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Iron in my blood

In our house, ironing was a coming-of-age thing. For me. Not for my luckier brother. When I was deemed capable, I was permitted to iron pillowcases and sheets, then, as my skills advanced to the painstaking techniques for lace and embroidery, handkerchiefs. Eventually my parents bought an ironer, “mangle” to some, which meant two people could iron at one time. Whee. I sat at the ironer feeding bedlinen, underwear, and linen towels into its hot maw, opened and closed by my knee, while my mother stood nearby at the ironing board, deftly wielding point and heel of the iron into gathers and over cuffs.

I officially, unsubtly hated it. If there were anything worse than being cooped up in the kitchen with my mother ironing my life away, I didn’t know what it could have been. “The Romance of Helen Trent” and “Ma Perkins,” crackling from the radio, did not cheer me.

Mom started teaching. Routine changed, but even when teaching Mom insisted everything be ironed because — she said — our house was so small; ironing flattened things so they took up less room in drawers and closets. Maybe. But family jokes morphed the ironing board into Mom’s Linus blanket while my friends were warning one another never to stand still at our house lest they be ironed by Mrs. O’Hern. Mom was one with the board! (She did not share our merriment in this matter.)

Then one day Mom and Dad were dead and I had to empty their house. I stared at Old Ironsides, that Death Star of an ironing board that stood for another age. I kept it, of course, and have lugged it cross-country. Yes, I iron on it, and somewhere — I just know it — my mother sniggers smugly.


The heiress

My father’s mother was driving him nuts. She would shovel her own snow, she would mow her own lawn with her push mower, she would stay in that house. She apparently did not know that she was in her 70s.

When she finally permitted my father to think he’d prevailed, she wanted speed: decision made today; move tomorrow! I was a young adult at the time, and I found that my age was no deterrent to sense of loss. No more Grandma’s house?

Mourning, I went to help, unprepared for the energy with which Grandma was separating herself from her meager possessions. Panic seized me as I saw her emptying her pantry, and I launched myself into a goalie’s stance between her and the wastebasket. DON’T THROW THAT OUT! was wrenched from me every time she carried a discard across the kitchen. That dented colander, the freebie glasses from movie theaters, her noodle cutter — in the garbage? I don’t think so! Grandma indulged me and, with minumum head-shaking, handed over her cast-offs and, with them, comfort.

My grandchildren love grapes, and I wash their grapes in that dented colander. I see it in Grandma’s lap as she cleaned green beans at her kitchen table with the plastic tablecloth and the salt shaker with the rice in it. I see her cotton housedress and apron. I see behind her the screened door that thwacked smartly when left to close itself.

As I hoist the grape-weighted, dripping colander from my sink, I say to my grandchildren, “This belonged to your great-great-grandmother.”

Secretly I say HA! to my grandma. She might have sold the house but I got the good stuff.

One grandma's trash is another grandma's treasure.

One grandma’s trash is another grandma’s treasure.