for those of you who don’t know, *h is british. he was raised by a very british mummy in his very british house. he had what i would call a servant, and what they would simply call “diane”. it was somewhat of a battle to teach *h that coffee cups left on the bookshelf did not automatically transport themselves to the kitchen for washing, and that dirty laundry did not appear magically clean, folded, and pressed on his bed the next day.
to compensate for this, however, *h has lots of skills the average american doesn’t. he can tell a fish knife from a cheese knife and he knows that teaspoons are for tea and not cereal. tablespoons belong at the table (duh on that one- but honestly, who knew??), for eating such things as soup (where you scoop the spoon away from you rather than shoveling up food directly into your mouth). he can comfortably navigate his way around a 75 course meal, complete with cutlery and assorted glasses, and not even break a sweat. he can charm folks in customer service with his accent, and doesn’t feel weird about asking for exactly what he wants in stores and restaurants. after all, it is their job to serve him, right? throughout it all, *h remains calm and cool, since he knows his ways will likely prevail.
in college, he started a business where he took a bunch of people’s dry cleaning to the cleaners for them. he would charge a bit extra on each shirt, and i’m pretty sure the dry cleaner paid him a commission. this way, he could earn enough to get his clothes cleaned for free, and all he had to do was ride the bus with a boatload of dirty clothes every few days. this shows you how dedicated he has always been to a good pressed shirt.
the first time i made *h a hamburger for supper, he looked quietly at the plate for a few minutes (sizing up his opponent, i would soon learn). then he opened the bun and put the top to the side. he cut his lettuce leaf so it would fit neatly on the burger and not drape over the sides. he moved his tomato into a more advantageous location. he put an ever-so-delicate smear of ketchup on top, and went into the kitchen to get a knife and fork. as he cut perfectly bite-sized pieces, he looked up at my quizzical expression and said, “what? you didn’t expect me to eat that with my hands, did you?”
so, married life has been somewhat of a culture shock for a very uncultured american like me.
one of the things i did for *h early on was to iron. diane always ironed, and *h liked to look neat and pressed, whether he was going to work or playing outside with the kids. my british neighbor in our first apartment would spend about half the day ironing, even doing handkerchiefs (who uses those anyway? why would you want to stuff a cloth of dried snot in your pocket for safekeeping? ick.) and bedsheets, and -i found out later on in our friendship her family’s undies. yep. nothing says ‘good morning’ like flat undies… i should have gotten a clue then about the british obsession for ironing, but i guess i was focused on other things that day…in any case, i actually had a job once doing a family’s ironing, so although when i was growing up the iron was only used for banging in nails, i actually thought i knew how to iron. an iron is used to make wrinkles flat, right? i can usually tell the difference between wrinkly and flat, and i am a pretty quick study on most subjects, so this whole ironing thing should have been a cakewalk. but, sadly, it was not to be so. my ironing consistently didn’t pass muster, even as *h continued to patiently point out errors, like that i had permanently ironed a wrinkle into his cuff, so that now there was a line (horror of horrors!) by his wrist. i thought he could have just rolled up his sleeves if it bothered him, but that’s not how my guy rolls.
as *h moved up the corporate ladder, one of the compromises to keep our marriage happy was that he could take his shirts to the dry-cleaners. i had multiple babies and toddlers by then, and standing for hours with a burning hot iron just wasn’t a viable option. so, *h had nice shirts and i had time to change dirty diapers and wipe mashed banana off the walls. all was going along swimmingly, until we got to seattle.
like many other things here, dry cleaning is crazy expensive. even getting his shirts laundered is prohibitively expensive. so, i delicately suggested to *h that i could do his shirts. he was quiet for a few minutes, undoubtedly reliving in his head the horrors of my formerly incorrect ironing. i could see him weighing up the shattering reality of being incorrectly ironed against hurting my feelings by telling me that i was absolutely not allowed to touch his shirts. finally he said, “ok. i guess so. light starch, please.”
if this was a movie, this is where you would hear a loud screeching noise, like 18 cars trying to avoid hitting each other on an overpass. screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech…
huh? i had truly forgotten the ironing debacles of the 1990s and early 2000s. i forgot that you have to carefully iron between each button, and iron this type of collar different from that type of collar. this shirt has a special doohicky on the back, and this shirt needs to be ironed while hanging upside down so the fibers will stay straight. this shirt gets grumpy if you iron it after a striped shirt, so that must be kept in mind. (i should digress here and admit that me looking at clothes with *h sounds something like this:
*h- “what do you think of this shirt?’
me- “i think it’s blue like your other 20 blue shirts.”
at which point, *h will look heavenward for patience and say something like, “look. this shirt has single stitching on this edge. and the thread is white.”
i will still be waiting for an explanation of why the shirts are different, and *h will think he has been perfectly clear and rational. so, i should kind of admit a certain lack of attention to subtle details when it comes to men’s clothing.)
but, as a true sign of *h’s love for me, he and i went to target last night and bought an iron and ironing board (yes, we had one in detroit for emergency touch-ups, but they both died untimely deaths shortly before we moved here). we bought 2 kinds of spray starch and a hanging rack to keep downstairs next to the laundry room so i could hang as i go. all set!
this morning he unpacked some of the shirts from his car, where he had been driving around with them for 2 days in search of a good and reasonably priced dry-cleaner.
after he left for work, i took a deep breath and put them in the washing machine. i assembled the hanging rack and took the iron out of the box.
i started to read the instruction manual for the iron, which reads somewhere between notes for the california bar exam and a study guide for fighter pilots. helpfully, it is printed in 3 languages. i managed to get 3 paragraphs in before i realized that i desperately needed to go upstairs and finish my coffee.
so, here i am, on the computer and out of the laundry room. i will go back into the fray soon, and put the shirts in the dryer. i am having a bit of anxiety, like the timer on the washing machine is counting down to my date with destiny.
i know i am a competent and educated woman. i know that i have to be slow and deliberate about ironing if i ever want another shot at *h’s shirts. i know i have to remember to breathe and let the tension out of my muscles before i lift the iron. iron on the exhale. (oh, sorry- that’s competitive shooting i was thinking about. oops). i know deep down i really really can do this. at least i hope so.
oh, and i have to remember: *h likes light starch…