jenny munro

where were they?

They’re there – in black and white.

Where?

I found my parents on the 1940 Census. Somehow that makes them a part of history in a way I seldom see them.

My mother was right there with her parents and her younger siblings in Marlboro County, South Carolina.

The Census was taken in April of that year. Grace Jackson, my mother, graduated from Winthrop College in about June of that same year. So she probably was concerned about final exams and where she would work after she graduated.

“Being able to go to college was the fulfillment of a dream,” Grace said. “Not only was I able to go to college, but I was accepted and given a full scholarship to Winthrop College, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“I have no idea when I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, nor do I know how I thought Papa could afford to send me to college,” she said. “I never thought about the money; I just knew I was going.”

The year Grace graduated, her yearbook summed her up: “Chronic worrier … infectious laugh … proud of being a good cook … musical snore … conscientious.”

Then came the next step.

“Graduation from Winthrop was a big day for me. It would have been better if all of my family could have been there. Only Papa and Leola were in attendance. Mama, as usual, was at home ‘keeping the home fires burning,’ and the boys, Dubert, Larue, and Carroll, were with her.

I also discovered my mother in the 1930 Census and the 1920 Census, when she was a mere four years old.

However, when I looked for my father in the 1940 Census, he was not where I expected him to be. He wasn’t listed with his parents  in Columbus, Georgia. He wasn’t at college in Brevard, North Carolina. I didn’t know how to find him if he were already in the military.

So I took a chance. There he was – in Statesboro, Georgia, listed right along with his brother and sister-in-law, John and Doris Munro, and his sister, Carolyn Munro.

What were four young people doing there?

John and Doris opened a photographic studio and were first joined by Carolyn and them my father, who had left Brevard College.

“Tom and John did the pictures,” Doris said.

Carolyn, also a photographer, helped with those and probably was a better-trained photographer at the time than Tommy was, Doris said. In fact, Carolyn and John had worked together although not professionally.

“I sat in the front at the desk and pretended like I was a businesswoman,” Doris said.

“We lived in the back of the studio. John and I slept in the posing room (moving the bed in and out}. Carolyn slept in the entry to the darkroom. Tom slept upstairs over the dark room between the roof and the ceiling. He didn’t have to move his bed every day. Tom had to climb a ladder to where he  slept.

“On Fridays we all went to the picture show. You could get in for 15 cents. They were mostly Westerns, and that was OK with me,” Doris said.

Remembering those days, she said, “The stove was in the bathroom. I scrubbed the commode every day. One day we were having spaghetti. There wasn’t any place to drain it, so I set it on the commode to drain.

“John came in and said, ‘Sweetheart, I didn’t know that you’d do that.’

“I said, ‘Well, it’s clean.”

What can you do when you have no kitchen?

I also found Daddy in the 1930 Census, but he was not counted in 1920 although he was born in February of that year.

Sometimes it’s hard to realize that family members are a part of history just as we are. History is not just the wars and generals, the politics and presidents. It also includes the farm wives fixing meals, the young people starting out, the families being created.

History, when all is said and done, is the story of people.

the first mother

Eve huddled in the scrawny shade of an olive tree.

She knew she shouldn’t be there. She had plenty of work to do, a meal to prepare and a house to clean.

 But there she sat.

 “What can I do?” she thought. “I can’t mourn Able because I’m scared of what will happen to Cain. I can’t help Cain because I’m too busy missing Able.”

 With tears trickling down her cheeks, she thought – just as the mothers who came after her would think.

 “I know this is my fault. What did I do wrong? How could I have failed Cain so much?”

 Looking up at the searing sun, she thought back over the short lives of her two sons.

 Cain, the eldest, was just 19 and a shepherd. She would have characterized him as a gentle man who could sooth the most frightened lamb. And now he was lost and frightened.

 Able. Her younger son has been a brawny youngster of 16, one who spent long hours tending the fields and nurturing his plants. When harvest was ready, he brought the first and the best of all his crops to her. Now she would never see him again except in her dreams.

 “His blood calls out to me!” she thought. “But I can’t forget Cain, who also needs redemption and help.”

 Thinking back to the Garden before she and Adam sinned and were forced out into the world full of work, pain and sorrow, she knew things could have been different. But who made it different?

 “The serpent tempted me with the fruit of the one tree God told us not to eat. But it was just one little fruit. Who knew that the knowledge of good and evil could be so devastating? So maybe it’s the serpent’s fault,” she thought.

 After mediating a bit, she shook her head slowly.

