I wish I was royalty. Then I could just turn to a servant and say, “Jeeves, have this pressed for me at three.”
That would be nice, but the closest I ever got to royalty was a story floated around by someone that we Tunno’s could be descendants of Albanian Royalty. I thought Albanian Royalty was an oxymoron, until I looked it up. Apparently, they not only exist, they have a website — and surprise — we’re not mentioned in the family history. I’m very put out.
So, I’m stuck doing my own ironing and I hate it. My clothes have been silently mocking me for months. They were in a pile in my bedroom, but I moved them onto a chair downstairs thinking that would spur me to action. It hasn’t and every time I walk past them I imagine them making snarky comments.
I come by my hatred of ironing honestly because my mom hated it too.
The days I came home from school and smelled Clorox bleach, I knew she’d been doing one of her least favorite things — laundry. I remember her cutting brown Fels Naptha soap into little pieces and adding it to her favorite detergent, Tide. Fels Naptha was a 60’s version of a pre-soaker and stain remover. It’s also described as a skin irritant, something that, in retrospect, explains a lot.
I’d glimpse through the breezeway window into the backyard and see crisp white sheets, work shirts and my father’s boxer shorts flapping in the breeze. The sheets had a roughness from drying outside that my sister hated, but I loved sandwiching myself in their crispness. It was wonderful, until the next morning when I realized I probably had nothing wearable.
This was because my mother was a serial clothing abuser and Clorox was her weapon of choice. She washed our clothes in a Maytag wringer washer in the basement. I can still see the poor colorful clothes in their pile on the cold, concrete floor screaming, “No, take the darks!”
The first load was whites. The water was scalding hot and she poured the Clorox liberally. The problem was, she then re-used the hot Clorox water for the second load (the unfortunate, multi-colored clothes). The formerly bright, cheerful colors all took on a pathetic pallor once Mom got through with them. I remember the tragic sight of a favorite sweater, once a lovely light blue and the right size, reduced to toddler size in a sickening yellow.
I longed for Kathy Pfleghar’s clothes. (You may remember, she lived across the street in Aryan perfection.) Her clothes were always impeccable. I remember looking in her closet once and sighing at the sight of four or five shirts, hanging – perfectly pressed, waiting to be worn.
Laundry day was sad, but educational. As soon as I learned to wash clothes, I’d race downstairs at the first scent of Clorox to save whatever hadn’t been plunged into liquid hell.
My mom may have only gotten to second grade, but she knew how to get us to do our own laundry very early. I started at six.
In fact, in my first grade photo from St. Joseph’s Elementary School, I’m in the front row, in a dress I ironed, wearing shoes I polished and shoelaces I washed, ready for my close-up. I remember spreading my dress out, so everyone could see my awesome ironing job. (Sadly, I said nothing, so no one knew I’d ironed it.) The ladies seating us forced me to tuck my dress in on the sides so the other girls wouldn’t be hidden by my overzealous skirt.
Laundry also meant ironing days. Those were the days, I’d feel the steam and hear the sound of the television when I walked in. My mother would be seated on a chair in the dining room, ironing board at stomach level, facing the TV in the living room. (Our house was an open plan before they were trendy because mom was claustrophobic. The kitchen opened into the dining room which opened into the living room.)
The dining room table always had a sheet of clear plastic over it, which is mandatory in Italian homes due to non-stop eating. On top of the plastic sheet sat our clothes. Our dampened shirts and dresses were each rolled into a tight little cocoon, forming a pyramid of clothing whose bottom she rarely reached. Once clothes went into the laundry you could wait six months before ever seeing them again and they seldom came back the same.
She had to dampen each piece because she was a compulsive starcher. She made homemade starch with Argo Corn Starch, water and small, blue, waxy rectangles of Satina, which was “an ironing aid.” When I got home, it was my job to stand over a giant pot on the stove and stir the hot starch until the Sateena melted, then the starch was ready.
Once they were washed, my mom used a thick dowel to dip shirts and dresses into the hot starch then put them through the ringer. Once dry, our clothes could stand up by themselves. Then she had to dampen them again so they could be ironed. In hindsight, I get why laundry was never her favorite.
I remember her heavy arm moving the iron back and forth, the old wooden ironing board squeaking softly under the pressure. She pressed each damp, starched shirt, pausing at the most dramatic moments. She despised ironing and the only way she’d do it was sitting on a chair, watching television.
I got home at three o’ clock and she’d be yelling at Jesse Brewer, the long suffering, sad-eyed wife of rat Dr. Phil Brewer, on General Hospital,“He’s a dorty rotten a skong, don’d a geeve een to him a!” But Jesse never listened.
Yes, I am finally forced to iron tonight, but in mom’s honor, I’m going to have a nice glass of wine and binge-watch Netflix while I do it.
Or maybe I’ll just put it off until tomorrow.