What we speak becomes the house we live in. —Hafiz
My web genius tells me that the cost of continuing Breakthrough is about to be a one-time charge of $1000 plus or minus. It is not his fault. The server (or some other teach euphemism) is requiring some new doo-dad bullshit so that I can keep creating Breakthroughs.Breakthrough Writing has been free. It will continue to be free, but I need more than a little help to pay for the new bullshit doo-dads. (Note: the narrator does not “tell” you she is angry; she “shows” you through her dialogue.) If you are willing to contribute to this one-time expense, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you the easy way to contribute. You can also help by bringing new writers to this website. Act – and help me keep building this house of words.Here are this week’s contributors:
Theresa Souers: I am ironing the two inch hem of a pillowcase and I am happy. I feel joy. Ridiculous. Right? I mean, who is seriously happy ironing. And pillow cases? That’s like batshit crazy. But I am happy. I am grounded. In fact, as I look around my newly organized laundry room I catch my reflection in the front loading washer. I am actually smiling. If only I could find a string of pearls to wrap around my neck. Donna Stone (Reed) reincarnated. I always adored Donna’s sweet “love my valium” grin as she cheerfully waved goodby to Alex, Paul & Mary. Her non-waving hand confidently wrapped around an iron, sparks of light bouncing off the shiny chrome. As a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up and one day be just like Donna. Or June Cleaver. Or Margaret Anderson. Those women loved their lives as mothers, housewives and part time volunteers. Good and worthy causes only.Fast forward sixty years and I am ironing in bliss. Okay, I work seven days a week, the kids are long gone and hubby is off fishing. “So, what’s the deal?” you ask. I can hear you, you know. I can hear your tsk tsks. Your judgement is loud and clear. “You finally found some alone time and you’re choosing to iron? Is it something in your DNA? Temporary insanity?” Before you go on too long with your disgust at my weak representation of a modern strong women, hear me out. Perhaps I crave the satisfaction of witnessing a job well done. Perhaps I enjoy feigning a hint of perfection? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Ironing just makes me happy.As far back as I can remember, an ironing board was symbolically connected to the women I loved. My grandmother would hum while she ironed, meticulously turning shoulders and collars with a rhythm guaranteed to leave pressed edges only where desired. The motion of her hands in action could hold their own with the most gifted of hula dancers. A little spray starch went a long way to give that “damn, don’t I have the best wife” appearance on Grandpa’s button-ups. That’s what she called his work shirts. Button ups. I can still remember how elated I felt when she asked if I would like to try a bit of ironing myself. Let’s face it. As far as I was concerned, this was one of the highest compliments she could have ever bestowed upon me. I sure didn’t see her asking my sisters or cousins. Just me. My heart pounded and my hands were shaking as I watched her adjust the ironing board to a level ideal for my height and reach. She informed me that the board was now customized for just me. Mine. Not my sisters. Not my cousins. Mine. She sandwiched my hand between hers and the iron handle and gently led me into the waltz of metal, heat and fabric. She taught me to not just touch but to truly feel the thicknesses, slicknesses, and knobbiness of the various materials. She introduced the skill of caressing away wrinkles. She pointed out how to correctly line up a pleat and press accordingly so that there was no denying that the pleat was perfect. There were dangers lurking if one was not attentive and focused. Fine fabrics were easily offended. Holding the iron too long in one spot left hideous burn marks. When working with silks, steam was key, not heat. She taught me that proper ironing began long before clothes were retrieved from the laundry basket. Built up starch or sizing on the bottom of the iron could easily be transferred to the clothing and quite simply, lead to a disaster. Corduroy was to be turned inside out and smoothed with one’s hands. Absolutely NO starch on corduroy. A pressing cloth was a vital tool. Eventually I was shown the magical trick of working buttons into the slits at the head of the iron and using the buttons as a pivot point to subtly press around them. At first we worked together, then side by side until finally I had reached the trusted skill level whereby she would just turn projects over to me for a solo run. She believed in me. She was now comfortable to quietly sit in her recliner and read her scriptures. I had arrived.Another ironing memory, actually years of repetition melded into what I am calling a memory, involved my mother and the neighbor lady from across the street. Every afternoon, they would meet at one or the other’s home with baskets of laundry, boards and irons. The boards would be set up in front of the TV and the fun would begin. There were three soap operas