 “No, I was the one who decided to eat. Yes, the serpent enticed me. But I had a choice and I chose. As soon as I realized the sin – and how great it was – I sought cover. I found Adam and invited him to share the fruit of the tree. I thought if he refused, maybe God would forgive me because my husband was such a good man. And if he ate, at least I wouldn’t be alone in my sin.”

 “No, I can’t do that to Adam. Yes, he had the same choice that I did. But his wrong choice didn’t make my wrong choice any better,” Eve thought.

 Eve looked up again. She’d been here a long time and the sun was now low in the sky.

 “Maybe, just maybe,” she thought, “it’s God’s fault. After all, he was the one who gave us the choice. He knew what I was going to do before I did it. How is that real choice?”

 Pondering ever more deeply, the woman realized she couldn’t blame God. She would not be human if she didn’t have that choice. God may have had foreknowledge, but he didn’t force the choice.”

 There it was – all her fault. She sat with the tears trickling through the fingers.

 “Mama,” she heard. “Mama, where are you?”

 She looked up. Flying down the path was Tamara, her youngest child. The beautiful 5-year-old sang as she ran.

 “Mama, I couldn’t find you. Where did you go? It’s scary when you’re not around,” Tamara said as she sank down in the hard dirt beside her mother.

 Eve knew then that God had given her an answer for her pain.

 Yes, she had sinned. Yes, both her sons had paid for that sin.

 But she had another chance. She had Tamara, who she could teach to be thoughtful of others and God, to thank God for all her blessings and to think before she acted.

 Eve jumped up and pulled Tamara up by the hand.

 “Come along, child. We have much to do,” she said. “We have to prepare flowers for your brother Able’s grave so he’ll know we are remembering him. We must fix a lunch for your brother Cain so he can leave and find shelter elsewhere. But he’ll know we are remembering him.

 “And even more, we must laugh and sing and find your father. He is sad and we must cheer him up,” Eve said. “You are my sunshine. You must help me make the desert a home again.

 And they did.

my mother’s hands

My mother’s hands show love. I see her hands and know who it is – even without looking up at her face.

Those hands are worn. They are lined with large blue veins. They’re wrinkled with the passage of time.

Her nails are short and ridged. A few brown age spots have shown up. (I consider them decoration that doesn’t have to be added.)

Her hands have soothed children. They picked my brother Chip up when he held his arms up to be carried. They held my hand as we walked down the street, me skipping to keep up. They’ve also spanked children.

They’ve stirred food and washed dishes. They may hold dishes more gingerly now, but they still hold them. They’ve washed and iron clothes. They’ve probably been wrung together as she worried about her children or others in the family.

They’ve done more. They’ve typed letters and term papers and research papers. Those hands have learned to use a computer. They’ve graded students’ papers.

And they’ve trembled as my mother sat by a casket or a hospital bed. They’ve also been active in prayers – either the gentle kind of folded-hands prayer or the active kind of taking food to a friend.

Now they are less busy. She worries that they are too idle. But she still uses her hands for others. The methods have changed; the love has not.

My mother’s hands are lived-in hands.

– Jenny Munro

my place

I sit in a glen, surrounded and enfolded by my mountains.

The peaks, wreathed in clouds, support me with their bulk and strength.

Their green forested shoulders remind me of the peace and tranquility

Of the mountains where I grew up.

The mysterious blue haze that covers them brings dreams to my heart.//

The massive mountain ranges – and the smaller, gentler foothills – of the world

Seem as if they will endure forever.

But they erode into a valley.

Their strength and bulk can not resist the ravages of wind and rain,

Rivers and ice, fire and man.//

Still, other mountains will rise in their place,

sheltering travelers and inhabitants from the fierce wind and sun.

Therefore, I will always be secure in the embrace of my mountains.

— Jenny Munro

building memories

We’re building memories as we go –

My mother and I.

We drive together. We talk a little

And laugh a little.

We remember days past

When I was a child and

She was young

We look forward to future trips –

Short ones and longer ones.

She’s proud that at 96 she can survive 1,500 miles in a car

A little thing like a short hospital stay

Doesn’t knock her out.

It can’t. You see –

We’re building memories.

— Jenny Munro

objects as memories

They’re no longer part of my mother’s house – the swans, the glass grapes, the Venetian vase.

These objects, nothing really special but always there, now live in my house along with Grace Munro Roy’s special china, a set of bamboo-design plates that came from Japan in 1952.

The swans, I think, are the oldest. I remember floating candles – home-made candles – in those swans, usually for Christmas decorations. They also housed floating blossoms, azaleas, rhododendron, a rosebud.

