A Wrinkle in Time

I know two people who love to wash dishes. “Give me rubber gloves and I’ll wash them all,” says my friend with the perfect manicure. She finds it soothing to soak her hands in soapy water, scrub, and rinse. It’s the quietest moment in her very busy day; the only time when her mind is free to wander and when she’s sure she won’t be interrupted. When it’s time for dish duty everyone else steers clear.

Some people find the same satisfaction weeding their gardens or raking leaves. Some like to lose themselves in the hum of the vacuum cleaner or the scent of cleanser sprinkled on the bathroom fixtures before they’re wiped to a sparkle.

Washing dishes is not a chore I enjoy. (Yes, I believe it is possible to enjoy a chore, but you have probably figured that out already.) I don’t have a garden, and I’ll vacuum or clean the bathroom because it needs to be done but not because I enjoy it. My chore of choice is ironing.

Ironing is methodical. It doesn’t require active thought or decision-making.

Ironing shows tangible results. It’s easy to gauge your progress.

Ironing is solitary. It doesn’t demand help from anyone else.

Ironing is serene. Except for the occasional gurgle of steam from the iron, it’s quiet. It doesn’t disrupt.

Ironing is housework’s answer to meditation. When I’m feeling particularly out of sorts I’ve even been known to iron the sheets and pillowcases. I always feel better when I’m done.

I ironed my first shirt during my freshman year of college, when button-down Oxford-cloth shirts were all that I wore and I wanted mine to look neat. The girl who lived across the hall from me in the dorm taught me how to do it. She’d been handling all the laundry chores for her father and her brothers since she was a kid, and she was understandably surprised when I told her I simply didn’t know how to press my shirts. So she showed me and I learned: Collar first, then the shoulders; right side; back; left side; and finally the sleeves and cuffs.

I think of her every time I set up the ironing board and fill the iron with the cool water it uses to make steam. It’s a pleasant memory that she and I share, whether she remembers it or not.

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