Ironing and other life lessons learned the hard way


In a pinch, YouTube recently pinch-hit for Lucille Schutte.

Wait. Who?

Mrs. Schutte, as we knew her 30 years ago at Chariton High School, taught home economics. Even then, her classes may have been known as Life Science, proving the “political correctness” everyone grumbles about today — and that many blame on President Obama –has been around for a long time.

But I digress.

One of the reasons I can’t remember what Mrs. Schutte’s classes were called is that she had the good fortune to never teach me. Good for her. Bad for me.

If I had been paying attention and applying myself just a little, basic everyday life skills were being taught every day at home by someone with skills. I was lucky enough to grow up at a time and place in which my parents were both home on the farm all of the time. And my mom was one of the best cooks I knew. We may not have had much, but we definitely ate well. Mom could also sew well enough to make a couple of suits for my dad. She gardened, canned the produce she grew, did all of the laundry, kept the house clean, paid the bills and ran a taxi service until my siblings and I started driving. I don’t know how she did it, but she did and she was good at all of it.

Of course, being a smart-aleck, lazy boy, I was more than willing to let Mom do all of this stuff for me and I made absolutely no effort to learn from her how to do any of it. And being too cool to darken the door of Mrs. Shutte’s classroom helped seal my fate. I didn’t wash a load of laundry until after I left for college and ran out of clean clothes for the first time. I never tried to cook until well after my college graduation and I never ironed a shirt until I recently watched a video on YouTube about how to do it.

I still don’t know how to sew. But at least I can iron, which is a good skill for a business trip on which you pull from your suitcase a shirt that looks as if it had been wadded into a ball before it was packed.

Now I’m kind of a big lug. I shop off the rack at discount Big & Tall men’s stores. My wardrobe is about as far removed from bespoke as clothes can get. And for nearly all of my newspaper career, I justified the rumpled and wrinkled look as part of an image that also included wearing worn shoes, jeans and golf shirts as often as possible and drinking gallons of coffee before and during work. Some of those days ended with too much beer at the Tom-Tom Tap or Peacock Alley or Barry’s or Charlie’s D&D or Jody’s — all fine establishments.

Nowadays, though, I meet for business lunches in the Chicago Loop at places such as The Gage. I can’t really show up rumpled and wrinkled. So the iron and ironing board in my hotel room were lifesavers this morning. I didn’t look as if I had just arrived from Savile row for my meeting today. But at least I also didn’t look as if I rolled out of bed and wore the same suite of clothes in which I slept.

It’s probably the best I can hope for.

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