Chairman Of The Board

Stress can kill you. How do you cope? You may exercise fiercely, eat nonstop or shop without reason. I feel helpless about global warming, the federal deficit and nuclear war. So I shrink my world to something I can control. I iron clothes.

The idea started when I was a teenager. The local newspaper in New Jersey offered free want ads to teenagers looking for summer work. Most of the girls picked babysitting but there were too many ads for the same job. Aiming for something different, I created the headline, “Ironing Piling Up?” My home phone responded like the gong at day’s end in the stock market. I had all the work I could handle. Often I walked to a customer’s home, ironed a few hours, then walked back home. They trusted me. Some left the front door unlocked and my cash payment on the ironing board.  I passed the time listening to hit songs on their plastic kitchen radio while I worked. Starched shirts hung like ghosts from every doorknob.

In later years ironing brought peace of mind when I was angry or depressed. It was my defusing and thinking time as the iron thumped back and forth.

“Uh, oh,” my husband would say, “What are you mad about?”

“It’s therapy,” I would reply. By the time a heap of rumpled clothes dwindled to nothing, my calmness and dignity were restored.

One morning, my mother-in-law interrupted my weekly routine with a phone call. “You’re doing what?!” she asked. “Honey, nobody irons anymore!” Well, this one does, and it borders on obsession. I love the feel of an ironed pillowcase under my face, the look of a neat crease in a shirt sleeve or khaki pants, the faint scent of dryer sheets drifting up with the steam. When someone enters our home wearing a crinkled shirt, I have to resist the urge to say, “Would you like me to press that for you?”

The only jarring element of the process is the horrendous screech emitted when the board unfolds and clicks into position.  From there the process is a rhythmic symphony in motion. A gentle swish of water from the spray bottle signals the orchestration to begin. Each garment is carefully spread open, and with long sweeping strokes of the iron every winkle and crease is smoothed. The folded finale is placed in a warm, sweet-smelling pile.

I am in control.  I have transformed chaos into order. I have made my contribution toward a smoother tomorrow. I’m ready to face the world!


Written by Ruth Varner


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