I Didn’t Inherit the Ironing Gene!


Mama was a wonderful “ironer.”  When Mama ironed a shirt, it was PERFECT when she finished.  She had a system for exactly how she ironed one every time:  collar first (underside and THEN top), then sleeves, both sides of the front and finally the back.   Dress shirts were starched before they were hung out to dry by soaking them in a pan of starch on the stove (longer the “soaked,” more the “starched”).  There was no spray starch, of course, and there were no steam irons.  So a sprinkling bottle was used to sprinkle the clothes to be ironed after they were taken off the clothes line, and was also used during the ironing process if more dampness was required. 

When Mama took the clothes off of the clothes line on laundry day (By the way, in my opinion, NOTHING is better than sleeping on sheets that have dried in the sun — the smell is incredible.), she brought the basket into the house and sorted out the clothes that would be ironed, which was pretty much everything but underwear and socks.  She then sprinkled the to-be-ironed items with water from the sprinkling bottle (for many years the one she used was one I had made for her in Blue Birds that was a Coke bottle covered in festively-colored papier-mache).  After they were all sprinkled, and each item was rolled, she stacked them on a shelf in the refrigerator (they looked a little like a stack of logs) to await ironing day, which was always the next day. 

On ironing day, Mama would spend hours standing at the ironing board, ironing just about everything we wore.  But, this wasn’t just idle time as I remember it, at least when I was a pre-schooler.  Mama was a great story teller. So, as she ironed, she would tell me stories about when she was a little girl, and bible stories and fairy tales, and she would sing to me and teach me the words to the songs, and she would teach me words to nursery rhymes and poems.  I will always remember the opening line of one of her favorite poems, said in a “dialect,” but I have no idea which one — maybe German? :

“I haaav von fauny ettle poy.  ‘is name is Yokub Strouse.  He vuns ‘n jumps ‘n smatters t’ings all o’r my nice clean ‘ouse.”

And, one memorable day, she taught me to snap my gum!  When I think back, that is pretty amazing because Mama was lady-like, and I don’t honestly remember ever hearing her do anything as crass as snap her gum.  In fact, I really don’t have any memory of her CHEWING gum.  But I do remember when she gave me gum, it was either the tiny pieces of Dentine, or just a part of a stick of Juicy Fruit, so I guess in tiny little amounts like that, you can have a piece of gum in your mouth and it’s not obvious.  Anyway, I’m guessing that that quick little lesson may have been a momentary lapse in her normally good judgment, and she may have rued the day she taught me that annoying habit.   (I swear, to this day, I can type my fastest, while chewing gum and snapping it.  It somehow helps my typing rhythm!)  

Now, reality check, because Mama didn’t mind ironing, in fact ENJOYED ironing, that meant that I NEVER had to iron when I lived at home.  So, although she did our laundry for the first two years Hubby and I were married, I DID have to learn to iron, but, thank goodness, clothes had already started to get more wrinkle-free, notably the polyesters in the ’70’s, so I never did have to do much ironing.  It pretty quickly diminished to doing just a dress shirt for Hubby to wear to church on Sunday, with other especially wrinkled items only done as needed.

For a few years after high school, (until we had small children to take up all our time) a group of my friends and I would get together once a month for an evening.  I remember when we were all newly marrieds, at one of these get-togethers, the subject turned to ironing.  Our friend, Joanne (who I always thought of as a perfectionist, and this confirmed it) said she ironed everything she and her new Hubby wore — including underwear!  I may not have been a great ironer, but I was always pretty good with a wise crack, so I said, “Really!  My hubby presses his OWN underwear. . .”  I allowed a brief pause for comedic effect, as they all looked at me in disbelief (they KNEW Hubby, and couldn’t picture him pressing ANYTHING), and then I continued,  “. . .every time he sits down.”  While I was joking, Joanne assured us she wasn’t.  I never looked at her husband in quite the same way again — knowing he was wearing boxers with creases pressed in them.

