Iron & Ironing

March on Washington 1963

Born in 1945, organizing  the past into 5-year increments,

Numerical symmetry and symbolism providing comfort and structure.

Each decade adding additional meaning.

Years blurring together into eras punctuated by events:

Viet Nam, Watergate, Women’s Movement, Iraq War, 2000 election and 9/11.

Raised with a model of right and wrong and striving.

Mom’s words: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

“Good, better best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best.”

Dad teaching us about his work, in unions, progressive politics and civil rights.

Politics being the family religion.

Iron, the most common element on Earth.

Used by my great-grandfather Horace Peet, a blacksmith.

My grandfather, Arthur Peet and my dad, both welders.

Having lived through the Depression, grandpa’s advice,

“Join the union, if you can, always join the union.”

Grandpa Levi, blackballed from factories in New England because of union activities.

My dad a welder in the Kearny Shipyard with his father-in-law,

Becoming a shop steward and then a union organizer.

Mom, working on the assembly line at factories before and after the war.

At home, wielding the hot iron to smooth out the wrinkles in our clothes.

Women ironed and passed the skill to daughters.

Even today, ironing when the “permanent press” wears out.  

Which isn’t very often, but is annoying.

Finding myself ironing a basket of shirts on a weekday afternoon,

Watching MSNBC’s coverage of John Lewis’  funeral.

A montage of black and white newsreel from the 1963 March on Washington

Featuring MLK’s “I have a dream” speech,  bringing back memories of

Watching the event while ironing in our living room on a hot and muggy day.

Realizing that Dad was taking a chartered bus to Washington DC today.

Trying to find him in the sea of faces.

Lewis’ funeral held in the new Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta,

The original was King’s home church and the site of his funeral in 1968.

Memories of the attendees of that funeral led me to google and confirm that, yes,

Sen. Bobby Kennedy and his wife Ethel were seated near the family and more importantly,

That he would be assassinated a short time later, a matter of months.

Drifting back to memories of the mid-1950s and the Civil Rights Movement:

Voter registration, lunch counter and transportation efforts.

Remembering dad’s chilling story of a friend trying to register voters in Bessemer Alabama.

Another google search confirmed that, yes,  Asbury Howard was arrested for his efforts,

Taken into police custody, beaten and pushed down a flight of stairs.

Ironing again when the world witnessed the killing of John F. Kennedy

Followed by the shocking killing of Lee Harvey Oswald

In the middle of the Dallas Police Station.

A grief-stricken and traumatized nation.

Unthinkable and painful.

News of Robert Kennedy’s assassination reported on the morning radio news.

Later, film playing on an endless in my head.

Definitely ironed through his funeral mass,

Slow journey of the funeral cortege with ordinary people,

Crowding on the tracks to honor the man, the hope of our future.

Spontaneous  singing of The  Battle Hymn of the Republic

Honoring the man as the train crept through Baltimore.

Setting of the sun before Bobby’s casket arrived at Arlington

To be placed alongside his brother and

Protected by the Eternal Light.

Those times seem so distant, so far away,

So over, but they’re not.

The threads of injustice continue.

History repeats itself in ever more frightening ways.

But this time, 2020, is unlike any time I remember.

Threats to our democracy are real

And too numerous to recall,

Being whiplashed as we lurch from one crisis to another

The nation being tested as never before.

Will our Constitution hold? 

Seeing hope with the prominence of more women’s voices,

Women speaking truth to power, finding common ground,

Trying to do the right thing,

To iron out the wrinkles in our nation.

Ironing, always ironing, smoothing out those wrinkles.

I’ll have my iron ready for Election Day.

And the days to follow as the votes are counted and disputed.

Hoping to avoid chaos.

Being hopeful for the future.           

I’ll press on!

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