Ironing: A Meditation on My Mother

It has been 22 years since my mother died on May 22nd.

I think of her often, usually at random moments, but she consistently comes to mind every time I take out the ironing board.

I wrote this short remembrance a few years ago .


I had to iron a shirt today.

Usually my husband does the ironing in our house, but I suddenly needed a shirt for work so I was stuck. Ironing is always a kind of meditation for me. I am not very good at it so it takes a while as I create new wrinkles trying to press out others. Lots of time to think. My first thought is always my mother.

My mother hated ironing my father’s dress shirts and made her anger visible.

I have a crystal clear memory of her standing in front of the ironing board in her bedroom wearing a house dress and ironing furiously. By the time I was in high school she traded the house dresses for slacks, but those early years all featured the house dress. Her pockets, stuffed with a cigarette case, loose change, green stamps and other assorted bits of lost and found, sagged like an old fashioned doctor on rounds.

She always ironed smoking a cigarette (Benson & Hedges), her mouth an angry line, and kept the ashtray on the ironing board just past the spray starch. That ashtray never moved because the ironing board stayed open in my parents bedroom for most of my childhood. She also used it to wrap the Christmas presents.

Big Alice never made new wrinkles when she ironed the way I inevitably do. Her technique was a powerful and violent slamming of the hot iron onto the offending shirt followed by a furious pressing forward. Her whole body was engaged and at war with the cloth.

Being in the room when my mom ironed taught me how to be still and silent so as to avoid that wrath being unleashed in my direction. It also taught me to avoid ironing and wear my clothes wrinkled until my boyfriend (now husband) offered to iron my clothes when he ironed his.

I never did figure out how she could drag on that cigarette without using her hands and not drop ashes on the shirt. Since I no longer smoke that skill will remain unexplored.

I can iron when I need to now, and it always makes me think of my mom.

author as child with toy iron and ironing board
Many attempts were made when I was a child to encourage my domestic skills.