(Nathaniel Grann)

DeNeen L. Brown
Silver Spring
, Washington Post reporter

‘Get up!” my mother would shout. “Help me iron my shirt. I have 30 minutes to get to work.”

My sisters and I would rise, peeking at the dark outside that little white house on the black side of town.

I would plug in the iron, then press Mom’s jeans and white shirt — the uniform she wore to the aircraft factory. It baffled me why Mom could not prepare her clothes herself.

I grew up, and Mom came to visit: “Where’s your iron?”

Back of the linen closet, I told her. Cold. “I don’t use it at all. I hate ironing. I never understood why you couldn’t iron your own clothes when we were growing up.”

“Neenie,” she said, “you have no idea what we went through in those factories. But I knew I could not quit because I had four girls to take care of.”

She explained she needed our help to arm her with the faith to return for shift work. Tedious labor for a brilliant woman.

“One day my supervisor got mad at me,” she recalled, “and made me go outside and pick up trash.” He lorded over her with absolute power.

Then I understood. It was women like my mother — and many women today — who did the hard jobs, pushing against the burdens of sexism or racism so their children can sit at computers and watch words multiply, never experiencing the same humility and hatred.