A Story about Fixing Up Old Houses, Ironing Shirts & Watching Old Movies
About Those Shirts …
The back story….
When I was a child, my Mom worked. She was an Interior Designer in New York City.
In those days in the United States, we didn’t have child care, nannies or au pairs. In my house we had a Christine, our housekeeper who was my Mother’s second in command.
Christine was German. As a matter of fact, she was from East Germany when there was a border that divided the East and the West later to be replaced by the Berlin Wall. She and her mother went shopping one day in West Berlin when you were able to cross back and forth. Post World War II East Germany was bleak, restricted and there were no opportunities for the young. Christine’s mother returned home that day, but Christine never did, nor did she ever see her mother again. How she got to Long Island and our house is another story, but suffice it to say, she was our housekeeper, family member and friend from the time I was 11 and was by my mother’s bedside when she died.
Raising the four of us was a group effort. It was Mom and Dad, Aunt Mimi, my Grandparents and Christine. Even though Chris, in theory, was the housekeeper, she, alongside my mother taught us the basics of keeping a home. We called her our resident Gestapo. After all, she was there to keep the home front organized so my Mom could work, not for our comfort.
“One day you’ll be on your own," she said, “with no Christine around. If you don’t know how to iron a shirt, cook a basic meal, make a bed or clean your room, you’ll be in big trouble," she told us. My mother concurred.
Confession: The original Stanford White design was a square U. My parents enclosed the middle section to create a family room. (Sorry Stanford White!)
My Parents Were Always Fixing Up Old Houses
One of the many old homes my parents restored was an old Stanford White house that rambled on and on. My sister and I hung out in the smallest of the 16 rooms, the old maid’s quarters. It consisted of two rooms, one of which was the Sewing Room where the ironing board, the sewing machine and a small black & white TV lived. We spent many a rainy Saturday watching old movies, however, there was a price to be paid. Team Mom/Christine gave us chores to do. I ironed, my sister sewed and we fell in love with Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Jimmy Stewart on that little black & white TV.
But I digress… Besides the ironing board, there was an Ironrite electric mangle or, as they are called today, a rotary iron. That was off limits to us, however, the regular hand iron was not… unfortunately. Even though Christine hung the sheets, shirts and linens on the line to dry, we would watch with fascination as she quickly ironed shirts and did the finishing touches on this monster mangle. One day when we were older, we’d be able to use it, which would make our Saturday ironing days much simpler and we might be able to JUST sit and just watch a movie!
Just as Christine predicted, we married and had families and homes of our own. To no great surprise, my husband and I bought a home that needed work. While looking for new appliances, I went into a Miele Appliance Experience Center looking at their vast array of appliances which range from ranges, grills, steam ovens, refrigerators, coffee machines, vacuum cleaners and dishwashers. They were incredibly beautiful, highly efficient and from the cooking demonstrations they showed, they were top-of-the line machines.
I loved them all but gasped when I turned the corner and saw “it". A brand spanking new updated, white, shiny but smaller version of Christine’s mangle, Miele’s rotary iron. I was immediately taken back to my childhood.
Over the years I had lapsed a bit, after all, I didn’t have a Christine. But this… this machine would iron everything in an instant. I could wear all of those cotton shirts that I have sitting in my ironing pile again! I could shed my Yoga uniform! I would use my Mother’s lace tablecloth at Thanksgiving and Christmas again! I could have my very own mangle! All of this flashed in my mind in an instant. Then I looked at the price tag. It was pretty hefty. I had to justify buying this somehow. I’d put it on my Christmas list and stop using my snippy, arrogant dry cleaner who did a lousy job anyway and, by the way, I am convinced those chemicals are not doing us any good. Without our dry cleaning bills, this machine will pay for itself in no time at all. Not only that, it will give me something I crave. Ironed sheets and the tradition of keeping my home just like Team Mom/Christine taught me all those years ago on Long Island.
I’m off to talk to my husband. Wish me luck!
To see it in action look at the video below: