by Catherine Seton from Toronto, ON
Let me tell you about my Saturday morning. I get up before the household stirs. I fix myself a luxury breakfast and I eat it in the dining room, where the sun streams in, at a table wide enough to hold the weekend paper. I set a timer for five minutes to the Vinyl Cafe. When the buzzer goes, I turn on the radio, I make a pot of tea, and I get out my ironing board. By the time you say: "Hello, I'm Stuart Maclean," my iron is sending up steam over the pillowcases. So imagine my surprise when, on a recent show, you asked if there are still rooms made warm by ironing. You wondered if there are rooms where the radio softly plays, where the tea flows, where the chores get done in a satisfying,
Like you, I'm fortunate to be able to send my shirts and complicated stuff to the cleaner. I iron my linens because I get a sense of accomplishment from smoothing things to perfection. I iron as meditation.
My grandmother and my mother find this notion ridiculous.
I grew up in Chatham Ontario. In the early 1960s, I went to my Grandma Ella's house every day after school. She rented the left half of a peeling duplex. I'd bang through the front door and weave my way among the piles of shirts on the living room floor to where Grandma stood at her ironing board. Her kiss smelled of starch and hot ironing cotton. She was in her fifties then, a short, wiry woman. with a grey home-perm. Grandma ironed every afternoon and always in front of the television. At three o'clock she'd ask me to turn the TV to her “story” and I'd wiggle the rabbit ears until I recognized the characters of General Hospital.
As I got older, I became aware that Grandma ironed as a job. She'd made it her goal to own a brick house, the kind of house lived in by the ladies of General Hospital.
Grandma could neither read nor write. Her tools were a wringer washer, a clothes line, a flat iron, and her steadfast determination. Twelve years later Grandma got her brick house and she still lives there today.
In the 1960s, my mother, Marlene, was a petite woman with slender limbs and a smile so lovely her picture was used to sell toothpaste. As a housewife, she had her own piles of laundry, generated by a husband and three children. My father, David, worked as an office manager at Imperial Oil Limited, and he organized several local charities.
She ironed on Tuesday mornings, in the living room, while Rita Bell's Prize Movie played on our black and white TV.
When I was old enough, ironing became my chore. My mother sweetened the deal by allowing me to work with the television on. I met my own TV heroines: Emma Peel of the Avengers, Mary Richards, That Girl, The Mod Squad -- women who had ambition and power and independence.
I, too, paired ironing with story.
Nowadays, as I iron on Saturday morning, I listen to the antics of Dave and Morley and Stephanie and Sam. I'm drawn to Dave, the dreamer, Dave who tries to do the right thing, even as his short-sightedness propels him toward disaster. I like to see the family through their small crises, the muddles and confusion that make up the bulk of real life.
So, thank you, Stuart, for being part of my ironing story.
Thank you for helping me make time for the important things.