“I Stand Here Ironing”: A woman is ironing her laundry, but the real action occurs in her mind, in which she is speaking about a phone call from her daughter Emily’s school. Mother recalls Emily’s infancy, when she was abandoned by her father during the Great Depression, and her own regret that she has to leave the child with a neighbor while she works. Even after she finds a night job so that she can be with Emily during the day, she soon has to leave the child with her husband’s relatives to work full-time.
At the age of two, Emily returns to her mother, only to be placed in a day nursery until social workers can send her to an institution, where she grows even more isolated and uncertain. Home again, she remains quiet and distant. Mother feels terrible guilt for these events beyond her control and their effect on her daughter.
Emily, now a teenager, has developed a surprising gift for acting, and audiences love her. Still, mother worries that nothing can come of it because of her difficult early years. Mother hopes that the school official will understand and help her daughter learn “that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.”
“Hey Sailor, What Ship?”: Whitey, a sailor ashore in San Francisco, visits his good friends Lennie and Helen, the only family he has had since he saved Lennie’s life during the bitter longshoremen’s strike of 1934. In an alcoholic daze, Whitey is taken home by Lennie and put to bed on the couch. Helen and their younger daughters are fond of Whitey, but Jeannie, the eldest, is ashamed of him.
Whitey awakes to tremors and food and a note left by Helen. The note says that the children will be home soon after school to stay with him, but he flees in confusion. Five days later, he returns with gifts and food. All quickly realize that he is more than drunk—he is very ill—and call a doctor friend to examine him.
Little Allie loves Whitey, proudly showing him his photograph as a handsome young man. For her, he recites a patriotic Filipino poem, “El Ultimo Adiós” (“the last farewell”). His body is failing, he is dying, but he cannot stay—the urge to drink is too powerful.
“O Yes”: In the troubled 1950’s, at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, Helen and her middle daughter, Carol, who are white, are invited to the Baptist church of Carol’s African American friend, Parialee (Parry) Phillips, who is to be...
(The entire section is 1016 words.)