It was 96F on our north-facing window the other afternoon as I prepared to go out. I thought linen would be marginally more tolerable than anything else on my sweaty skin, but my linen shirt had spent the last ten months rolled up in my ironing basket.
Who irons anymore?
First there was ironing, and misting with spray bottles, and even starching. Then there was polyester, women's lib, and the putting away of irons. A return to natural fibers and a brief resurgence of ironing followed after which, as our faces grew as wrinkled as freshly-laundered cotton, my generation put away the iron for good.
Still, even in Vermont, where the soft, wrinkled look is a sign of wisdom and common sense, I couldn't bring myself to show up in completely crumpled linen.
I set up the ironing board--whose unacustomed clatter sent Bisou scuttling under the bed--turned on the ceiling fan, plugged in the iron and turned it on "high." As a teenager, it had been my job on Saturday afternoons to iron my father's weekly supply of white shirts as well as my own blouses and dresses. Ironing was more pleasant than my other chores: cleaner than dusting, quieter than vacuuming, less disgusting than washing dishes.
I had forgotten what hot work ironing was. Being in a rush, I did not stop to fill the steam reservoir or even spritz the fabric--a false economy of time. Ironing dry linen, even with a red-hot iron, takes much, much longer than if the fabric is damp.
But in the end I got the shirt ironed, put it on, and got in the car. And fastened the seat belt across my chest, which instantly undid all my work with the iron. And then remembered that the fading of ironing as a way of life in the early 60s had coincided with the advent of seat belts in cars, sort of the way panty hose had arrived on the scene shortly after the invention of miniskirts.
There was a parade in the village, and I was diverted a long way from my route and had to drive much faster (55mph) than I normally do. Between the seat belt and my sweaty, anxious state, by the time I arrived at the art opening I looked like I was wearing a fine linen accordion. But there was a woman with hip-long gray dreadlocks, and nobody even blinked at her, or at me.