Clifford Rieders

Salvation through ironing

There are very few people who would claim that their salvation was in ironing.  In fact, for me, it is even a stranger statement but nevertheless there is some truth to it.

Ironing is not something that was native to my disposition.  As a child, my father took our laundry to his friend, Abe Grossman.  What I most liked about Abe was his pretty daughter, a few years older than me.

My mother worked outside of the home and her cleaning lady, Lillian, took it upon herself to teach me how to iron.  “Every young man should know how to iron his own shirts.”  Lillian was so passionate about ironing that she even taught me how to iron undershirts and – can you believe it – underwear?

Time went on, and I ironed my way through college, law school, and my clerkship with Judge Muir.  I even had the great privilege of teaching Judge Muir how to iron his shirt using a bed as an ironing board when we traveled for court to Scranton, and to fold his shirts properly.  I have a feeling that this lesson never stuck with him.

I ironed and ironed, until I got married; and then suddenly, the ironing stopped.  I do not remember if my wife just did not like to iron or rather whether she was happier with the work performed by the Faxon Dry Cleaners.

Ironing suddenly left my life, and I moved on to bigger and better things.

I never really thought about ironing; okay, maybe once or twice when I was stuck somewhere while traveling; but I certainly did not think much about it.

Here we are, in Bat Galim, Israel.  We came here for the birth of our third grandson on March 7th, Noam Mahir, and thanks to El-Al canceling our flights, we are now residing in a lovely old apartment in a mildly dingy part of town very close to the Mediterranean seashore.  If we were allowed to walk more than 100 meters from our apartment, this would really be a great place to be as the weather changes to a warm spring.

I have managed to keep myself busy by working remotely and trying to figure out the damn computers, servers and other paraphernalia that works less well than it should.  As someone once told me, “the tyranny of inanimate objects” is the only thing that will ever drive you crazy.  Well, a few other things have driven me crazy, but the tyranny of inanimate objects is definitely one of them.

What does that have to do with ironing?  While strolling around the apartment one day looking for things to do, I found an old plastic ironing board covered with a bare scrap of material and a very nice-looking Braun iron, a TexStyle 7, to be exact.

I took my dress shirts that I wore to Synagogue, when we were permitted to go to religious services a few weeks ago, and I threw the shirts into the 50-year-old 5kg washing machine.  For those who do not know, this is about one-quarter the size of our washing machines in the States and it sounds more like a Model-T Ford firing up than any kind of washing machine.  Very few people have dryers here, and clotheslines are still in vogue.  I remember my mother having clotheslines, delightfully abandoned when dryers were invented.

I took my shirts off the outdoor drying rack, and I ironed them.  I was shocked how well I remembered the technique for ironing shirts.  They actually looked pretty good.  Well, after that I went berserk.  I started ironing everything I could find.  I ironed my work shirts, undershirts, and well, I ironed other things that I will not talk about in this little essay.

I find myself now looking for things to iron.  Will my wife let me iron her nice clothing?  So far, it’s a no-go.  Will my son let me iron his trendy clothing?  Heck, no way.  I am simply left to doing as much laundry as I can, as often as I can, so that I can iron my own clothing.  The truth is, I have not yet ironed underwear; but depending upon how long I am relegated to the inside of this apartment, I may consider that.

For those who do not understand the power of ironing, it has to do with Zen Buddhism, or perhaps the Jewish Kabballah experience.  Both disciplines depend upon what we call in Hebrew Kavanah:  the power of concentration.  If one concentrates intently on the here and now and on the task at hand, perfecting one’s immediate present condition, then incredibly powerful things may happen.  World peace may arrive; plagues may disappear; and, for sure, shirts will get properly ironed and folded.

In no way can I say that ironing has necessarily saved my sanity or protected me from the Coronavirus; however, while I am still here and kicking I have awfully nice looking shirts and clothing, notwithstanding the 50-year-old washing machine.

Everyone, during these challenging times, will find their own personal way of saving their sanity and passing time.  It is hard for the people here in Israel to believe that the liquor stores in Pennsylvania are closed.  Here, the grocery stores seem to have a better selection of wine and booze than ever before. It may not reduce the number of infected people, but it certainly does help the spirits, pun intended, of those who are trying to get through these harsh times.

I recall vividly my parents talking about World War II, the Great Depression, and the hard times of the past.  They sounded like fairy tales.  We even videotaped them relating how they survived.  One of my mother’s favorite stories was about her brother, Bill, tying himself to the newsstand in the wintertime to sell newspapers in order to get through college.  My mother, raised on a farm before they moved to the big city, spoke of the “girls” milking the cows so that the “boys” could do the hard farm work.  They had a potbelly stove in the center of the house for heat.  Nobody would want to hear what they did for a bathroom or a bath.  Such a lifestyle is virtually impossible for us or our children to understand.

This is not to say that the current times are easy.  We all are struggling greatly not only with confinement and the inability to make a living, but also with fear.  Now, for the first time, I understand what Roosevelt meant when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  How could one fear fear?  Now, I appreciate that.  The fear of the fears that we will encounter tomorrow or the next day are ever present.  The parade of horrors, looming disaster, illness and financial catastrophe seem to be at our doorstep.

Ironing certainly will not save the world and will not save me from worse times.  However, between now and whatever happens, I will do my best to iron my way through the difficulties encountered.

About the Author
Cliff Rieders is a Board Certified Trial Advocate in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.