Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wandering Back in Time

Since, here in the east, we're smack dab in the middle of a whopper snow storm, I thought you might have time for a bit longer post today. So, out of the archives I've pulled a piece that was published in Prairie Times last year. Hope you enjoy! Stay warm and stay indoors if you can. 

An Unexpected Reverie
By Susan Sundwall

One gloomy Saturday I found myself in the laundry room facing several items that needed a touch of ironing. They’d been there for awhile waiting – kind of forlorn like. So I decided to hunker down and just do it.  As I stood at the board listening to the steam hiss from the dimpled face of the iron, I thought back to the days when women had to iron all the time. There’s almost no such thing now, but I have to tell you, a sense of contentment washed over me as I ran the hot appliance over my favorite denim shirt. I was doing something useful and productive. And I had to stand still to do it.  

There’s a pleasant scent that rises from freshly ironed clothes. It’s fleeting but floats up from cloth and hot metal coming together to smooth out wrinkles. As each piece is finished there’s a great sense of satisfaction in seeing a line of wrinkle free shirts lined up in the closet. As a kind of bonus, while that task was being performed, I was able to let my mind happily wander; right there doing such an old fashioned thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I never want to go back to the days of the old nursery rhyme where one would wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, scrub on Wednesday, etc.  No thank you. I’m a modern gal and think it’s marvelous what machines do now, freeing us from the drudgery of days gone by. But as I pressed and turned my shirt, smoothing out the sleeves along the ironing board, other thoughts crept in.

I kind of miss the routine of washing and drying dishes. Really. When my sisters and I were growing up, we’d do the dishes together. After we’d tried every trick in the book to get out of it, we’d usually settle down and get the job done. We’d use this time to sing some of the songs we’d learned in school. We, the three oldest, all had the same elementary school music teacher and our voices rang out over the sudsy water and clank of plates. Songs like “White Coral Bells,” and “Shenendoah,” drifted through the kitchen then.

At other times we’d play beat the clock. “Okay,” I’d say. “It’s six thirty. I’ll bet we can get this whole stinking mess cleaned up in twelve minutes.”

“Never happen,” said one sister.

“Come on, let’s try it,” said the other.

“Ready? Set? Go!”

And we were off like an illegal firecracker. We usually made our time and if you watched us you’d have seen quite a ballet. Dipping, reaching past, and dodging each other. At intervals we’d each throw a glance at the clock.

“Three minutes to go! Hurry up.” Then we’d put on the speed and congratulate ourselves when the last dish was dried and the sink was cleaned out. Dad was a real stickler for doing that last bit.

Years later when the younger brothers and sister came along (eventually there were nine of us) Mom and Dad were able to afford a dishwasher. I was out of the house by then but I’ve always wondered what those siblings found to facilitate bonding. Playing Pac Man, maybe?

As I ironed my next piece I thought of a conversation I’d had with my daughter-in-law not too long ago. We spoke of the school playground games that were prevalent when we were kids. She, too had played Four Square and Tetherball. I usually got clobbered at Four Square primarily because the boys were killer shots. I hardly ever made it to square one. But let me tell you about Tether Ball.

I was one of the queens at that game. There were about four of us in the fifth grade who ruled in the tether ball arena. My chief rivals were Cynthia and Donna. If you got off a good first punch you almost always had the advantage. The trick was to keep that ball flying so high over your opponent’s head she couldn’t reach it to send it back at you. If, on the other hand, she got in a couple of whomping pows! herself, well then the game was afoot. I relished the challenge and frequently won. I had a good right arm back then. And the boys? They pretty much stayed out of the way for that game. They were usually off somewhere in the kickball field or dribbling like crazy on the basketball court.

Grabbing a hanger for that last shirt, I smoothed the collar and thought of how pleasant it can be to give in to some long put off chore that nonetheless fosters reverie. Ironing probably lends itself more to that indulgence than some other things, like scouring the toilet. As a girl I would have scoffed at the idea of a pleasant hour of ironing, but those days are gone. I know better now.

There are things we remember from childhood that burn in our memory. They are not always the giddy with excitement times or the horribly embarrassing ones. No, sometimes a simple task like ironing will bring the more eduring ones to the fore in a lovely, and unexpected, reverie.     

Image: John Kasawa                                 Free Digital Photos


  1. I find myself in one of those reveries every so often, especially now that Mom is gone. I remember when I asked her if I could iron. I must have been around 8 or 9 and it looked like so much fun! (What was I thinking? Lol) Anyhow, Mom told me that I could help her if I would be careful, so I got to iron Dad's handkerchiefs. She also mentioned about being sorry I'd asked to help, for someday I wouldn't like to iron. Ahem. She was right. :)

    1. It's just a lost art, Karen. LOL Thanks for chiming in!

  2. I can remember thinking my mother's sprinkling bottle was the neatest thing in the world! She used an old pop bottle with a top that had several holes punched into tin. She told me that when the hot iron hit the sprinkled water on the item you were ironing it created steam and helped take out the wrinkles. What a clever woman I thought.

  3. Christine, My mom had a ketchup bottle with on of those tops. I think you could buy them at the five and dime. I thought they were very cool, too. Where is the sprinkle bottle that takes wrinkles out of your face? LOL