“I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” ~ Tillie Olsen, from “I Stand Here Ironing”

Edgar Degas Woman Ironing c1876-87 oil on canvas

“Woman Ironing” (c1876-87, oil on canvas)
by Edgar Degas

                   

You’ve heard of something being as boring as watching paint peel? How about being as boring as ironing a shirt? Yep. Ironing a shirt. The pure mundane nature of this video kind of represents my daily goal at the moment: to keep things as mundane as possible, else I become overwhelmed by it all . . . that and it’s pretty cool to see how someone actually achieves all of those creases, not to mention it reminds me of the days I used to iron Corey’s Coast Guard shirts with the required seven creases, two in the front, three in the back and one on each sleeve, which reminds me of one of my all-time favorite short stories: “I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen, which is where I got the name Tillie for our labrador. That’s one big heap of memories all from a man ironing a shirt, which just goes to show that no matter how hard you try to keep things simple, you can’t . . .

                   

Ironing Their Clothes

With a hot glide up, then down, his shirts,
I ironed out my father’s back, cramped
and worried with work. I stroked the yoke,
the breast pocket, collar and cuffs,
until the rumpled heap relaxed into the shape
of my father’s broad chest, the shoulders shrugged off
the world, the collapsed arms spread for a hug.
And if there’d been a face above the buttondown neck,
I wold have pressed the forehead out, I would
have made a boy again out of that tired man!

If I clung to her skirt as she sorted the wash
or put out a line, my mother frowned,
a crease down each side of her mouth.
this is no time for love! But here
I could linger over her wrinkled bedjacket,
with the hot tip. Here i caressed complications
of darts, scallops, ties pleats which made
her outfits test of the patience of my passion.
Here I could lay my dreaming iron on her lap…

The smell of baked cotton rose from the board
and blew with a breeze out of the window
to the family wardrobe drying on the clothesline,
all needing a touch of my iron. Here I could tickle
the underarms of my big sister’s petticoat
or secretly pat the backside of her pajamas.
For she too would have warned me not to muss
her fresh blouses, starched jumpers, and smocks,
all that my careful hand had ironed out,
forced to express my excess love on cloth.

~ Julia Alvarez

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2 thoughts on ““I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” ~ Tillie Olsen, from “I Stand Here Ironing”

    • Ironing has always seemed to be such a stupid thing to do, yet I hate it when someone in my family is all wrinkled and unkempt. It must be that female socialization kicking in.

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