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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Irons and Mangles

By Barbara Sloan

When I was eight years old, I begged and begged my mother to let me help with the ironing. Little girls know nothing about what they ask.

My mother began my lessons with sprinkling. She showed me the simple sprinkling tool that she made out of a sprinkler head with a cork over the metal opening that fit into a pop bottle. The piece of clothing was laid on the table, sprinkled liberally with water, folded over and firmly rolled up so the dampness would soak evenly through the garment, then firmly packed in the clothes basket awaiting its trip to the ironing board.

She stressed the need for perfect dampness; too wet, the iron would leave moisture in the item, too dry, there would be wrinkles remaining that were totally unacceptable.

I helped with sprinkling for several weeks until she trusted that I had the proper ‘feel’ for the task.

One afternoon, my grandmother stopped by for a visit. She and I sat at the kitchen table while my mother continued to iron the heaped basket of clothes. My grandmother began telling us about learning to iron during her first job as a housemaid when she was 17.

“One of my major jobs was doing the ironing. You can’t imagine how particular Clara, the head maid, was about perfectly ironed bed linen, towels, men’s shirts, women’s blouses, skirts and dresses.

“Clara told me the key to having everything turn out wrinkle free and unscorched was the temperature of the hand irons when they came off the top of the old wood cook stove. She showed me how to pick up the heating iron, using a thick pad to protect my hand from the hot handle.

“She demonstrated how to test the iron for proper heat by licking a finger and barely touching it to the bottom of the heated iron. It had to have just the right sizzle before it could be used for ironing, not to hot and not to cold.

“You have no idea how many times I burned my hand or testing finger. You are fortunate to have electric irons with dials to regulate the heat.

“Clara checked every piece I ironed for months until she had confidence that I would do a good job.”

My mother sighed as she wiped the sweat off her forehead and said, “Just like you used to check each piece when I did the ironing for you.”

Finally, my mother thought I was ready to learn how to iron. The ironing board was folded flat, hanging on the wall of the laundry room. The first step was to stand the board on it’s hind legs, pull the loop on the end of the wire underneath to allow the legs to unfold, let the front leg unfold, while the board part came down with it until it was level and the right height so that I could use it.

I tried and tried to open that ironing board. All of these activities had to happen at the same time without the whole thing falling over, pinching fingers or half up and half down so the loop under the board became jammed. Step one was the only step.

My Mother finally gave up and for several years always opened the board for me. Each week, I spent hours with my mother standing beside me giving directions for the proper ironing sequence of each piece of clothing until I got it right.

In the early 1950s, my mother saw an ad in the Ladies Home Journal about an ironing machine called the “domestic mangle.” Domestic pressing mangles are timesavers. They are typically used to press flat items such as sheets or tablecloths. Skilled operators can also press shirts and pants on a mangle.

At dinner that night, she showed my dad the ad and said, “I spend hours ironing sheets, tablecloths and towels. I will have more time for cooking and cleaning. You just got a tractor because it will save time with the farm work. I need a mangle because it will save time with the housework.”

He read the ad, shook his head and shrugged. No sense arguing with my mother when she had her heart set on something.

I watched my mother struggle with this new, unfamiliar machine that was supposed to be every housewive's answer to the hated, time-consuming task of ironing. It was OK for sheets and tablecloths but she finally gave up on clothing. The old ironing board was much faster with fewer wrinkles.

I wonder where that old mangle went. As I finish my basket of ironing, I make another resolution to always buy wrinkle free clothes.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Barbara - Neat story!

When I was less-old, I remember my mother struggling with and swearing at her mangle. Lucky for me, I was a boy with absolutely no desire to tangle with mangles or irons! - Sandy

Loved it..ironing used to be a regular chore..now there are kids who don't know what an iron is or was..except maybe for ones that they use to straighten their hair..My Mother hated ironing and taught us how to do it at first instance she had..Once when one of us dropped the iron, we had to revert for weeks to one you put on the stove, cast iron, of course..never once in my first days of using it did I ever remember to make sure there was no residue from burner on the iron..Yikes..I still have my Mother's ironing board, not even as modern as yours sounds, l939 version.all wood, no springs added yet..you unfold and match the little crossbar against the niche...It was wedding present from her friends at IRS..she married late & everytime she took out the ironing board, she would tell me some other IRS story..she missed working a lot..I am still using another wedding present of my own, l962 steam iron...gift from my Aunt Kate, who is now in heaven with my Mother..When first married I used to iron my husband's shirts for work & I still remember reading story about new fabric that would require NO IRONING & saying, oh yeah, sure..let me see that...God Bless that Inventor...Guess you can see with a l939 ironing board & a l962 steam iron, I decided my goal in life was to avoid using them as much as possible and the fates were with me...I think my Mother would be proud...I will be smiling all day about your story..thank you...

Oh, the memories.

Oh, the memories. The ironing board folded out from the wall and I had lots of burned fingers because of testing the heat of the iron. Today it is wrinkle-free for me.

Can you just imagine going to a wedding today and giving the bride an ironing board or an iron as a gift?

Picture walking into the Ritz Carlton with an ironing board under your arm.

I got an iron,too,as a wedding gift and also a wind up alarm clock and a frying pan.

I always say the two best inventions in the history of the World is Permanent Press clothing and Saran Wrap.

Barbara, I loved your story. It brought back so many memories of the "Olden" days to me.

Barbara, Great story, thank you! We kept the dampened
clothes in the refrigerator
if we were slow in finishing.
I know it's weird, but I like
to iron! Does that tell my age? (74)

We all knew that the word mangle had two meanings, and we were pretty sure that that thing our mother used to iron everything, probably could do ironing and mangle us all at the same time. We kept a safe distance in case we got sucked into the machine just so we wouldn't end up with our fingers blown off and a long flat arm. At least that was my brother's vivid description of what would happen. I think that machine really was a time saver for our mom because she really could iron anything on it, and it kept five little pests away. Maybe that's why there was a lot of mangling going on in our home.

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