Even though my grandfather, whom I called Papaw, was a farmer, my mamaw would iron his work clothes every day. Mamaw mixed up her own starch in a glass Coke bottle topped with a metal cap that had a multitude of holes in it, like a saltshaker. She would sprinkle Papaw’s pants with the starch, hang them over a chair for a few minutes so they could dry a bit, and then apply the heat of the iron to them. (Here’s how to de-wrinkle clothes without an iron, if you don’t have one!)
Because I watched her do this through my childhood, I figured every old woman in the world did it. But as the years passed, I began to question this practice. Why in the world did Papaw need his work clothes ironed? Most days, he never saw anyone but me and maybe a few other crusty farmers.
Mamaw never ironed my clothes, and I sure didn’t see any use in doing it for myself. Heck, my clothes were usually so dirty by 9 a.m. that any sign of ironing would be long gone.
Say what? My papaw had always been an old man as far as I was concerned. Was Mamaw actually wanting me to consider that Papaw used to be young? Ha ha ha, no way!
She continued, “I want him to feel beautiful. I iron his clothes every day because for all these years, he has made me feel beautiful. He is a man worthy of respect. I want him to look the part every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I heard what she said and was kinda grossed out. I decided to forget I had ever asked. How could this old woman think that an old man with false teeth was beautiful? Sheesh, I thought. Old people.
The years went on, and I watched Mamaw and Papaw grow old together. I was probably 30 when it dawned on me what beauty really was—it was Mamaw ironing Papaw’s pants with starch from a Coke bottle.