A Note on Ironing Boards

They may be stashed away, but try going to Mass without one

By Brian Doyle | October 9, 2015
Daniel Miller/Flickr
Daniel Miller/Flickr


Your mom had one. My mom has one. We have one. You have one, in the pantry, or in the closet, or in a corner of the mudroom, next to the surfboards. Most people still have one somewhere even if they are not totally sure exactly where it is, even if most of the time it is the dry cleaner who irons your shirts and trousers, even if you are sure you gave it away that time that the Girl Scouts were taking anything and everything for their epic tag sale and you seized the chance to dump the old rusty air conditioner, and the dryer that coughed and wheezed like a lifelong Camel smoker, and the microwave that actually did smoke alarmingly sometimes, and those totally useless artsy forks designed by some hip smarmy designer who smacked his lips with pleasure at his award-winning work but no one on earth could ever actually use the fork to eat, not to mention it looked like an emery board on drugs. Also didn’t we give the ironing board away that time? Because who uses ironing boards anymore, am I right?

No. Everyone uses them. They are stalwart and simple and beautifully designed for their purpose in life. They open like huge jackknives, and they have lovely soft cottony covers designed exactly for jacketing ironing boards. They are always painted that flat utilitarian soft blue or beige or shy yellow, the calm unassuming colors of unpretentious domestic implements like vacuum cleaners and brooms and dustpans and mops. They are partners with their irons, and often live and work together for many years. I would not be surprised to hear of iron and ironing board partnerships that lasted 50 years or more. The irons hiss and bubble and sigh, and if you listen closely you can hear the gentle creak of the board under the moving iron, and the gentle hiss of the iron at work, and if you look closely and with affection, you can savor the ironer’s elbow in motion, and the way the ironer leans on the board with his or her off hand, and sometimes the infinitesimal shuffle of the ironing board’s feet on the wood, the linoleum, the tile. And then there is the moment of rest, as the iron cools; and then the ceremonial wrapping of the iron’s cord back around it like a ropy cocoon; and then the folding of the board, the creak and final clack and clank, before it is returned to the pantry, the closet, the mudroom.

The little things that are not little. The ironing board reminds you of your mother, and her insistence that shirts and pants be ironed before Mass and weddings and wakes but not before parties, yes before graduations but no before fairs and festivals; and that reminds you of the shirts and pants you inherited from your father and brothers, the collars and cuffs slightly frayed, and here and there a deft maternal stitch if you looked closely, for your mother was very good indeed at sewing, and would have made an excellent surgeon; and this reminds you of your grandmother and her sewing machine, which she said she had gotten from Yahweh after He stitched the stars into the sky, and a terrific job He made of that, did He not, except you see one fall here and there, because the stitches are beyond ancient, and He has no time now to replace them, being busy with the myriad sins of His children, and you will not add to those sins, will you, boy? And is that a hole in your shirt pocket? Take that shirt off right this minute. Stand fast. Do not move. There. Don’t stand there like a squirrel without a skin—put the shirt back on. See, now, you wouldn’t even notice a stitch if you hadn’t stood there briefly naked as a nut. Away with you now in your sinless day. Send your next brother in. There’s sure to be repairs to be made in that boy’s clothes. The pack of you are death on good shirts. Would that we were still furred like in the old days before Jesus wore his lovely cloaks. How His mother must have worked on those!

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