Ode to an Iron

This is a piece I wrote in 1995, just after I moved to Israel. It is written in loving memory of Mamie T. Lindsay.

I have just moved into my new house and I am ironing. It is not the first time I have ironed. Permanent press is not always permanent, and my daughters’ hair ribbons crease where they tie. But this time there is no TV to watch and no radio to listen to, and the items I am ironing are linen placemats and napkins.

They are ecru with blue edges. The placemats each have an appliquéd flower attached to them about two inches from the left side. They are sewn to the placemat on two sides so that a properly folded napkin will fit between the sewn areas and be held to the placemat by the flower. They are of a bygone era when women stood at ironing boards and spent time ironing such dainty items.

But today, as I iron the first napkin I begin to think about my childhood and how I watched with fascination as Mamie ironed. I would watch her strong yet graceful hands take a wrinkled pillowcase and make it lie flat and perfect. The steam would rise from the iron and the fresh scent coupled with the straightness and smoothness of the fabric touched my senses in a way that seemed to symbolize purity. I envied the power that lay in her hands which tamed the wild cloth and made it do as she bid. I wondered how it would feel when I would finally be able to iron.

Then I grew up and got married. The first week after our honeymoon I ironed my new husband’s shirts. Actually, I ironed only one shirt because I feared I would also burn the second and all subsequent shirts. His gentle comment was, “I’ll just take my shirts to the laundry.” The age of polyester dawned and women were liberated from ironing except for “touch-ups.”

As the years passed and I raised my children, moved around the country with my husband, and pursued my own study and career, I began to notice that I do my best thinking under two circumstances: when I am washing dishes and when I am in the shower. I thought water had something to do with it- a return to the womb or something, but today I know that is not true. In both cases I was fully involved in doing something which was automatic. Since the activity in which I was engaged required no higher thinking processes and my body was able to move without conscious thought, I was freed from external stimuli and able to think in a meditative way.

As I stand this evening, iron in hand, I think about all of the time for meditation and thinking I have missed by not ironing. I also think about all of the time that I was fortunate to have because I was for so many years, raising babies. I think of sitting and softly rocking my babies, holding them and being fully aware of their softness and their vulnerability and their potential and the amount of love it is possible to have for another person. It was at those times that the world became understandable. And now, as I iron, I meditate again.

Rona Michelson 1995

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  1. Dear Rona,
    This reminded me so much of my mom, who loved to iron. Even in her later years when my father had passed on and she didn’t have much of her own to iron, she would get so much joy if I would bring over my husband’s shirts for her to iron. She had taught me well to pull them out of the drier the second they were dry and to hang them immediately. However, in her eyes, they still required a little touch up for them to be perfect and that was her way to contribute something to our lives, a little payback for what we would do for her. Once in a while I would neglect to take a shirt out of the drier in time and I think she would love the opportunity to tell me “what a real job that was…”. When I was young I would always kid her about how it wasn’t necessary to iron my dad’s boxer shorts, but that gave her pleasure too – it showed how much she loved him. Any time I take out my iron I think of her and wish she was still with me – to love and to give her my ironing…

  2. Susan Notar says

    Dear Rona

    I often think of you and your family in Israel and love to hear from Gail how your grandchildren are multiplying! What a blessing for you and the Rabbi!

    One of my fondest memories is of coming to my grandmother’s house after school to find her in the living room ironing. She never seemed to be tired or to complain about the ironing. She used the time to stay in one spot and talk to us about our day at school and what was important in our lives. Years later I wondered why she insisted on ironing my grandfather’s pajamas and boxer shorts; but now your article makes me think that maybe it was her way of getting a little closer to all of us who literally sat at her feet while she ironed…

    I hope my children will remember a time when I stood in one spot and listened to them. Maybe I should think about doing more ironing!

  3. Rona Michelson says

    From my sister Vicki, used with her permission:

    I have this memory of an afternoon(or maybe many afternoons) when after morning kindergarten and lunch, I spent the time playing in the basement while Mamie ironed. The TV was on, a huge wooden cabinet with a tiny round screen. We were watching soap operas, in black and white with stirring organ accompaniment. My favorite was “the edge of night” because of the title and because of the opening with the picture of the New York skyline and the darkness coming down from the upper left hand corner until it covered the entire skyline. And the announcer saying, “The edge of night” in his deep voice with the organ music behind it. I never paid much attention to the stories. The people always looked worried. I made up my own stories, using my dolls to act them out. That afternoon (or afternoons) was quiet , orderly, and warm.

    Last night I saw the movie, “Good Night and Good Luck” about Edward R. Murrow which perfectly evoked that time of early television which was the time of my childhood. When I came home and read your blog, this all came back to me


  4. frank spigel says

    I remember my brother and I attempted to iron only to burn a nice cowboy shirt. It comes back to me now. Now I either buy wash & wear shirts or send my nicer shirts to the cleaner. Sometimes I think about buying an iron and have my cleaning lady iron, but still am happy to send them out.

    I also recently saw Good Night and Good Luck and I was reminded of Edward R. Murrow. I think Edward R. Murrow died of lung cancer in 1963 or 1964. I remember him well.

  5. I actually enjoy ironing, provided I have spray starch available. I think I like the idea of taking something unusuable and making it perfect.


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