Occasionally Elder D. Todd Christofferson gets grief for his 2006 Conference talk: “Let Us Be Men.” That’s the one where he told the story of his mother’s cancer surgery, and his father’s purchase of an Ironrite machine that allowed her to continue her housework with less pain.
Elder Christofferson tells it as a story of sacrifice on the part of his father:
On the way home, my mother was upset: “How can we afford it? Where did the money come from? How will we get along now?” Finally Dad told her that he had gone without lunches for nearly a year to save enough money. “Now when you iron,” he said, “you won’t have to stop and go into the bedroom and cry until the pain in your arm stops.” She didn’t know he knew about that. I was not aware of my father’s sacrifice and act of love for my mother at the time, but now that I know, I say to myself, “There is a man.”
The story that some hear, though, is that Elder Christofferson’s father was cruelly expecting his wife to continue to wait on him. “Why didn’t he iron his own shirts?” some ask, sarcastically.
I think young adults of this generation can’t easily imagine mid-20th century culture. For centuries, production and care of linens and clothing was not only a woman’s responsibility, but her wealth and her status. A woman’s bridal trousseau consisted largely of fabric and the household and personal goods made of fabric. A family’s linen press sometimes held their most valuable household goods. There’s a direct line between that, I think, and the pride that women of my mother’s generation took in the care and appearance of the family’s laundry and clothing.
You may scoff, but I’ve heard my mother tell the story more than once of how she hung the whitest laundry in Titusville, Florida – there was real pride in her voice when she’d tell it, and just as real scorn when she’d mention the next door neighbor whose sheets on the line clearly showed the gray shadows where sleeping bodies had lain. You wouldn’t laugh at my mother, now would you?? Keep it out of the comments, if you would — chances are, your mothers or grandmothers were just as concerned with their own family laundry.
So it’s easy for me to understand that Elder Christofferson’s mother was going to go on taking care of the family laundry if there was any way she could do it, no matter how much pain she was in. That was part of her job, and she was responsible for it, and she took pride in it. When Elder Christofferson’s father purchased an Ironrite machine, he was investing in an expensive appliance that enabled her to do her work – work she was going to do anyway – with far less pain. He sacrificed in order to buy it for her.
And all that’s the lead-in to these two advertisements from the Improvement Era of 1950, showing two models of Ironrite machines and the sales copy that pitched them to families like the Christoffersons.
I hope that cultural context makes his talk a little clearer, and exonerates his father from a little misunderstanding on the part of those of us who grew up in a different world.