The red glass grapes and the red Venetian vase, once a set of two, came from Ed. I think the grapes are from Greece and the vase, of course, is from Italy. Its counterpart is with Linda, Chip’s wife, who saw it in a photo and loved it.  I also have a small bedside table that came from Ed. My mother used it in her office to store cards, but I set it beside my bed to hold my cypress knee lamp from Mr. Lake.

I haven’t used the bamboo dishes yet. I imagine their first use will come when my mother visits me.

But when I see those objects, I immediately think of her. She’s part of my home.

Of course, her presence is not new. I’ve always had part of her home in mine – the recliner, the overstuffed chair, the Richards Topical encyclopedias, the wooden lamp Daddy made and her desk, one given to her by Daddy.  I have the piano she and Daddy bought me and kept in my bedroom on Probart Street. I have the washstand from Brevard College, which looks just like the ones in Mother’s house. Over my mantle is a silk painting from Japan, one that hung over the couch in our living room.

And it’s not just my mother whose presence inhabits my home.

I have a camel teapot from Sister, my great-aunt, and a hair holder from my grandmother, Polly Munro. I have a copy of Little Gracie, Daddy’s fighter that he flew in World War II. I have the silk flowers my mother gave me for my 40th birthday and small dishes from Mary Stevenson (given by my mother) and my grandmother Munro. I have a cut-glass cookie jar that my grandmother, Maxie Jackson, gave me for my 16th birthday as well as a well-worn apron of hers.

A stuffed Tiger from my father’s ESSO station sits in my study. Daddy’s U.S. Air Force cap also rests in my study. I have a wooden vase he made in a window. A teapot from Chip and Linda graces in my kitchen window. The bellows Daddy made for our fireplace are now at mine as is the fireplace set he made as a teenager. A delicate tea cup from my great-grandmother, Belle Munro, sits on my piano. A wooden candy dish, crafted by father, sits near the television, and an ancient clay lamp from Israel came from Ed.

I’m never alone. I’m surrounded by my family and memories of them everywhere in my house.

– Jenny Munro

are you ready?

If you’ve been told you have two to four weeks to live, what would do you do?

My cousin told her daughter she wanted a lemon pie

so her whole family could eat together one more time.

What would you do?

I’d write all those letters I’ve put off.

I’d call my family and tell them I love them.

I’d sit outside, or watch the glories of spring through a window.

I’d listen to the birds chirp and the leaves rustle.

I’d bring back all the good memories and hold them close.

I’d banish every bad memory I have.

And I hope I’d think of the adventure I am heading toward.

No one knows what death is like. Soon I’d know.

– Jenny Munro

(Written shortly after my cousin was given a time limit for her life)

my childhood as i remember it

I remember …

Those words are a gate to my past and even swing open slightly to allow me to creep into the past of my mother and grandmother.  They don’t, however, open the doors to the past of my male relatives. I can’t move into a male memory, not even in my imagination.

My brother Chip and I spent three summers with my grandparents in the country outside Clio, S.C.  (half of those summers we also spent with my father’s family in Columbus, Ga.) Those years my father was stationed overseas or out west with the U.S. Air Force and my mother was earning her master’s degree at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. I was 10 and Chip was 8 that first summer.

My grandparents’ yard was sandy, and my grandmother swept it with a straw broom. I never understood why she would sweep dirt (now I realize she was clearing away chicken droppings as the hens and roosters roamed the yard). An old well was located near the house. It seemed to me the dark, still water in it might reach halfway to the center of the earth. I avoided that well because I feared it would cave in and take me with it.

The air was heavy with heat and sometimes seemed sullen. But the house wasn’t too hot (except for the kitchen) even though my grandparents had no air conditioning and I don’t remember any electric fans.

Since no kids lived nearby and my cousins lived about five miles away on the other side of Clio, Chip and I entertained ourselves. We played paper dolls with Sears catalog cutouts. Chip spent time with Dubert, our uncle. They often drove to Bennettsville and I occasionally joined them. Mother – the name we called my grandmother – let us help her peel apples when she made jelly. We competed to create the longest peeling; we must have wasted most of the apple in that endeavor, but she never fussed.

Chip and I played in the woods across the dirt road during those sultry, lazy days. We swung on a sinuous vine that crawled up a tree. The creek ran clear and shallow and we could wade in it if we watched for snakes. We also had to be careful and avoid the briars which infested the woods. They hurt.

I read, a pastime I still enjoy.  While my grandparents didn’t have many books, a favorite one was “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” My grandmother also had a travel book I read over and over. But even the dictionary was reading material for me. I remember hearing somebody talk about rape one time. I knew enough to know that I should not ask for a definition. So I made my way to the dictionary to look up rape. There was the definition – the act of being raped. I knew no more when I finished than when I started.

