An electrified sled skimming across a white field once completely rumpled is sliding, sliding, sliding. Now I watch it leveling into a surface as flat as a floor.
"Could I do that?" I ask.
"It's very hot," my mother says as she places the iron on its steel rest. She steps back and gestures permission to grip the handle. My 10-year-old fingers reach and wrap.
"Here," she says, spreading one of my father's freshly laundered handkerchiefs on the ironing board. "First, you sprinkle."
The former ketchup bottle, now filled with water and fitted with a sprinkler top, dances in her hand and sprays its miniature monsoon across the sheet of cotton. At her "go ahead," I pick up the iron and hesitantly touch its shiny base to the dampened fabric. I hear a sizzle, the song of sunny-side eggs in a frying pan. But it's a song being sung in our basement.
"You have to work in sections," my mother instructs. "The board isn't wide enough for the whole hankie. Right – do that part and then move it toward you."
Smooth, smooth, smooth. If wrinkles were rats, I'm the Pied Piper driving them away. Or Merlin conjuring up pasture where there had been hills. Or Columbus on his best day, steering the Santa Maria over the most serene of seas.
"Now double it over," Mother says. "Press the crease."
That's a new word for me – crease. A ridge that comes on the newly formed edge of something folded. I've learned a new word. Even better, I've created a crease. I've creased a crease. And by doubling the hankie over, it now fits better on the ironing board. It's a smaller white field, crisp and smelling of the steam that erupts when the iron instantly boils the sprinkled water.
"Now double it over again. Press the new crease."
Now narrower, the hankie becomes a wide, thick band of white on the face of the board. I crease it handily. I've become an authority on the technique.
"Now fold it sideways from left to right. Press the new crease. Fold again. Press the new crease."
A small square of sharply edged, folded white fabric now sits where once there had been scrambled cloth. It's identical to those already stacked in my father's dresser drawer. I've brought order to cottony chaos. I've created neatness. I'm proud of my accomplishment, of my creative skills. This was fun. I think I'll head upstairs and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"Where are you going?" my mother asks. "There's a whole pile of hankies to iron."
Well, obviously, my mother didn't understand my motivation. I only wanted a turn, not a career.