The Ironing Board (a essay)

This essay was published in the CamelCityDispatch and before that won second place in the Winston-Salem Anthology (2013)

October 18, 2015 11:30 

The men from the service company returned the ironing board, today—the last of items taken from our condo to be smoke-treated following a fire in the unit next door. “Boy, this has been around a while,” said the younger of the two men, carrying the board up my front steps. He seemed surprised that I even wanted it back; surely a new ironing board could have found its way into the insurance claim. But I did want it back. In fact, I was surprised at how much I wanted it. After all, I never really enjoyed ironing. I practically celebrated when permanent press fabrics became popular.

“I’ve had it for over 30 years,” I told him. “It’s kind of special to me.” I couldn’t, however, explain how truly special it was.                                                                                                      

Standing there against the railing, the ironing board looks rather ordinary, and, I guess, rather old. Protruding from the underside is a small release lever that adjusts the height of the metal legs, now flaking olive-green paint, a popular color in the late ’60s, when it was called “avocado.”

Once shiny and quite modern, with its Teflon-coated surface, the ironing board, had been a shower present from the mother of my best friends— twins, but, not at all identical, neither in looks nor personalities. Since kindergarten, we had been the three Musketeers, working together on school projects, singing in the chorus, and riding bicycles. But the “very best” best friend status swung between them as we matured at individual rates. Sometimes when Ann wanted to play kickball, Margaret more perfectly matched the femininity of my growing womanhood, and instead, we’d talk for hours about boys. Other times, Ann was my soul mate, sharing my secrets that Margaret just wouldn’t understand. Still, really, the two of them were always there with me and for me; we were like alter egos of the same person.

Both of their parents were deaf, and in a weird sort of way we thought that was “cool,” or else we didn’t think about it at all. Their mother, Mrs. M, read lips, and the girls often communicated with sign language. I learned how to finger spell and picked up some signs, which we used in high school as a kind of secret code.

In our elementary years, we’d spend hours at my home playing house and charting adventures around the world. At their place, we explored frontiers in “covered wagons,” made from sheets draped over bedposts. Despite all our bouncing and running, I was always amazed when Mrs. M called upstairs for us to quiet down. How did she know we were making too much noise? She was deaf! Mrs. M knew when we needed freedom and when we needed guidance. She was fun to be around, and despite the obstacles, easy to talk with.

One aspect of their parents’ deafness did surprise me. They loved to dance. It seems the strong pulse of the drums or throb of a bass provided enough beat for them to feel the music. The twins and I lettered signs saying, “waltz” or “foxtrot” to help decipher the rhythms at the deaf association socials.

Ann, Margaret and I remained close even after college. How excited we were to be planning my wedding, the first for our group of friends. The three of us devoured Bride magazines and shopped for bridesmaids’ dresses. The two of them helped my mother plan a “surprise” wedding shower.

A frilly, crepe-paper umbrella, filled with pink, paper rose petals, hung over my head, as I opened presents from family and friends. All the gifts I unwrapped were wonderful: wine glasses, brass candlesticks, a lace tablecloth. Using the employee’s discount from the department store where we all worked, my bridesmaids gave me the perfect gift—a set of dishes, exactly the yellow-edged Franciscan ware I had admired in the magazines. I was so thrilled! However, when I opened the oversized package from Mrs. M, I can’t say I was thrilled at all. I just didn’t envision myself ironing, the way I could picture those beautiful dishes set for a romantic, candlelight dinner with my soon-to-be husband, Bruce, or stacked on the lace-covered table as we entertained friends at the marvelous dinner parties I would surely be hosting. I thanked Mrs. M politely, and almost sincerely.

During my marriage, I’ve used, loved, and replaced many items. The candlesticks are no longer a pair, since my older son used them in a school play and somehow returned with only one. The wine glasses chipped, and the lace tablecloth didn’t survive my younger boy’s gravy spill. Eventually, even those much-used dishes appeared very outdated, so “sixties”, and yellow was no longer the color for me. Over the years, Bruce and I have hunted antique shops collecting Limoges dishes, one casserole or cup at a time. Now, elegant china fills my cabinet, and the yellow plates have been donated to Goodwill. Many other shower and wedding gifts have met a similar fate, but the ironing board, practical and almost invisible, is still with us.

There have been other changes in my life —most of them good. My two sons have grown, graduated from college, and begun to make lives of their own. I’m confident they will contribute much to this world. At the very least, they can cook and iron their own clothes. Although I didn’t think it possible at that wedding shower, I believe Bruce and I are even more in love with each other than we were 37 years ago, in a deeper, more comfortable way. In that period, he has redirected his career a few times, and I have gone from being a full-time mom to a part-time professor. We’ve moved from the 100-year-old house we rebuilt, redecorated and restored for three decades and are living in a condo, which despite the recent fire, we adore. And finally, now that mortgages are paid and tuition bills are done, we’ve begun to travel. In the last few years, Bruce and I have visited Italy, Spain, Greece and even China. My childhood dreams, shared with best friends in an upstairs bedroom, have become realty.

Amidst all the changes, the ironing board has remained, like a sentinel, standing at the ready, unobtrusive, but always prepared for its call to duty. It has moved with us from first apartment to family home, and from family home to condo. I really haven’t given it much thought during that time. My younger sister, who now holds a graduate degree in Deaf Education thanks to the influence of Mrs. M, finds ironing meditative. She claims the routine of it is soothing; it doesn’t require much concentration, and you feel that you have accomplished something when it’s done. Personally, I think of ironing as an occasional necessity, and mostly, I try not to think of it at all.

Yet, every time I press the lever under the folded board and the metal legs pop into position, I think of Mrs. M, and I’m transported to a different time and place when anything was possible, friendships meant everything and ironing wasn’t even a consideration.

“Don’t bother taking it into the house,” I tell the men, reaching for the ironing board. “I’ll take care of it.”



The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin