Ironing Day

Woman Ironing, Rik Wouters, 1912

Today is Wednesday, ironing day.  Mother washed on Monday,  folded and starched on Tuesday, and ironed on Wednesday.  I sometimes wonder if I’ve time-travelled; it was such a different world.  She  began her ironing just as  “Our Gal Sunday” came on the radio and ironed on through  “Stella Dallas”, “The Guiding Light” and “The Brighter Day.”  I would sometimes listen with her to these stories of women whose lives were so different from ours, and she would talk about how some day she would travel.  Just go all over the country with no plan in mind.

She sometimes had help with the ironing from Caroline, a black woman whose family sharecropped on my grandfather’s farm, but only if Mother was physically in the house.  Caroline  believed with all her heart that our house was haunted by a Civil War Captain who hated black people.  But he stayed out of sight if white folks werearound.  Today this seems a little alarming, but as a child in those days,  it seemed perfectly sensible.  No one thought the less of Caroline for it.  And certainly we never questioned the reality of ghosts.  Nowadays she would be on medication for panic attacks.  Not to belittle panic attacks; they’re real.  We just had a different way of dealing with them then. Admittedly less effective, but much more colorful.


 I recently bought a new iron, bringing, I’m embarrassed to say, my iron inventory to six.   The new one is cordless, and made especially for quilting. I use it  for piecing along with its teeny tiny “wand iron” cousin for nooks and crannies.   But  I also have  two big honking steam irons for down and dirty ironing (to be avoided),  an ironing press for large flat items (I don’t think I have any) and my personal favorite, the vertical iron for drapes which has never been out of its box.  Really.



My mother had one iron and  its cord had been wrapped several times with electrical tape.  The idea of replacing it never came up.   I  had no clue how hard she worked with so little support until long after I left home.  We talked about this after she left the farm and her life became more comfortable.  But she dismissed it as just the way things were.  And her life was so much easier, she reminded me, than my grandmother’s.  Case in point:  Grandmother used a flatiron that she heated on the wood stove.   I also have two of these.  I use them as bookends.

I never remember hearing the women in my family complain.  Maybe they did.  Maybe that’s what their quilting bees were really all about.  But they never complained to the children.   This might seem duplicitous, maybe smack of denial.  But I’m pretty sure it was not delusional but intentional.    They could not have been unaware of the harsh realities of their lives.  Workdays were long and physically demanding.   The livlihood of the family depended on the right mix of sunshine and rain,  heat and cold, to support the crops.    Loss of children to childhood disease was not uncommon.  The closest neighbors were often miles away.  And always there was the threat of losing sons to war.

Maybe these were coping skills,  passed down from their mothers.  Or perhaps they shielded us because they  wanted us  to enjoy childhood free from as much pain as possible.  Or like mothers since time began, maybe they  simply wanted to protect their children.  No matter the reason, I’m amazed at their strength and resiliency.

Oh, and btw,  about my mother – she got her trip across the country.  It lasted 10 years.



  “I got FIFTY FOUR Valentimes! 

 That’s what we called them, “Valentimes.”

 I still remember the  heart-shaped box she carried made specially to hold them. 

  “How many  did YOU get?” she chimed, smiling sweetly.  

I didn’t need anything to carry my valentines in.  I may have gotten a dozen or so, if you count the mercy ones from my gramma and my cousins.  Mortified, I could hardly wait for the whole thing to be over.  Unfortunately what  I did not know at the time was that for or the next 11 years of my life, on February 14,  this painful ritual would be repeated.  Keeping score became less obvious, but not less brutal,  when we reached high school.  And if you grew up in a small town as I did, you will know that the little people you hid from in first grade followed you all the way to Graduation.   So as the Senior Valentine’s Day Dance approached, my little nemesis,  now blossomed into a teenage version of her adorable six- year old self,  had a grown-up question,

“Who’s taking YOU to the Valentine’s Ball?”  My only hope for an escort, as she well knew, was my younger cousin whom I could have bullied into going,  but he danced as though he were shoveling hay.   I  stayed home.

 Valentines Day can be brutal.  And not just for kids.  What’s more, it is no longer confined to a day; it lasts at least a month.  This year valentines were on the shelves December 26!  And until February 15,  we will be badgered by advertisers trying to convince men that they will be permanently branded uncivilized jerks if they do not wow their Lady Love with jewelry and chocolate.  And not just any jewelry and chocolate, but EXPENSIVE jewelry and chocolate,  AND jewelry from the “right” kind of jewelry store.   Neither are Samplers from the drugstore or last minute grocery store roses going to do it.  One jewelry store  solves the problem with a one-stop-shop.  You can purchase your jewelry embedded in a box of chocolate— in the shape of a valentine.   Of course.   Ladies, in turn,  are harassed by weight loss plans, fitness gurus and boutiques to shed those last shameful pounds so they can fit into that “little red dress” they need to show off their expensive jewelry at the Valentine’s Day galas.  I have no idea who eats the chocolate.

images-18I don’t think this is what St. Valentine had in mind.  The details of his life are obscure, but I am pretty sure he did not achieve sainthood by handing around little cards with hearts on them.   In fact since he was a Priest (or Bishop, depending on the source you prefer),  I expect he would be appalled to find his name  associated with little red and white cards and boxes of chocolate and not the Christian faith for which he was stoned!    No one seems to know exactly how this distorted imagery evolved.  But once the greeting card companies came along, know the rest.   And to be fair, greeting cards are not alone; a search for “Valentines” on Amazon will bring up over two million items, among which you may browse for your shopping convenience.


