. This is how I grew up: No matter what was going on in our lives, we placed our heads on starched pillowcases each night. My mother was from Detroit; for long years, I entertained the idea that this was the typical behavior for people from Detroit. It was comforting to think of an entire city slowing down each night so the women could iron in the luminescent glow of the television.
Beginning that day, I started ironing just about everything, down to my t-shirts and tank tops. Like my mother, I didn't see wrinkles as a natural state. I saw them as an abomination.
The late '80s was a time of starched shirtdresses, and I came of age at just the right time. My first real job? Ironing clothes for a woman down the street whose entire wardrobe was 100% cotton right out of the Spiegel catalog.
I brought a miniature iron and ironing board with me to college and used them fairly often, at least my first year in the dorm before I shed cute lacy blouses for borrowed flannels. My roommates must have seen me as an oddity -- Sarah unpacked not an ironing board but a full-sized playground swing, which we hung from our loft. Others contributed an espresso machine and about five million packets of Kool-Aid.
When I met Will, it was safe to say he had never ironed anything. Once, on a dress-up occasion, he arrived wearing a new shirt. He'd removed the pins and the cardboard collar form, but hadn't bothered to launder or iron the shirt. "Do you like?" he asked, turning in a slow circle. There were so many stiff creases in odd places that he could have stood in for the Tin Man.
I sighed, already manuevering the ironing board out of the hall closet, and ordered him to strip.
These days, the ironing board is a permanent fixture in our lives. We have an office with a desktop computer that we never use, and instead, we more or less use the space as a laundry room. I hang clothes to dry in there, and Will douses his work clothes with liberal sprays of Wrinkle Release -- but still, we vie for use of the iron in the mornings, never seeming to plan far enough ahead to iron for more than a day at a time. It's not unusual for us to argue over who needs the iron first, who needs it more, etc.
There is no sedate ironing in front of the evening's reality shows; no I'll-iron-it-on-the-off-chance-I'll-dress-up-this-week. The chore I once learned with pride has become just a chore. Most weekends, in fact, I refuse to iron at all.
And the pillowcases? Sorry, Mom -- they're wrinkled as anything.
Paula Treick DeBoard