The episode opens with the family at breakfast. Donna announces that Kathleen, their cleaning lady, is coming today. They run out of milk and Mary goes out to see if the milkman dropped it off yet. Mary shouts for Donna to come outside. Donna does and sitting on the back stoop is a basket with a baby boy in it. He appears to be 10-11 months old. Donna, Mary, and Kathleen, the feisty Irish maid, fawn over the baby. They find a note on the baby that is addressed to Donna. It says that the child is named Willy and requests that she care for the baby. Alex comes out, sees the baby, and hears the story. He tells Donna she must call the police. After much back and forth she relents. Donna calls the police but tells them she will continue to care for the baby while they look for the mother.
The milkman, Tony, arrives and is enthusiastic about the baby. The police come to take the child. Donna, Tony, and Kathleen argue against Alex and the policeman. Donna resorts to tears and is triumphant. Alex and the policeman agree that the child may stay in Donna’s custody until the mother is found. Donna, Mary, and Kathleen continue to ooh-and-ah over Willy.
Jeff comes home and is loud and boisterous. Donna keeps shushing him. Mary comes down and yells at him to be quiet or he’ll wake the baby. Jeff expresses his displeasure at the existence of Willy. Donna has to take Mary to ballet and leaves Willy in Jeff’s care. Jeff quickly succumbs to Will’s charms and Alex is dismayed to find that another member of his household has fallen under the baby’s spell.
Donna goes to the town office to look up birth records for the window of time in which Willy was born. She finds several but one strikes a chord. She goes to the address and lets herself in. She comes to a room with a crib. The owner enters, it is Tony the milkman. Donna begins to lecture him for abandoning his son and asks where his wife is. He explains that his wife died five months ago and he has been struggling to care for the boy. He left Willy with Donna because her home is the happiest home he could think of.
Donna tells him she will care for Willy until other arrangements can be made. She invites him to come over for bath time. She goes home and breaks the news to Alex.
Tony comes over and he starts flirtatiously squabbling with Kathleen on how best to hold Willy. It is clear a romantic spark exists and the family leaves to two of them alone. It is implied that Kathleen and Tony end up together and will raise Willy as a couple.
The prescribed path is not always the right path.
Finding the lesson in this episode required sifting through lots of stinky cheese. Like trying to the find prize in a Cracker Jack box filled with Stilton. This episode gave us the usual gender stereotypes, but it added in a generous portion of cultural stereotypes for good measure. There was also a whole lot of cooing and oohing.
Once I was able to clear the curds and really examine the episode I see that it was really an ode to Thoreau, a lesson on civil disobedience. I suspect the insidious producers camouflaged it with a baby and an unlikely romance because they were afraid of unleashing the raw power that would come from watching Donna Reed openly defying the Man. Of course, Donna’s is a subtle power. She not one to shout, she uses gentle manipulations. So gentle, that her victims often do not realize she is bending them to her will. It is artistry and, as long as her powers are used for good, it is awe inspiring. Next time I find myself in one of those, “What superpower would you like to have?” conversations I will answer Donna-Power and the world will fall at my feet.
Here Donna would not let the police take little Willy into custody. She knew he would be better off in her care than taken to some orphanage. She stands up to Alex and the policeman and she is triumphant. I have worked with child welfare system, it is a system full of good intentions and without the means to turn those intentions into a reality; it is a broken system. Donna was right to do all she could to keep the child out of it.
We are a society that has established no end of procedures. If X happens we are told we must do Y. We are trained to follow these procedures and, for the most part, they serve their function of providing order and preventing chaos. Except when they don’t. There are often situations that don’t exactly fit into one of societies prescribed formulas. This is when we have to become fully human and think through the situation, we cannot rely on some robotic response. I do worry that we, as a society, have become almost fully reliant on the automatic response. I know that the formulas are the majority of what is taught in schools. Teaching the formula is safe and it doesn’t ruffle any feathers. Schools are very afraid of feather ruffling.
When we start to teach about being human, pesky things like personal ideals, spiritual influences, and political tendencies rear their ugly little heads. This annoys people to whom being exposed to an outside idea is perceived as a threat. In my teaching career, I have often heard the argument that teachers need to just teach and leave any sort of moral or religious discussion to the parents. Then I am told that in social studies this year I am covering from the fall of the Roman Empire to European expansion into the new world. How am I supposed to do this without any mention of religion? During this period Christianity and Islam come into being. How can you give a picture of history without mentioning these two highly influential forces? In English class, how can I teach any book without talking about the choices a character makes? I have never wanted to be responsible for the spiritual or moral development of my students, but I am a realist. I know that it is impossible to work with students for 180 days without them learning something about who you are and what you believe.
Whenever I am asked a question by a student that I know is sensitive I have always given the standard, “That’s something you should ask at home.” response. I know many of my students have taken the issues raised in class and brought them home. This is as it should be. The idea that intellectual and spiritual development are two distinctly separate areas is just wrong. They go hand-in-hand. I have often felt that if parents don’t want the schools being the only influence on their child, they shouldn’t allow the school to be the only voice, or even the loudest voice. A truly well educated person is educated through many sources, both formal and informal. It is only when we are strong of mind and character that we can truly make wise choices.
Clearly, Donna’s taffeta swathed radicalism had gotten under my skin this morning, though my rant is lacking her gentile refinement. I need to wrap this up and put a pretty little bow on it. This may seems a bit political for a site about domesticity, but we make political and social decisions every time we shop at a grocery store or choose to recycle a bottle.
Plan of Action
When I am making a decision I will take time to ponder if the decision I am making is both “right” and humane. If the humane choice choice conflicts with the “right” choice. I will try and find the strength to stand up for what is truly best.