I don’t remember much about Cupid in those early Valentines Days.  For one thing, since we were a predominantly fundamentalist Protestant community, our primary schools were not known for their expertise in Roman mythology.  And I suspect the teachers considered Cupid’s garb just a little risqué for our six year old eyes.  Nevertheless, Cupid has been around since the 1800s.  History seems to have treated him more fairly than it did St. Valentine.  Son of Venus,  Roman Goddess of Love, Cupid is usually portrayed as a chubby little boy with a bow and a quiver of arrows, poised to shoot his victims,  thereby infusing them with an overwhelming desire for a lover.  So while the imagery has remained more or less intact, the concept seems a bit off for our modern taste.  I don’t think romance would be my first reaction to having been impaled on an arrow.  Perhaps this is the real reason Cupid never came up in those early Valentine Days.  How on earth do you explain this to a first grader?  But if  his reputation has remained pretty much intact,  Cupid, like St. Valentine, has not escaped commercialization.  There is a Cupid dating service,  there are Cupid cocktails,  Cupid sunglasses, Cupid dog collars.  There is a Zombie Cupid, a Spongebob Cupid, and my personal favorite, the Cheese Cupid.

images-20 2

But in spite of it all,  I  do celebrate Valentine’s Day —  in a minimalist sort of way.  My husband and I exchange cards, but when the prices hit $6, we seriously considered recycling them every year.  We send cards to the grandchildren, even though the older ones probably discard them after pocketing the money.  We do not buy chocolate, and especially not from jewelry stores. And we NEVER go to Valentines Day galas.  We have had our fill of surfing parking lots, standing in lines,  and eating tepid banquet food.    We open our cards and watch a movie.  It’s wonderful.  And the days of competing for Valentines Day chocolate,  jewelry, and escorts are gone forever.

Meanwhile, back in First Grade, the Valentines Games probably  still go on, human nature being what it is.   Since we live in kinder, gentler times now,  hopefully the ritual has become kinder and gentler as well.  But we didn’t have social media to deal with.  My mind boggles at the thought of my little tormenter, her cell phone at the ready, armed with the information of my valentine deficiencies.   So  I suspect little psyches are once again bruised and little prom queens set into motion in the quest to win the Valentine Games.   I’ll keep sending cards to the little ones,  just in case. 



Woke up this morning thinking about aprons. Go figure.
As I remember them growing up, aprons were recycled from old dresses, made from scraps, feed sacks, or in the case of work aprons for men, old coveralls.



Or.. if like me, you needed to earn your 4-H Homemaking Badge, The Apron was your first sewing project.   I don’t think anyone bought aprons and I certainly didn’t want one. The apron, symbol of dread domesticity, was to be avoided at all cost. Much better to wipe your hands on your jeans. 

50s woman with apron
So after all our struggles to stamp out negative images of womanhood, why this apron renaissance? A quick search on Google will get you over 4 million hits for “women’s aprons.” You may choose from among 9000+ aprons to purchase on Amazon alone, not to mention upscale shops like Anthropologie. And a ton of books, websites and blogs!  There are vintage aprons, X-rated aprons, fashionista aprons, his/hers aprons mother/daughter aprons, childen’s aprons.

Cool woman with apronfancy apron

There’s even a word for the apron aficionado; “apronist.” Safe to say it’s cool to wear aprons again. So maybe we’re finally beyond the semantics; maybe we women are free to do and be who we really are. I hope that’s at least part of the reason.

But I wonder if the love affair with aprons is it also is part of our larger love affair with nostalgia, a need to escape our complicated lives, a wish for a “simpler, more mannered time.” More and more I catch myself thinking “When I was young, we ALWAYS….” or “we wouldn’t have DREAMED of…” But really? Were things better? They were different, certainly. But were my apron-clad grandmothers happier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I could have survived their challenges. Their lives were simpler, but the work was physically demanding, their life choices were limited, and luxuries I take for granted were few and far between for them. They didn’t worry about drug lords and identify theft, but their lives were short and their sons went to war. There were treasured traditions, but the consequences for breaking them could be disastrous.

So tonight as I tied on my beautiful new cotton apron to make dinner in my kitchen with all the modern conveniences, using food I didn’t have to shoot or pick, I thought once again about my beautiful strong grandmother, her wood stove and her apron. Miss you Gramma.

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