“When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing but refused to allow my feelings to sway me. That resilience came from my family. It flowed through our bloodline.” ~ Coretta Scott King.
I have been blessed to have had many strong women in my life who showed me a template of how to live. Recently we lost one such role model. If you will forgive my indulgence, I would like to share the tribute that I sent for the Thanksgiving Service of one such exemplar, who died suddenly after a long and impactful life. There may be those who have heard it already, but I feel Mama deserves as large an audience as I can obtain for her. If you don’t know me, picture a white English girl transplanted at the age of almost eight to the Jamaican countryside.
“When I heard that Mrs. Munroe had died, my mind traveled back to my first years in Chapelton. As the youngest child of Rev. and Mrs. Jones, I found a welcome in the Munroe household. In fact, I soon started to call Mrs. Munroe ‘Mama’, and was just one of the kids running around. Since I was the youngest in my own family, I had the pleasure of a friend my own age (Hi Marcia!) along with numerous younger siblings that my own parents would not provide! Best of all, there was a young baby for me to play with (sorry Ken!). I had always loved babies, and here Mama was willing to let me learn to burp, change, carry a living dolly baby! (Again, sorry Ken, and then Philip, and finally, Marilyn!).
“I learned so much Jamaican culture at Mama’s feet. I learned to plait hair (sorry, Hopey!), the results were not pretty – upside down plaits heading in all directions; parts that were as straight as a Jamaican country road. I learned that in the evening you had to go and ‘tidy’ – a word that in my English mind meant to straighten up the house, not bathe and put on clean clothes! Most of all I learned that a mother could be quite at ease with her family. Her first three kids would not be disturbed when they were sitting somewhere with their nose tucked inside a book. Reading was part of broadening the mind, you learned language, vocabulary, grammar. And Mama was first and foremost an educator. But she allowed her kids the freedom to play. I well remember the imaginary worlds we created in the bedroom, especially when rain prevented us from going outside.
“Mama was a role model for me. She was a wife and mother but she was also a professional, moving up in her chosen career. She came from humble beginnings, her own mother was a country midwife and seamstress. She had received a solid education and went to Training College to become a teacher. She was able to balance the demands of a growing family with the rigor of a teacher’s life. And she did it all with a calm, placid exterior. The names she gave two of her daughters were words she epitomized: Grace, and Hope. Even though she faced many challenges in her life, she faced them with grace, with positivity, with hope, and with faith.
“When Grace didn’t fully recover from the dengue fever that was going around, it turned out that her symptoms were due to a brain tumor, and at the age of ten Grace had to undergo brain surgery in Kingston. Travel from Chapelton to Kingston to visit her daughter was not easy, but she was kind enough to invite me to travel with her one Sunday to visit Gracey, and we exchanged stories on our long mini-bus drive into town. ‘It’s all a part of life’ I can hear her say. You face your challenges, and you keep on going. Later she would have to show the same strength and courage as Marcia experienced her own brain event. And then later in life she would see Gracey struggle through the recurrence of the brain tumor. ‘What are you going to do?’ she would say, you accept it, and keep moving forward.
“The last big event of her life was the one that forced her to move from her beloved home, to give up her independence, to leave her beloved Salem family and Chapelton community. Although the house fire was tragic, it was probably the only thing that would have made her agree to move to Kingston, so it probably saved the family that fight.
“I would be remiss if I did not include my parents in my tribute to Mama. She was not only their co-worker at Clarendon College, she was a faithful church member and Deacon of Salem Church, and most importantly, she was their friend with whom they exchanged many relaxed conversations on wide-ranging topics, as well as letters, once my parents moved back to Wales. My siblings also remember her for her generosity and kindness, especially in our early years in Chapelton.
“On behalf of all of the other ‘outside children’ who were made to feel a part of the Munroe family, I send grateful love to Mama, and to the siblings who shared her with us. I am sure you will hear her voice in your head for years to come, you will see that broad smile of pleasure when something ‘sweet me, you see!’; you will remember how she could give a little jump of joy when things came together; you will remember how difficult it was to ruffle that calm acceptance of whatever life gave her, as she was firm in the knowledge that her God would not give her more than she could handle. May the family be blessed, and may perpetual light shine on her.”
I must also give thanks to her daughter Hope who channeled me as she read the tribute, and the videographer who streamed the service in a way that allowed me and my siblings to feel as if we were back in time, in our childhood church home.
May those who have touched your lives inspire you to live a little stronger, a little firmer, and a little more generously, like our foremothers before us.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!