Longview Memoirs: The Ironing Board

Design by Jared Dobro

Pieces from the Longview Memoir Project were authored by residents of Longview, a senior living community with close ties to Ithaca College. They were produced in a workshop led by Ithaca College professor Marella Feltrin-Morris, which occurs every spring.

Martha K. Brewster is a West Virginian-born Mountain Mama to four children and seven grandchildren. Until the end of World War II, Martha spent her childhood in the Panama jungle with her parents and in the country of Costa Rica with its volcanoes. A tango dancing marriage partner with priest husband for 56 years and now lonely widow for three years, she is an aging old boarding school resident at Longview in Ithaca.

Martha was a teacher in many different schools and family and marriage counselor for 25 years, a Hospicare volunteer for 16 years, and a conservationist of land at Green Pastures Farm for 30 years. She is celebrating 83 years on this planet, still planting flowers, conserving the earth, delighting in bird song, treasuring family and friendships, watching clouds, listening to leaves falling, looking for the peace bird and someday nesting near her beloved at Greensprings by the giant oak tree reaching for the stars.

The Ironing Board

by Martha Brewster

She looked at her watch. Jim was taking a long time to return with a borrowed truck. She knew her brother was reliable, steady as a rock during these hard times. They had been packing up father’s house all week. Their sister flew in and out in a couple of days. She was very organized and had helped them a great deal to organize the furniture into small circles where each would take turns and have the chance to have a first bid on an item. Papa would be proud of the way they had not quarreled over his belongings. There were many late nights, when they sat, just the three of them alone, no spouses, no children, in the house slowly growing cold and naked, as one by one each made a decision, to be agreed upon by all. Then each item was packed or stacked or carted away to the recycle or junk pile.

Shadows stretched over the lawn. The sun would set in two hours. May. She shivered with cold. It was lonely waiting for Jim to come with a borrowed truck to pack and haul the last heavier items away.

She walked by the garage door. Here was the Goodwill pile. She sat down on the stone steps, more of a shiver, and stared at the pile against the wall. The tiredness fell from her shoulders and enveloped her. The Goodwill pile, several large plastic bags of clothing, the old brown corduroy trousers, threadbare, that he wore most every day. They really should be in the garbage. Boxes of canning jars, the lids rusty and the rings to go around them. A push mower. There was a treasure. That should not be in the Goodwill pile. That was a keepsake. She would ask Jim to move it out of there for her. And this? She let her hands move over the smooth, so soft white sheets. There were many layers of sheets, all puffed up and padded, the softest her hands had ever felt. She remembered slipping in between those sheets, always perfectly ironed. That is the way Mama liked it. And here were the remnants piled one on top of the other on the daintiest and sturdiest of a little wooden ironing board.

It seemed terribly out of place, sadly stacked up against the wooden shingles of the garage. Her hands on those sheets brought up a huge wave of mourning. In this ironing board was a century. No one knew it as intimately as she did. In 7th grade she would spend a Saturday morning standing in the kitchen ironing the family laundry for her Mother, while just the other side of the kitchen door, half closed, Mama was having her monthly bridge party luncheon with all the women, four tables of them, talking and playing. She was proud that she could handle the laundry by herself. Besides, Mama was going to give her some money so that she could go to the picture show one afternoon, or maybe even on a Sunday, against Grandma’s rules.

Papa did not seem to mind that. She was proud she could iron his shirts. She could teach anyone how, and knew all the steps. But oh, how long it took, and there were so many of them. Each time the iron rested too long and there was a scorch on the covering sheet of the board, she would go to the drawer where the remnants of sheets were, and get another piece and wrap it round, large safety pins to hold it taut. The women chattered on and on. Did they realize she was on the other side of the door? The talk today was about giving birth to babies, and falling off the roof, and men. She began to wonder if that was the kind of world she wanted to grow up in? She really did not like the bridge parties. Too much noise. Too much talk of blood and pain. She smoothed the hot sheet again over the board and pinned it more tightly. Three more shirts to go, then ten handkerchiefs, the edges would take time to match up, and then she would be done. Out, out she would go into the open air, to visit her ducks and catch a wary crawfish under a rock in the stream, and then meander homeward after all the ladies were gone.

What a forlorn little ironing board, still bedecked in smooth sheets standing there, leaning up against a garage wall. Why was she crying over a little wooden ironing board? She tried lowering it down. Snap. Opened it up. It stood sturdy and strong as it had in her grandmother’s kitchen. Her grandpa’s name was on its underbelly there in pencil.

She walked way down the driveway, waiting for Jim to come. Come soon. As she turned back pacing towards the garage, a shaft of light of the setting sun hit this little ironing board and illuminated it for a moment. The sheets, so smooth furled around the board like a bridal veil, all white; no, like a shroud over a cold naked body; no, like a wide open space waiting for a shirt and an iron to embrace, doted over by the proud hands and steamy face of an eleven-year-old girl.

The sound of the truck. Jim came up the drive. She ran to greet him.

Oh Jim, she cried, this little ironing board is not going to Goodwill. It is going home with me. He shrugged, and smiled good-naturedly, not questioning her.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Then took from her pocket a perfectly-ironed handkerchief and put it to her nose. She dotted a tear. Her nostrils filled with the smell of cotton, freshly ironed.

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