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Please, no ironing

WHEN I'm feeling harried, I like to browse around in cozy country boutiques and drift into rosy daydreams of how pleasant life must have been in ``the good old days.'' But all it takes to snap me out of it is a display featuring Grandma's laundry equipment. At the sight of an old-fashioned iron - or a brand-new modern one, for that matter - I run for cover. Nevertheless, early last summer I broke down and bought an ironing board - a brand-new modern one. It was a matter of sheer necessity, not wistful yearning. When no-iron fabrics came into vogue, I chucked my old one out the door, parked the iron on a shelf, and went for it. If a label said ``wash and wear,'' I washed it, and my family wore it - albeit somewhat grudgingly at first. However, as dryers improved and fabrics were refined, everything smoothed out beautifully. But, alas, with the recent resurgence of natural fabrics, I suddenly found myself faced with a ``good old days'' ironing.

It all started last spring, when I purchased several new shirts for my husband. That was about the same time I ordered the pink-and-white dress from a newspaper ad.

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But I failed to read the labels on the shirts, or the fine print in the ad, and they emerged from the clothes dryer a discouraging mass of wrinkles. They were soon joined by other spur-of-the-moment purchases that required ironing, a blue skirt, two or three blouses, two pairs of slacks, and several model's coats. As the stack of unironed clothes mounted and the empty space in our closets increased, I decided I had only two choices. Either go shopping for new clothes - a costly solution - or buy a new ironing board, and use it - a dismal, but realistic solution.

So I bought the board, hunted down the iron, and ironed all the new clothes. The results were pleasing. For good measure I even pressed some of the old wash-and-wear things that were beginning to look weary. And for a while after that, every time I washed, I ironed. However, the habit failed to take root. After a few weeks I began hanging the newly ironed shirts toward the back of the closet and moving the old permanent-press standbys to the center, avoiding the blue skirt, and thinking several times before putting on the pink-and-white dress. By September the ironing board was left behind the door for longer and longer periods of time, and winter it was completely ignored.

But it's no longer winter. The voice of the turtle is heard in the land, and wrinkles are blooming on last summer's crisp cottons. I've washed and ironed everything five times, so far, and the laundry basket is bulging again. Just like the ``good old days'' when our role models were Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Cleaver.

That's when housewives ironed everything, including the sheets. One of my friends, a bit of a fanatic even then, ironed her baby's diapers. And one of my neighbors owned a mangle. (I never understood why they were called mangles.) In any case, I doubt that there are any remaining outside the Smithsonian. Although they were intended primarily for linens, a dedicated ironer could do a child's dress or a man's white shirt to perfection on one. And if you owned a mangle, you were a dedicated ironer.

I was not a dedicated ironer. I ironed only when absolutely necessary. I blush to admit that my children frequently outgrew clothes that lay languishing in the laundry basket. If I occasionally envied my friend her mangle, it was only because she could sit down while she operated it.

But I preferred to sit and read, not sit and iron. And if I stood, I preferred standing under a shade tree, not over an ironing board. I still do.

So yesterday I pushed the basket of ironing into the corner again and went shopping for no-iron clothes. I needn't have worried about my conscience, because it proved to be a fruitless venture.

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The salesperson, clad in the latest denim skirt and disheveled blouse, surveyed my aging polyester outfit and pointed me toward a varied selection of apparel. ``You came to the right place to update your look,'' she said. ``You'll love the natural fabrics; they have such a nostalgic aura about them.''

Considering my figure, I deemed it advisable to skip the new-age knits altogether. And I barely riffled through the crumpled cottons. I guess it's early conditioning, but I can't bring myself to even try on, let alone wear, things that are wrinkled on purpose. I slipped into one of the sleek, smooth things but slid out of it the minute I read the instructions to ``hand wash separately,'' or ``dry-clean.'' Translated, that means, ``requires ironing.'' Even those items touted as wrinkle-free bore discreet labels suggesting that they be ``touched up with a cool iron.'' But no matter how gently you phrase it, that still means setting up the board and ironing.

I left empty-handed. Then I dropped by the library, checked out a few books, and headed for my chair under the shade tree. As long as we're returning to ``the good old days,'' I think I'll do it my way.

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