It is a scene I still see clearly in my mind.
My mother is in the kitchen, standing over the ironing board. With one hand, she holds the hot iron and moves it back and forth, back and forth across a small square of white linen. She is pressing one of my father’s handkerchiefs. She folds it in half, presses it, folds it in half again and presses the small square piece of fabric flat, before placing it atop a growing pile of white linen squares on the table behind her.
She reaches down into the basket full of clean laundry by her feet and pulls out another square of fabric. She repeats the process.
When the handkerchiefs are pressed, she moves on to press the dish towels, pillow cases, the sheets, shirts, blouses, underwear. All the family laundry.
As I get older, I will take over the chore of ironing.
As I get even older and leave home to live on my own, I give up on ironing and employ it only under duress when I need to take the creases out of a blouse or pair of pants or skirt that I didn’t hang properly or take out of the dryer quickly enough before wrinkles appeared.
I do not iron handkerchiefs, or dishtowels.
I do not press my husbands shirts or underwear.
As my eldest daughter moves more deeply into pending motherhood I think about the stories of his great-grandmother I will pass on to my grandson one day.
At four months, he is the size of a large lemon. “I think I felt a tiny flutter,” my daughter tells me on the phone last night. “Or maybe it was just gas.”
I didn’t speak with my mother about my pregnancies. I didn’t share the tiny flutters, the big moves, the moments of fear or doubt, the moments of elation.
I didn’t share.
I am grateful my daughter shares with me. I am grateful she calls and tells me of her tiny belly expanding with the life she is carrying. I am grateful we talk.
Sharing the stories of our lives was not something my mother and I did.
Perhaps it is in never having felt at ease to share the stories of my life with my mother, I learned to value and treasure that which my heart yearned for.
To fully share heart to heart, we must iron out our differences and honour one another’s stories.
I never truly valued my mother’s stories. I knew her story. But I seldom honoured it. Her journey from India to this far side of the globe. Her tearing away from family, friends and a life she’d always known, a language she’d always spoken, to marry a man she barely knew, but who captivated her heart the moment they met during WW2 at a dance.
I always wanted my mother to be different. To be more like the other mom’s. The one’s who did tea and smoked cigarettes and played bridge in the afternoon and drank Martini’s at six when their husbands came home from work.
My father was away a lot when I was young. From the time I was five years old, my mother always worked. She wanted a career. Was proud of her contributions in the world. And, from the moment she walked in the door at the end of the day, she was busy taking care of four children, making dinner, cleaning house, doing the ironing.
It has been many years since my mother ironed my father’s handkerchiefs. He passed away many years ago and her tiny, arthritic hands are not strong enough to handle an iron any more.
My sister does my mother’s ironing now. She presses her nighties, her blouses, her camisoles too.
It is an act of service.
The expression of a heart full of love which she shares freely.
The expression of my mother’s love moving forward across time and generations.
I think of the stories I’ll share with my grandson about his great-grandmother one day.
Perhaps, I’ll teach him how to iron.
Photo credit: Filip Mroz