A Pressing Engagement

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

So. Here’s my little secret. I like to iron. My family knows about it. They make nervous jokes; give me sidelong glances, snicker among themselves. And it is also true, that with the advent of polyester, new fancy cotton blends, and perma-press clothing, I am quickly becoming a dinosaur!  Certainly an oddity. For example, I don’t think my granddaughter, who is almost 16 years old, has ever had the satisfying pleasure of spending an hour or two wrapped in warm, misty steam, fragrant with the aroma of starch. Come to think of it, I doubt either of my daughters has enjoyed that singular pleasure either.
Used to be that an ironing board was on every Bride’s Registry along with a really nice iron. And one of those silicon-backed, colorfully flowered ironing board covers was every newly-weds dream come true. Seriously. I am not making this up!
One of my earliest and fondest memories is when I was about four years old and my mom would sit me up on the kitchen counter, give me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made on Wonder Bread, and let me watch her iron while we listened to “Stella Dallas,” an early radio Soap Opera. When I had finished my milk, she would help me hop down, and under her watchful eye, allow me to play with my very own child-sized board and tiny electric iron. Yes. Electric. The little red aluminum iron did get warm, but certainly never hot enough to burn. I guess kids were tougher back in the 50s, and restrictions, not so much.
It was in another kitchen my momma taught me the secrets of how to iron around buttons, puffed sleeves, a ruffled hem, and the shoulder yoke on a blouse or shirt.  Even later, mom taught me how to iron a man’s shirt, and finally a fatigue uniform. It was the practice I got on my daddy’s heavily starched Army work clothes that gave me the skills to iron Bill’s khakis and fatigues when eventually I became a military wife and not just an Army Brat. (To be perfectly honest and not to appear a saint, I have to add this disclaimer. Yes, Bill usually ironed his own Army clothes, especially after the babies came along. He was good, too. And still is when he chooses to iron his Sunday white shirt.)
Just a few weeks ago Maureen Schuyler, director of the Senoia Area Historical Museum, presented me with a large box, its corners popping open from the weight of what I discovered was a treasure of hand sewn, hand embroidered, knitted and crocheted caps, booties, and baby jackets. All had been stored away for years; many seemed beyond help. Most of the tiny dresses, day gowns and “sacs” were made from voile, fine cotton batiste, or lawn. I have always loved that gauzy, semi-transparent fabric. Ladies afternoon “Tea” dresses were often made from white lawn, elegantly tucked, ruffled, and embroidered. I have soaked the stains from many of those, starched and ironed them till they were fit for croquet on the “lawn” of an estate in Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard!  (You can see them at the Historical Museum on Couch Street).
As I folded the last tiny gown made of the fine cotton fabric, and as I worked the little white buttons fashioned from mother of-pearl into the hand stitched buttonholes, I had to hold back salty tears. “How many times had these same precious little garments been lovingly pulled over baby’s head; how many times had mummy or nanny struggled with the teeny, tiny buttonholes, trying to get the buttons done up while baby squirmed and giggled–all soft and powdery from her morning bath time?” I wondered.
Today, there are no ironed “diaper shirts.” No buttons to fool with like on my own daughters baby garments of the 1960s. Plastic snaps and Velcro have taken the place of silk ribbon ties and translucent shell buttons. And absolutely NO powder sprinkled on baby’s tummy and bottom.
Anyway, last week when my daughter called to ask a BIG favor, would I press my grandson’s tuxedo, shirt and vest for the Starr’s Mill High School Senior Prom, my answer was, of course, YES!  This was no chore; this would be a “labor of love.” Then the box arrived with the folded pants and jacket, with the White Tuxedo. White jacket. White pants. Carter always has loved to make rather unique fashion statements. This was one of them.
Any idea how much tension is involved in putting a hot iron onto the front of a brand new White jacket? I had a vision of my grandson offering his date the beautiful rose corsage with the scorched pattern of an iron spread across the front of his coat. Or turning to escort her from her home, his girlfriend’s parents would surely see the imprint across his back. Fear. Abject terror. That is what I felt during the hour and a half vigil, during this venerable crusade spent in this worthy task, this agonizing effort to insure my status as The Ironing Queen!
I am elated to say that Carter looked like a million dollars in his shining white suit, like a Knight Errant as he stood proudly beside the beautiful maiden in her navy blue, beaded bare-midriff gown. I really like this year’s prom dresses. Beautiful. They probably don’t need much ironing either!

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