By Carol (Swain) Crane – Medicine Hat, Alta.
This morning as I was standing in front of my adjustable ironing board with my heat-regulated steam iron pressing the few articles of clothing that aren’t perma-press, I thought back to my first paid employment.
I was about 11 years old and was constantly pestering my mother to find me something to sew. I had also mastered the fine art of ironing hankies and pillowcases, so I guess she thought I might as well put my talents to work.
My mother had been doing laundry for free for my grampa and bachelor uncle for years, so she decided to turn the chore over to me, but for a fee. She still washed their clothes, but I was now in charge of ironing.
She negotiated with them and my Uncle George was eager to help me earn some money, although my grampa was a bit reluctant, saying “those darn kids should be good for something.”
My mother and grandfather had a few ‘discussions’ over the years about what her children were good for, however, my grampa was finally convinced to also pay me. So began my career.
I was to iron their shirts and darn their socks. I was paid 5¢ for work shirts, 10¢ for dress shirts, and 5¢ per sock.
The darning was easy. It just had to be very smooth on the edges so it blended in with the original part of the sock, however, the ironing was a bit more of a challenge.
It involved flat irons heated on the cook stove and carried with a detachable handle to an ironing board that rested across the backs of two kitchen chairs.
The irons had to be hot enough to remove the wrinkles from starched 100% cotton shirts, but not hot enough to scorch them.
You checked by spitting on your finger and quickly touching it to the iron to see how it sizzled. Imagine letting a child handle an iron like that now!
I had never had a way to earn money before so I was thrilled and felt very rich. I’d rush in from school on Mondays to find out how many shirts my ‘clients’ had worn for the week.
I rushed through my other chores so I could iron. I may even have bribed my little sister to do more than her share of the chores.
The homework had to wait so I could add to my newfound wealth.
I always hoped there had been several dances through the week because Uncle George attended most of them so that meant more shirts to iron.
I have no recollection of what I spent my money on but can still remember how good I felt when my work passed inspection by my mother.
I don’t recall ever darning another sock after I left home but to this day, ironing is one of my favourite household chores.
Thanks to my mom, Uncle George, and grampa for helping me learn the value of a job well done. I believe that mundane job may have helped teach me a work ethic which has served me well all my life.