Ironclad Love

Posted September 28, 2011 by jimhigley

I smile when I iron. Not that I iron all that often. And, I do smile with regularity when I am not ironing. But, I always smile when I iron.

Thank you, Helen.

Helen was the mom who lived across the street from my childhood home. She and her husband had a clan of four boys. That would have been an impressive amount of testosterone running around the house had it not been for the fact that my family had five boys, with myself being the youngest.

Our families were very close. Close in the way families get in small, Midwestern towns. There was a free-flow of activity between our two homes. Moms checking in with each other over a cup of coffee, kids running back-and-forth playing games, dads grabbing tools out of garages. There was a well-worn path from our home to theirs.

When I was 14, my mother died. Being the only kid at home, that left my dad and me alone trying to pull our lives back together. And, while so many things were changing in our world, I held on to a few things that remained the same. One of those things was at the end of the path leading to the house across the street.

It also led to Helen.

I checked in with her on a daily basis. It might have been after school to grab a snack or perhaps it was a quick chat while I was playing with one of her sons. She treated me, quite simply, like her fifth boy – a role I was very accustomed to in my own family. Helen was happy to be a backup person to my dad, helping me run errands to pick up supplies. She would gladly sew on buttons for me and religiously provided me with small gifts and cards to remind me I was loved.

She also taught me how to iron. This wasn’t at my request. Actually, I remember it to be at her insistence. It happened one day after school when I thought I was walking into a kitchen full of freshly baked Toll House cookies.

“I’m going to teach you how to iron today,” she told me as she caught me by surprise. “It’s just one of the things you need to know how to do.”

At the age of 14, learning how to iron wasn’t high on my list. But, truthfully, I would never, never say “no” to Helen so I stood by her side as she meticulously walked me through her process for pressing a wrinkle-free shirt. And, from that day forward, I never expected anyone to pull out an iron for me.

I’ve neatly tucked away many of the memories of that first year after my mom died. Many of them are too painful to relive. But I’ll never tuck away the memory of the day the neighborhood mom taught me how to iron.

It was, of course, a lesson that went far beyond a piece of clothing. But isn’t that one of the most wonderful things in life? When you find a meaningful, lasting lesson waiting for you in a simple, everyday event?

I had a chance to see Helen just last week when my kids and I took a quick spin through my hometown in Nebraska over spring break. I was excited to see her. And, I wanted my children to have the opportunity to spend time with the woman who, candidly, gave me an abundance of gifts that have stayed with me throughout my life.

So, that’s why I smile when I iron.

Admittedly, ironing happens less and less these days. But, the next time one of my kids puts on a freshly pressed shirt or blouse from me, I hope they’ll not only enjoy the warmth of the fabric as it touches their skin.

I hope they smile, too.