Nooks and crannies

Ironing with mom: getting to wrinkle-free with love


Wood clunked on wood as Mom angled into the door and rested the bulky panel on the floor. She sucked in a big breath, grasped both sides and lugged it into the kitchen. The white fabric-covered board pointed upward while she lowered the legs, then bent the arm and pushed it into the first slot of the wooden base. Grabbing the cushioned top, Mother set up her ironing board.

I laid my favorite doll, Susan, on a chair and ran to get my own board, a replica of Mom’s. While I set mine up, Mother got out her iron and plugged it in. I watched her turn the dial on the top, then set the device up on its back. One more trip for the ironing basket, a wooden “apple” crate lined with green plastic that fit over the wire handles.

Yesterday, when we brought the clothes in from the line, Mom folded, sorted and put away. Everything that needed ironing (which seemed like most of the stash!) waited in the middle of the table to be sprinkled.

The sprinkler was a tall, glass bottle with a cork stopper that fit tightly. A metal dome-shaped cover nested in the center of the cork. Perforated with holes, the sprinkler resembled a salt shaker that dispensed water instead.

Mom let me sprinkle the hankies, dish towels and aprons. I flapped each item down on the Formica table top, tipped the bottle and attempted to distribute water droplets evenly over the fabric surface. Then I tucked in sides, rolled them into tight scrolls and placed them in the ironing basket, keeping similar things together. Mother sprinkled the shirts, dresses, aprons, pants and sheets, covered the basket and lugged it to the cool porch until the next day.

Tuesday morning we were ready! Mom licked the index finger of her right hand and lightly touched it to the bottom of the preheated iron. The tiny “pffft” indicated the Goldilocks standard on temperature—just right.

First the hankies, the pretty ones and the men’s big white ones, then the big red or blue bandannas the guys kept in their work pockets. She flapped each open on the padded surface of her ironing board and rubbed the shiny flat base over it. Little “sizzles” puffed into steam as Mom ran the tip over wet spots in the corners.

Sometimes our mother would tell me about ironing when she grew up. The board was the same, but there were no electric irons. Several “sad irons” or heavy metal bases heated on the cook stove. The person doing the ironing attached a wooden handle to one of the hot irons and hurried to the board to smooth out wrinkles. When that one cooled off she had to replace it with a hot one from the stove. It was sweaty, hard work and difficult to assure the proper temperature of the iron. Too cool and stubborn wrinkles remained; too hot and the iron burned an ugly scorch mark that branded that item forever.

“It’s a lot easier to iron now,” she said as she grabbed a damp dish towel from the basket. It draped over the side of the board, so she ironed part of it, then pulled the towel up on the board and ran the hot device over the next section. When the wrinkles were all ironed out, Mother folded in one side, pressed it, then the other, until a neat square fairly sparkled in front of her, a sweet embroidered kitten centered perfectly on the front. I noticed a smile on Mom’s face as she glided the iron quickly over it one more time. Piles of neatly folded wrinkle-free laundry grew on the table.

Meanwhile, a wonderful aroma filled the room. In the nooks and crannies of my mind, this fragrance rivaled that of fresh chocolate chip cookies. It was a comforting blend of fresh air and Tide. The whole house felt warm and cozy.

Though she folded the white cotton sheets in half, one corner touched the floor. Soon the big bundle flattened into neat layers. I glided my own iron, a maroon-colored ceramic model, over my doll blanket. I pushed the black handle down harder to smooth the wrinkles. “Bring it here,” Mom said, her blue eyes sparkling. She ran her nifty appliance over it. Susan felt warm and cuddly wrapped in her sleek pink blanket.

It didn’t seem long until Mother unplugged the iron and moved it to the cutting board to cool safely far back on the counter. She folded up the ironing board and put it away. Tuesday ironing was done.

At a recent visit with my dear 100-year-old friend, she happily recalled using a mangle-iron. Having no clue what a mangle was, I had to Google. I learned that the device ran hot rollers over the pieces of laundry making quick, efficient work of removing wrinkles. Sheets ran through in seconds. Pants displayed a perfect crease.

In my imagination I can hear Dad asking, “Mabel, do you want one of those fancy new ironing things with the rollers? It would mean a lot less time standing next to that ironing board.”

Possibly she remembered how much more difficult ironing had been when she was young. Or she might have thought of the wonderful warm smells that enveloped her as she glided the iron over her loved ones’ shirts and dresses. Maybe she knew there were no “toy” mangles, and she would miss her daughters’ pretend-ironing next to her. Whatever her reasons, I am pretty sure she would have answered, “Nah, I don’t need one of those things. I love to iron.”

Because she did.

DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow.  She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at


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