Deep Dark Secrets

September 12 2011


You have to promise not to tell any of my friends what I’m about to confess. Promise? 

First I should explain I have never aimed very high in the area they call “domestic arts.”  In fact, when we got married eons ago, I took very little pride in cooking, baking, needle-pointing, knitting, decoupage, etc.  I barely knew how to fry an egg, had never made brownies, and had never done a whole load of wash. I blushed when people said “she doesn’t even know how to boil water.” Frankly, I wondered why anyone would need to boil water. 

The first time I decided to bake something, I was stumped by the line in my brand-new Betty Crocker cookbook: “cream the butter.” They don’t bother to define that term in the cookbook. And there was no verb “to cream” in my dictionary.  (Don't ask how those brownies turned out.)

Given all of the above, I somehow managed to make enough spaghetti, chili, hot dogs, hamburgers, fish sticks, green salads, vegetables, lamb chops, roast beef, stuffed turkey, tacos, beef stews and tuna casseroles to raise three kids and keep one husband for, as I said before, eons.

Over the years when the topic of recipes cropped up (or was ‘stirred’ up), I was silent.  When friend after friend, after extremely thoughtful and hopeful friend suggested I join a cooking class with them, my response was ‘no thanks.’  When they pressed, I beefed up my refusal with, “Are you kidding?  Can you picture me cooking all day long?”

My reputation was fixed.  Whenever I’m invited to the tennis group or book club pot luck, my assigned contribution is something like “two kinds of lettuce for salad, “two boxes of Girl Scout cookies,” or “three cheeses.”

But, here’s the part that you mustn’t tell.  I like to iron.  My favorite thing to iron is bedding, particularly pillow cases.  Does that make sense?  Of course not. 

When we were first married, eons ago, everything was cotton.  I ironed our two sheets.  I ironed my blouses.  I ironed my husband’s shirts.  I even ironed his boxer shorts. 

Yes.  His boxer shorts.  Eons ago.

After child number one was born, we slept on wrinkled sheets.  Once child number two was born, well, let’s say the boxers were neglected.  I can’t remember what went pfluey after kid number three arrived, but by then along came permapress and voila!  (Or as we say in Mequon, WI, “viola!”)  And my ironing days were over.

When the kids flew the coop, one of my darling daughters pointed out there were nicer, softer sheets in this world.  It didn’t take long for me to covet them.  I admit it’s silly and extravagant.  After all, most of the time you’re in bed you’re asleep, so what difference does it make if the sheets feel like a cool, drifting cloud or a bath towel that went stiff in the dryer?

I invested in one set of creamy, heavenly sheets, and I was hooked.  Even my husband (who is not quite eons old) noticed and liked the feel.  It seemed like a crime to put them back on our bed after the dryer had scrunched them. I decided to iron them for old time’s sake. 

That’s when it happened.  The smell of fresh sheets and pillow cases being ironed wafted me back to my childhood.  I inhaled and I could picture my mother zipping her ancient iron back and forth over endless layers of spritzed cottons.  Her hands were strong, quick, and sure.  I even heard the creak of the wooden ironing board as she leaned her weight onto the doily, or into my father’s shirt sleeve, or along the hem of one of her dresses. 

I pictured our kitchen, with the tiny old Frigidaire in one corner, the chewed up wooden dog bed just in front of it, the painted wooden drop-leaf table next to the back door, the metal canisters along the sink counter.  On the counter is the giant radio.  Jack Brickhouse is narrating the Cubs game.   

Watching Mom iron was a comfort.  She was home, chatting with me, finding out about my school day. 

Just remembering the ironing scene brings me peace.