at any given time. Edge of Night, The Guiding Light and As the World Turns. The Night and Light could be overlooked if needed but there was no way those ladies were going to miss As the World Turns. Ash trays were placed at the widest end of the boards, never-ending cigarettes were inhaled and sweaty water-logged iced tea glasses (or at least that’s what I thought they were drinking) added fresh ring marks to the existing collection on the coffee table pushed to the side wall. Now you might be wondering how there could be that much laundry to require daily pressings. Turns out, my mom and the neighbor took in laundry jobs to make some side cash. One of my mom’s customers owned the Ma & Pa grocery store in the neighborhood. Hart’s Market. Mom would iron Mr’s Hart’s family laundry in exchange for credit at the store. Nearly as exhilarating as the pride I experienced when Grandma introduced me to the adult world of ironing, were the times when Mom would let me ride my bike to Mrs. Hart’s store to pick up cigarettes and milk. Mrs. Hart would sometimes give me a package of candy cigarettes as a bonus. Those packages were so cool. The chalky white sticks with the glowing red tips (at least I think they glowed) actually produced a puff of white powder that looked like smoke. (At least we kids thought it looked like smoke.) They tasted like old cardboard but that didn’t matter. I could twirl that cigarette between my fingers and puff with the best of them. I didn’t dare demonstrate this skill while ironing with Grandma though. As a Seven Day Adventist, she would have had a heart attack. It was already bad enough that her granddaughter was being raised Catholic. A cigarette twirling Audrey Hepburn “wanna be” would have put her over the edge. And worse, I might have lost my coveted position as sous chef in her laundry world.Back to today. I am ironing and I am happy. During the past three years, I have been living a rather nomadic life. Summers in campgrounds and winter house-sitting didn’t allow for spiritual ironing encounters. An experience where there were no time constraints and the clock ticked slower than usual. Borrowing ironing supplies resulted in a feeling that I needed to move quickly and get the job done. Not an act of love, just a business arrangement. A “better than doing is done” attitude. Besides, todays’ fabrics lean toward the so-called “wrinkle free” mode leaving little if any need for an honest press. The art of skillful ironing has gone by the way side. Gone the way of manners, respect and pay phones. No one notices mustard on a tie any more. A twisted collar is ignored. Wearing a blouse that appears to have been slept in prior doesn’t mean anything. People just don’t care. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not.HOWEVER, now that I am reestablished in my own nest, my own palace, my own castle, I can live my fantasy free from the scrutiny of others. I can channel Donna Reed and sing and sway to a beat provided through the courtesy of Spotify. I can wisely nod my head in “June Cleaver” agreement or shake it in “Margaret Anderson” displeasure at what CNN might be broadcasting in the background. I can hang up a freshly pressed garment and stand back, arms proudly folded across my chest to admire yet another brilliantly finished product. A work of lost art. I can bring freshness back to a drab skirt. I can sharpen the points of a collar and I can create the flattest of plackets. I can iron pillowcases by goddess.I can be one with the women I loved back at the beginning. I am happy.
Elizabeth Maginnis I am at the heart of this beginning, the Beginning of Me.
I was born the day my mother died. I was 59 years old. Being what therapists might call a narcissistic mother, she sought validation of her mothering skills in how well I grew up according to her standards and how well I played in front of an audience of more well-to-do family and friends. Picture a mortified six-year-old girl in stiff dress, white ankle socks and patent leather shoes singing and dancing to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot” and you’ll understand what my childhood was like. To her grave, she carried with her the unshakable image of a perfect world in which people behaved The Way She Thought They Should and of a daughter whom she found somehow lacking because I wouldn’t sacrifice myself to her ever-increasing emotional demands.
Unfortunately for her, I came of age during the 1960s. I rebelled and fought strongly to become the person I was meant to be, not who she imagined I should be. We quarreled until the end of her life. She never gave up on her dream of turning me into another Well-Behaved Woman and, especially, Devoted Daughter Who Would Drop Everything to Rush to Her Side. It was stressful. It was exhausting. I questioned every decision I made with regard to her. I feared speaking up for myself, but somehow I found the courage, and we ended up not speaking for years at a time. Of course, our rifts were never “her fault.” It drained me.
I will carry to my grave the immense relief that washed over me as my husband and I drove away from the nursing home after visiting her for the last time. My life could finally begin. And it did.