Ironing and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

vintage-care-instructions-from-a-vintage-bookIt’s terrible how things from your youth manage to creep up on you as you are older.  Ironing, for instance.  After all the mountains of ironing I did as a kid, I swore when I got grown I’d never iron.  Then the miracle of permanent press and dryers came along.  Voila!  For forty years, I wore clothes hung up straight from the dryer.  Those items that required a bit of pressing were hung in the closet and passed over time after time till I just had to wear them, like to a funeral, wedding, or special event.  A dress or blouse might spend five years in the dark only to be discarded when I tired of reaching over it.  I had no problem wearing polyester or blends if they spared me ironing.  Of course, as a nurse, I wore non-descript scrubs, so work clothes weren’t an issue.

Then when I hit my mid-fifties, something terrible happened.  I became obsessed with cotton.  I only wanted cotton shirts and jeans.  Worse yet, I craved the crisp, starched creases of my youth.  It was awful.  I found myself starching and ironing jeans and cotton shirts.  I even got a few cotton dresses, and yes, I put in time ironing every week.  I couldn’t stand to see them sitting in the laundry basket.  I went to work as I took them out of the dryer.  Worse yet, I felt compelled to iron Bud’s jeans and shirts.  Jeans that have never before seen an iron.  I even bought him cotton button-up shirts.

As time went on, my disease progressed further.  Now, I feel compelled to iron in repetitions of five, or until I complete the pile.  As soon as I take items out of the dryer, I fold a stack of five and hang the rest up.  Though my back aches before I finish the third piece, I know I have to do five, so I alternate easy and demanding items.  Example, a long sleeved shirt with collar and pocket flaps is about as much work as a pair of jeans, so I can’t do them in succession.  I start with jeans and follow with a simple sleeveless, pocketless shirt.  The problem comes in if the items don’t line up right.  If the laundry wasn’t organized properly, I could have three pair of jeans and two complicated shirts that have to be done.  This is brutal, since the rule requires five pieces completed.  Another dilemma to face if eleven pieces are in the ironing pile.  I HAVE to do cycles of five, but I am not supposed to leave ironing for another day.  That means I have to iron five pieces the first go round, but knowing I will have one left over complicates things.  This means I have to come up with a plan.  I can substitute to simple pieces for one difficult piece and it only counts as six.  For example.  I could do two jeans, two long-sleeved shirts with pocket-flaps and two simple shirts or a simple shirt and pair of shorts.  Those six would round off to about five, however, the adjustment must be made with first session or I won’t have room to correct a possible miscalculation.

Ironing Exchanges:

Long-sleeved shirt with cuffs and pocket flaps                                                       1

Long-sleeved shirt with cuffs, pocket flaps, and air vent in back                         1.5

Jeans                                                                                                                                1

Pants with cuffs, thigh pockets with or without flaps and back pocket flaps     1.5

Simple short sleeve or sleeveless shirts with no pocket flaps                                0.5

Shorts with pocket flaps or cuffs                                                                                 1

Simple shorts                                                                                                                  0.5

Dress                                                                                                                                2  +/-  0.5 

As you see, it takes some managing to make each ironing session equal five.  I try to do difficult calculations first.  Should it be entirely too much ironing for one day, I have to leave my ironing board up as a pledge to come back the next morning.  It upsets me to not have pieces amount to five points per session.  If it looks like that might happen, I have to throw in another wash.  I hate it when that happens.

Then there is the mending, a story for another day.


Laundry in 1950s Part 3

Ironing in the 1950s was a huge chore.  As soon as breakfast was over, and the kitchen tidied, out came the ironing board.  A stack of wire hangers hung on the doorframe, waiting to be pressed into service.  Mother pulled a few pieces of balled up clothing from the pillowcase in the freezer.  Her coke bottle sprinkler was at hand just in case a piece had dried out too much.  It could be re sprinkled and balled up to go back in the freezer till it was just right.

