Papa always ironed our school uniforms. Only he knew how to straighten tough pleats that made our tiny bodies seem larger than they really were. He had a special technique for it.
The trick was to take them straight from the washing machine while they were still wet enough to make your hands cold.
A novice would think that the shirts were the easiest part to iron in a school uniform, since they were such thin material often hidden under weighty pinafores or skirts. They would conclude that it didn’t matter if it was ironed well or not. But Papa knew better than that. Which is why he always ironed the shirts first.
He would begin- focusing all his energy- on the collar.
“The collar must be straight, then only people will take you seriously.”
He would adjust his own imaginary collar as he looked at me. Pulling both sides together, a special proud arrogance would flash across his face, the type you would find only in the eyes of independent men who had started long ago from scratch, and have had to make their way up alone, “We must show them who we are.”
To papa, a well-ironed shirt collar meant many important things. That you were professional, you were organized, and most importantly, that you were proud to be his daughter.
I never knew how important this reassurance was until I realized I will never see the light dancing above his beautifully smooth bald head as he straightened up his imaginary collar ever again.
He was gone, leaving me to straighten my own collar.
I never knew collars were so hard to straighten. But truly they are. They take all your energy, leaving you too exhausted to straighten out the other parts well. These were the parts that papa’s trained eyes could catch at a glance.
Looking up from the newspaper, his face would shrivel as he’d observe the awkward blue shirt that seemed to have crinkled itself further on my body. He would scoff, and then lament that it hadn’t been ironed well enough. By the next weekend, stiff, straight ironed clothes would mock me from the cupboard. I knew I had been terminated from my ironing position.
Perhaps, if I had practiced my ironing better, my frail little Vitamin D deficient hands would have had more strength to massage his dying legs. Perhaps, they would have been stronger to help ease him of the gripping pain that made him scream out in pain during odd hours of the night.
I could have straightened out those terrifying crinkles of pain that forced a mighty independent man to depend on others so much towards the end.
I could have helped straighten my Papa’s collar.
In loving memory of beloved Papa, who will miss his birthday on 14th January, but will now be fondly remembered on all days instead of just that one day.