Gunny has a story from his childhood that he likes to tell about me and ironing.  On a Sunday morning as we were getting ready to leave for church, I noticed that the little tie he was wearing (that his Daddy had tied for him) with his little dress shirt “just like his Daddy’s,” had some wrinkles.  So, because we were in a hurry, I told him to come into the laundry room and I would run a quick iron over his tie, without him taking it off.  He was just tall enough that his necktie was right at ironing board level, so I plugged in the iron, told him to lay his tie on the board and I quickly ran the iron over the tie.  Unfortunately, little Gunny had laid his little fingers on the edge of the ironing board too, and I hadn’t noticed, so I did run INTO some of his little fingers, but I didn’t iron OVER them as he likes to tell the story. 

Because Gunny was a Marine for 20 years, I KNOW he knows how to iron, and he is usually well groomed, but one Saturday morning when Hubby and I were on our yearly visit to the town where Gunny and his family lived, he showed up at our beach condo in a verry wrinkled t-shirt and shorts.  I guess he could tell that I had noticed, so, he casually commented that something strange had happened a few minutes ago.  He said he had actually very carefully pressed his clothes before he left the house, but that a “wrinkle bomb” had gone off in his pocket on the way over.

And, finally, Hubby likes to tell people that when he started wearing a dress shirt to work every day that, of course,  had to be ironed, I would always iron them one. at. a . time. — on an as-needed basis.  Actually, he swears that I would wait to see if he got up in the morning, before I ironed a shirt, because if he died, I didn’t want to have ironed a shirt unnecessarily!   

We finally solved the problem of his ironed shirts soon after he started working in a job where he wore a dress shirt and tie to work every day, thus needing 6 or 7 pressed shirts a week.  I think we both realized very quickly that that was wayyyy more ironing than I was capable of — and still be a happy person.  So, we started sending his shirts to the laundry about 20 years ago, and that has always been money well spent.  It was a win/win — he had nicely pressed shirts, and I wasn’t “grumpy ironer.”

So, I didn’t inherit Mama’s wonderful ability to iron (or LOVE of ironing) — but I did inherit some wonderful memories of the stories, songs and poems that Mama taught me while SHE ironed! 

Thank you God, for the wonderful memories that blogging has encouraged me to remember.  May my memories cause those who read this, to recall similar fond memories of their own that they may not have thought about for a long time.   

17 Responses to I Didn’t Inherit the Ironing Gene!

  1. Auntie April the great says:

    I love it!!!!!! lol

  2. Auntie April the great says:

    I love it!!!! lol

  3. Wait, you were funny before I was born? The pressed underwear has me in tears!!

    I always thought that I alone inspired you to be funny….is it possible that it’s the other way around?

  4. rachel says:

    What wonderful memories. I truly enjoyed reading this.

  5. Chrissy says:

    Too funny! My idea of ironing is the dryer! Once in a blue moon a real iron!

  6. Wonderful story!

    You know what? I was a Bluebird too! WoHeLo

  7. For those who want to be in the Bluebird know:
    WoHeLo stands WOrk HEalth LOve. That was what was drilled into me anyway. I even remember the Camp Fire song:

    “Worship God, seek beauty, give service, and knowledge pursue. Be trustworthy ever in all that you do. Hold fast onto health and your work glorify, and you will be happy in the law of Camp Fire.”

    Fun song, huh?

    I was a Bluebird in the great lake state of Minnesota.

  8. Sandra says:

    Thanks,SBW. A fun reminder of simpler times. I’m impressed you remember the song AND the WoHeLo — I must have been talking when I was supposed to be learning those things — BIG SURPRISE!

  9. tz says:

    so you’ve confirmed there is actually a gene for ironing, I don’t have that one either, maybe it’s with the skinny gene I wish I had received…my husband sends his stuff out (thank goodness).

    and i loved your funny story about how your husband presses his own underwear….mostly because of the moment pause…I do that so often myself, say something i think is sooo funny only to not get the response I had hoped for…but rest assured you got a chuckle on this end of the universe, some years later.