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Mother always attacked Daddy’s clothes first since that was the biggest and most demanding job.  With a freshly cleaned iron, she went for the white shirts Daddy wore for casual and dress.  They had to be spotless, crisp, and perfect.  The iron temperature had to be high to do the job, but a bit of hesitation left a dreaded scorch mark.  A time or two, Mother hung a shirt in his closet with a little scorch she hoped he wouldn’t notice, and he’d throw a fit, wad it up, and throw it down.  “I can’t wear a mess like this!”  I don’t know why she never killed him.  His khaki pants had to have perfect creases.  She starched them and put them on pants stretchers to ensure proper creases  They dried hard and could stand alone when she took them off the line.  His blue work shirts were hard work, but not so challenging as the pants and white shirts.  His five pair of pants and five to seven shirts must be been an exhausting challenge.  He would sometimes wear his pants twice without laundering, so he did help a little with the laundry. His handkerchiefs made quick work.

The dresses and school clothes came next.  I can assure you, after Mother took the time to iron all those frilly little home-made dresses, we changed as soon as we came in from school, so we could wear them at least twice.  She had to rub the underarm seams to soften them up.  Otherwise, they’d scratch at our tender flesh.    The skirts were so stiff, they belled out even without a petticoat.  My brother’s pants and shirts were less challenging, which was fortunate, since he normally got the knees of his pants so dirty, he could only wear them one day.  Naturally, last of all, she ironed her cotton housedresses, since she was a lady of leisure and didn’t have to “work.”

Before she had five children, I remember sheets and pillow cases coming at the end of the list.  Over the years, she got lazy and those fell by the wayside.  Little girls were taught to iron hankies and pillowcases first.  Ironing was “women’s work” not just something a boy needed to know.  How fortunate for them!

Usually by the end of ironing day.  Mother had thirty-five to forty crisp pieces hanging on the threshold of the doorway, seasoning and waiting for the closet.  Every week, she counted those pieces without fail, proudly cataloging her work.  I thank God, we don’t have to do that now!

Laundry in the 1950’s Part 2

clothes line 2Once all that mountain of wash was done, the heavy, wet wash had to be lugged out to the clothes line, no small feat.  Mother had three lines stretched between T-shaped supports.  Shaking each piece to get in basic in shape after its trip through the wringer, the towels and diapers gave a nice, sharp pop!  She propped the heavy lines up with clothes line poles so the wash could dance in the breeze.  Woe be it to the foolish kid who’d run off with her clothes lines poles.  I’ve been known to do it!

She usually sent us out several times to check to see if the laundry was dry.  There is no smell fresher than line-dried laundry.  I just loved sliding into bed between sheets fresh off the line.  The mountain of laundry was likely to be piled on a bed till it could be folded.

Starched clothes came off the line still slightly damp, if she caught them at just the right time.  Rolled into tight balls and stuffed into a pillow case, they’d be stuffed into the freezer till ironed.  If they got completely dry, she’d have to sprinkle them before stuffing them in the pillowcase, by dipping her hand in water and flipping droplets on the clothes.  One Christmas, I gave her a sprinkler cap that fit in a coke bottle.  She said it was the most useful gift she ever got, making her sprinkling so much easier.

When Mother had to wash in rainy or wet weather, laundry was hung lines on the back porch, and on chair backs.  Once in a while, after a string of rainy day, she’d get desperate and have to take laundry to the Washateria to dry, but that was a huge hassle and unnecessary expense, not to mention, we only had one car.  That meant she had to take Daddy to work and pick him up, not a small undertaking with small children in tow.

As soon as we were old enough, we were pressed into service on clothes line duty and folding and putting away the laundry that didn’t have to be ironed.  Naturally, I thought that was awful, having to do “Mother’s work.”  I did have enough sense to keep my opinions to myself after a couple of complaints, though.

Mother kept an eye out for sudden rain, flying to the line to get her laundry.  If it wasn’t quite dry, it went on the back porch to finish.  Laundry had to be in as early as possible, for fear of sudden showers.  God forbid, from time to time, birds left a surprise on the drying clothes.

At the end of this relaxing day, Mother usually set us down to a slow-simmered supper(not dinner) of beans or soup and cornbread since she’d been working on laundry all day.

It was the life!