Thursday, August 26, 2010

Me and Mrs. Jones

"She bore her burden because she did not wish to be a burden." I'm paraphrasing from an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story, "The Washerwoman." It's one of those anthology selections for ninth graders that kids never take to, a story that eventually resounds for those who live long enough to have the stuffing kicked out of us a few times. The titular washwoman is a birdlike Gentile who launders for wealthier Jews in an early 20th century Polish shtetl. Her frail build belies tenacity and pride in her lowly occupation--an occupation both arduous and invisible. I guess I'd call it a story where stature trumps status.
Often I've thought of that very story over the the past ten years since I've known Mrs. Jones. She is a longtime Pasadenan, living in her home since 1951. She's raised a family and worked at the legendary FEDCO on Colorado Blvd. until she retired at about 70. That must be when Mrs. Jones started fueling her next career.
Mrs. Jones takes in ironing. I can say it no other way. She is a word-of-mouth phenomenon who can starch a flaccid shirt into respectability. She transforms a jumbled basket of laundry into prete-a-porter. For as long as I have patronized Mrs. Jones, by gum, my creases have been straight and my cuffs crisp. Mrs. Jones is all business and no play at her ironing board.
Just last week we were chatting about my house hunting trials. Mrs. Jones handed me a xeroxed policy statement written in her elegant hand:

Dear Jean-
I'm going to give myself a 90th birthday present and raise the price of ironing
to $8.00 per hour starting Sept. 1, 2010. I hope you will still let me do your
ironing because I love doing it.
Mrs. Jones

All I could say was, "90? Mrs. Jones, you don't look a day over 82!" I get such a kick out of her professionalism and her product too. Ninety years old and still keeping Pasadena/Altadena unwrinkled? That to me is stature.