  10. Cyndie says:

    I think this must be a recessive gene. I didn’t get it from my mom (your sister) either. If its not “wash and wear”, we don’t own it. In fact, I got an iron for a gift many years ago and it is still in the box. Anyone want to buy an almost antique iron in good condition (lol)!

  11. When Mr.4444 and I were dating, he ironed all of his own shirts, but his mom would iron them any chance she could (crazy woman!). Anyway, he’d ask me to do them every now and then, and I would avoid it if I could, but I told him I’d iron after we got married. I’m sorry to say that I have been a terrible wife! I only iron maybe one in every 10 shirts that he wears. He hasn’t left me yet, though, so I think I’ve gotten away with it. Ironing is not my favorite thing.

    Loved your story…isn’t it amazing that our moms got so many things done in a week’s time?! I don’t know how they did it and raised us well simultaneously.

  12. cathy says:

    Oh my goodness – this invokes so many memories that I don’t even know if I can get them all in the comment section!!!
    1)My mom – and I do the same thing – also had a system – collar 1st – front only, at least for me. Then the yoke and the yoke is laid back against the back of the shirt – hard to explain. Then the inside and then the outside of the sections that has buttons or buttonholes on it. Then the section….anyway, you get the drift.

    We used a sprinkling bottle – also a bottle with a long neck and it had a aluminum(?) top on it with something like a little piece of rag around the lid – I guess to keep it on – never thought about why it was there. WISH I HAD IT!! Nostalgia is setting in…

    We sprinkled our clothes and let them “sit” awhile but not in the refrigerator – if we didn’t have time to get to them that day we put them in the freezer!!

    Ironing was a way to earn money at home. I don’t think Mother liked to iron (not sure about that) and once we learned to iron well enough, she let us iron their clothes for pay. Our own clothes we had to do for free, but we got $1.50/dz for hers and Daddy’s. We made more that way that babysitting! But we (there were 3 of us girl) always tried to be the first to get our choice – if we ironed pillow cases – easy – 2 counted as 1 item, but we still wanted to do them since they were so easy. We all dreaded Daddy’s dress shirts. We had to do hankies free, but they were a breeze.

    Once, my next older sister and I went on a church overnight event. We stayed with a family whose mother was ironing. She used a spray bottle of water instead of sprinking! We thought that was such a good idea. Our mother didn’t like it at all and wouldn’t let us do it at home, (but I notice we does it now!). She didn’t think it would be as good as sprinkling.

    My mother also clicked her gum and I learned – I guess from her – but I don’t associate it with ironing.

    Sam started ironing his own shirts once I started working and even though I haven’t worked in 2 years, he still does – he thinks he does a better job and probably does- he’s more particular about clothing than I am.

    I burned my tummy once trying to iron something I had on… but never burned my own children – shame on you!!

    I’ll close this – you poor thing – can’t even enjoy this day of vacation because of this long comment!

  13. Beth says:

    What great memories! I loved the underwear pressing story!

    My mom’s memories shed light on MY memories–about how to iron the back yoke of the shirt…getting paid to iron. But I sure never had to iron any hankies. 🙂 I rarely iron now–The Engineer does his own shirts and pants. Just like my dad (who I didn’t realize does his own), The Engineer thinks he does a great job, and he does…and twice as quickly as I do.

  14. Sandra says:

    Cathy — What a great comment! It is really fun when one of my posts inspires memories for a reader!

    Beth and Cathy — You are both very clever wives — to have “allowed” your husbands to become the “expert” ironers! Like mother like daughter, I guess. 🙂

  15. Beth says:

    Well, you know, I believe in letting my husband take the lead, so as much as I hate “allowing” him to take that task, I dutifully submit to his wishes. 😉

  16. Sandra says:

    What a good wife you are, Beth. Now step away from me so that when you are struck by lightening, I’m not hurt! 🙂

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