My grandmother also would tell us stories about growing up in Dillon, just down the road in another county, and about some of our relatives. She also told us that the Japanese doll and oiled paper umbrella came from my parents (we lived in Japan for a year).  I wish I remembered her stories more clearly. But it never occurred to me that she would not always be around.

In my mind’s eye, I can see Mother, a sturdy woman with dull gray hair pulled back in a bun and bandages covering both legs at least part of the time. She had serious problems with varicose veins that ulcerated. But she wound those elastic bandages around her leg more neatly and smoothly than anything I have ever seen. She always seemed to be wearing an apron (I have one of them hanging on my pantry door).

Mother spent most of her time in the kitchen, puttering around. I loved her cooking except for her gravy – you had to skim the grease off but then it was delicious – and her unsalted hoe cakes (which I thought tasted like raw cornmeal). I also felt guilty for liking store-bought apple jelly better than the jelly she made, which was too sweet for my taste. But her grape preserves were to die for.

My grandfather, a farmer, was a tall, slender man with a head full of beautiful silver hair. As he aged, it gradually got whiter and thinner.  Papa would go to the gristmill and take us. He’d go to the country store and talk with the old men there. But he had to go when someone else could drive him there since he didn’t have a car. He’d also sit on the front porch with us watching the dusty road which may have seen one car an hour – if that many.

As much as I loved the old farm house, there were things I was afraid of. The outhouse was in the corn field. When the stalks were over my head, I thought I’d get lost on the way there or back. I never did.  And I always “knew” a black widow spider would bite me on the butt. I didn’t want to die in an outhouse. Besides that, I hated using newspaper or catalog pages for toilet paper.  Just as bad, however, was using a chamber pot in the house and hearing the noise it made. That was embarrassing.

I was scared of the rats in the house as well as the rat traps. I never figured out which would be worse – a rat getting on the bed with me or getting my toe caught like a mouse. After we went to bed in the middle room, Dubert would sneak around outside and scratch on the window. We knew it was him and still scared ourselves silly about someone getting in and stealing us.

But the good outweighed the potentially bad.

We had the first watermelon from the field on July 4. That’s when Papa said they were ready. I still don’t buy watermelon until then. We had homemade ice cream, made in a freezer that you churned. But even more often, my grandmother would make ice cream in ice trays – just a little for the family. Dubert made buckets of lemonade, which lemon slices and ice cubes floating there. We had home-grown vegetables from the garden. My grandmother cooked full breakfasts and she made salmon rolls, a recipe she created. She also never had a meal without both cornbread and biscuits or flour bread, which was cooked on top of the stove.

– Jenny Munro

i am

I am — a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin.

I am — a woman, a dreamer, an explorer, a writer, a traveler, a doer.

I am … one of a kind, one of many, a bit of star dust, a moment in time, a particle in the universe.

I am … an artist, an excavator, a beam of light, an idea, a committee member.

I am … a student, a walker, a reader, a homeowner, a graduate (of many schools and lessons).

I am …. a worker,  a flower lover,  a photographer, a poet, a reporter, a wordsmith.

I am … a collector of teapots, family letters, books, salt and pepper shakers and carved eggs.

I am … a cleaner, a creator, a decorator, a lover of all, a swimmer in oceans, lakes, rivers and words.

I am … a volunteer, a friend, a caretaker, a gift-giver, a picker up of the pieces.

I am … a mover, a shaker, an experimenter, a collector of frogs, a devotee of many things old and a some things new.

I am … a retiree, a reacher for new experiences, a tea drinker, a dieter, a cook.

I am — a nurturer without children, an animal lover without pets, a guardian without weapons.

I am … one with the world, a seer of visions, a teller of tales, a knitter of memories, a repository of hopes.

I am … ME.

– Jenny Munro

(I was trying to write a personal biography and getting nowhere. So I decided to try this.)

to mark: forever 6

by: Jenny Munro

balloons

Red and yellow, green and blue, pink and white – the balloons float up to Heaven

Through rain and sunshine, clouds and wind.

They begin their journeys in Florida and Rhode Island, South Carolina and Massachusetts, even Washington, D.C. But they all end in Heaven with Mark.

Those bits of rubber, air and color each honor the youngster, showing him he had family he’d never met – sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, even his mother (whom of course he knew) and a stepfather.

A person’s life and worth is not measured in years but in love.

Mark is rich in that.

– Jenny Munro