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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Biggest Mistake
I Ever Made In Mexico

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
You might think the biggest mistake I ever made in Mexico was packing up and driving north to Taos to escape the cinder-bearing, stinging hot winds from Chiapas. But you'd be wrong.

Or you might think the biggest mistake I ever made in Mexico was buying a beautiful Spanish style home in Ajijic and hardly living in it. But you'd be wrong.

You might even think the biggest mistake I ever made in Mexico has something to do with a man. But again, you'd be wrong.

The biggest mistake I ever made was to contribute to the modernization of Mexico. That can happen when you fail to think ahead.

It all started one December when I was in Los Angeles seeing my kids and doing a little Christmas shopping. I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice for (housekeeper) Josefina to have a nice, new iron? She could then finish her laundry chores earlier and have some time to herself."

But I was wrong.

The moment she unwrapped her gift, a lightweight, shiny chrome and plastic steam iron, I realized I had made a terrible mistake. What had I been thinking? I liked things as they were and always had been. Why would I have moved to Mexico where the pace is slow only to try to hurry it up? Obviously, I am no rocket scientist.

Josefina was elated to receive it, and "oooh'd" and "aaahhhhhh'd" over the teflon bottom even more than she had when her pet Chihuahua gave birth to itty bitty puppies. (The iron had a teflon bottom, not the pups.)

Josefina's friend, Linda, took one look at the glossy new Sunbeam and wanted one just like it. That was the beginning of the end. Soon all Josefina's friends wanted steam irons. The ironing boards of Ajijic resounded with plaintiff cries of "Queremos planchas de vapor! Queremos planchas de vapor!"

I had unwittingly become a murderer by participating in the killing of yet another beautiful Mexican tradition.

Gone would be the slam-slam of the flat iron as it was raised off the fabric, then vigorously pounded down again, its handle too hot to touch without the protection of a cloth folded over many times. No cloth is necessary to pick up a steam iron; the handle never gets hot.

Gone would be the hissy "ssssssssssss" sound as Josefina applied just the right amount of spit to her practiced finger, which then touched the flat bottom of the three-pound iron, assuring her that it was just hot enough. That's not necessary with a steam iron. It tells you when it's ready. Efficient, not interesting.

Gone would be the sight of Josefina's set of "Mrs. Potts Irons" (which once sold at about 28 cents for a set of three with one detachable handle). Two would be heating on the stove while the third was in use. When that iron got cool, it would be replaced with one that was hot. No more would a series of historic irons be lined up by size, the smallest for under collars and around buttons and seams, to the largest, for flat surfaces like pillow cases, sheets and aprons. You only need one steam iron. Practical, but dull.

Never again would I know the smell of a starched white shirt being scorched as Josefina's youngest tried to help his busy mother by pressing his own school clothes. New steam irons cannot singe; they turn off automatically before that can happen. Effective, but boring.

Live and learn, they say. Next time I get the urge to fool with a Mexican tradition, I'll lie down till it passes.


Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand

"A Balloon In Cactus"

Published June 9, 2004
 
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