Interview with Marilyn Lee
On a warm Wednesday morning, I had the pleasure of interviewing my grandmother, Marilyn Lee, whom I call Monna. She is the sole tradition bearer of my mother’s side of the family. Monna is the last living of all of her siblings, and also my mother’s last living parent. I chose to interview her about her life in Winder, GA and Barrow County.
Interview with Marilyn Lee: Transcription
Chason: I’m here today with Marilyn Lee, my grandmother, and I call her “Monna” because by brother couldn’t say “Grandmother.”
Chason: So, Monna, how’s your garden looking?
Monna: Pretty bad!
Monna: It’s late in the summer, way to late. The garden is gone, and I did not plant a fall garden this year.
Chason: Why is that?
Monna: Because I have not found- I have not taken the time. Because I’ve been traveling a little bit. I have not taken the time to do that.
Chason: Okay. Let’s get into your childhood. Do you miss anything from your childhood?
Monna: Yes. Do I miss anything from my childhood? Yes, I do. I miss a lot. I have often wondered what I would have become or what I — what it would have been like for me — all of my siblings and me had we had a warm, loving, normal childhood. I feel I did not have a daddy like other children had. I did not have a warm, loving family as a childhood. Do I need to tell you more?
Chason: No. But I am sorry to hear that.
Chason: Would you mind describing a day of your childhood. Let’s start with maybe a school day in the winter.
Monna: A school day in the winter?
Chason: And if you could speak up just a little bit.
Monna: Oh! Okay, okay. A school day in the winter… I had twin brothers. It was their job to get up in the morning and build fires in the big ole wood heater. It was very, very, very cold at my house as we had quilts over the windows to keep warm. Really. And, um, so anyway, our house was very cold when we woke up, and we jumped into our school clothes as fast as possible. We did have breakfast. We did have a good breakfast. My mom cooked biscuits and eggs every morning for breakfast. I rode the school bus, which I dearly loved. I was an alright student in school. What I liked most of all was riding the bus home.
Chason: Why did you like riding the bus so much?
Monna: Because I was not confronted with anyone, I did not feel intimidated by anyone, and I was happy with my friends. We laughed and laughed — and sang. We — I remember us singing. I felt very safe on the school bus. And very happy!
Monna: That’s why I liked it.
Chason: I remember I did, too. We’d sit in the back — the boys would sit in the back and sing songs.
Monna: Oh really? We did. My — my girlfriends, we were wannabe singers.
Chason: What about in the summer? Did you hang out with your friends?
Monna: I lived out in the country. Way out in the country. I had a friend that lived down the road, at least half a mile, three quarters of a mile… and in the summer time, that was pretty much the only friends we had to play with. And I would climb up in the pecan tree — her name was Sandra — I would climb up in the pecan tree right after lunch time, and call her and tell her that it was time for us to meet at the bottom of the hill. Yeah. And my brother, who was a friend of her brother, who I was madly in love with, and um, so the four of us would meet down at the bridge at the bottom of the hill after they would sneak some cigarettes from their mom from the top of their refrigerator! And we would go down in the woods and smoke cigarettes.
Chason: Sounds like a good time!
Monna: You think?
Chason: How old were y’all?
Monna: Oh, the first time? When we were twelveish? Yeah…
Chason: That’s a good start.
Monna: I am so sorry, I’m not proud of that, trust me. I would only tell you that!
Chason: I think that’s hilarious!
Monna: Well, there were no cigarette ducts at my house, all the people smoked them! But they — her momma bought a carton of cigarettes at a time. I thought they were rich. Sandra and Richard Fricks — Fricks was their last name — Sandra passed away about two years ago. There’s a story about that family. I don’t know if you want to hear it or not.
Monna: I told you I was madly in love with Richard, and he and my brothers were buddies, and Sandra, too. Anyway, so I was about 13 years old I guess and they moved from Auburn to Monroe — absolutely broke my heart into a million pieces. So, my sister Carolyn took me to visit Sandra in the summer time, and Richard had joined the Navy. Oh, talk about my heart being broken. My heart was broken. So, anyway, Sandra and her family moved away and I saw Richard, came back, and he joined the navy. He was friends with my brother, Bobby, and when he came home on furlough, they came to visit me and my Michael — after we were married, came here — well then they moved away somewhere and I lost track of them. One night, ten years ago — er, how old is Chandler Grace? 13?
Monna: 13. Thirteen years ago as a matter of fact. My brother called me, my brother, Bobby, called me and said, “Guess who I hear from.” He said, “I got a letter from Sandra Fricks.” And I was of course shocked out of my mind. And so he had got in touch with Richard. He had called me, I was sick — home from work that day, and all of a sudden I was healed! It was Richard on the phone! And anyway, we started talking, and that January, as a matter of fact, he came to visit me. I was — oh. Anyway. We had a — he said — asked me to make reservations at Château Élan and I did. And he brought me a dozen long-stem roses, we went to Château Élan for dinner, we went dancing the next weekend. We had an absolutely fabulous time. And, so anyway, that was the — he left to go back to Canada the day Chandler Grace was born.
Monna: I remember that! Because I was very upset with him because I was late for Chandler’s birth. I though that was a good story.
Chason: I never knew that.
Monna: Really? Oh my gosh. It was a fabulous story. Now he has moved to Orlando, Florida. We talk four times a year.
Monna: We call at the beginning of every season. To keep in touch.
Chason: Did you call him at the beginning of this season?
Monna: No! Because it’s his turn to call! I will — now I will call him the 21st of December.
Monna: I will.
Chason: I love that.
Monna: That was a great thing. I was so, so incredibly happy to see him. Of course we both look different.
Chason: That’s incredible though.
Monna: I know.
Chason: After all these years. Ten years ago.
Monna: I’m talking about — we did see each other till ten years ago — from when we were twenty.
Monna: Oh yeah. Oh yeah!
Chason: Wow! That’s like, forty years.
Monna: See, that was wonderful. I’ve — I though I’d never see him again or hear from him again.
Chason: I’m glad you got to.
Monna: Oh, I am, too! I am, too.
Monna: And we can tell some stories on each other now. You know, when we were young?
Chason: When you guys stole cigarettes?
Monna: Oh yeah! Yeah. You can take that out if you want to.
Chason: No! When you were a child, did you have to fight for yourself in your own house?
Monna: I could run faster than my daddy! Of course I did. But not — nowhere nearly as — there was nowhere near as severe for me as it was my older siblings. I was the baby. I am the baby of seven. All of them are deceased not. But they, especially my sister Carolyn, Carolyn protected me.
Chason: Did your other siblings protect you also?
Chason: But not as much as Carolyn?
Monna: But not — Carolyn was more like my mom than she — than my sister. She was nine years older than me. Carolyn is — always has been — the wind beneath my wings. Until I met my Michael. Oh yeah, she took a lot of good care of me for many, many, many years.
Chason: How old were you when you met-
Monna: Mike? 16.
Chason: And you married at 18?
Monna: I did.
Chason: I’m glad. Glad to be here.
Monna: Oh honey, that’s the best that ever happened. He — my Michael is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I give — first of all give credit to God — and then my sister Carolyn, who I have a feeling I would have never finished high school had it not been for Carolyn.
Chason: Did she make you push through?
Monna: She encouraged me, she supported me, she quit work — I mean she quit school and went to work to buy me clothes to wear to school.
Monna: She paid my lunch money, she paid all my club dues, she paid everything.
Chason: Did she get through school?
Monna: She did not. I’m the only one in my family that graduated from high school. I’m sorry to say, but I’m glad I did! I’m glad I did!
Chason: Well good for you, I’m glad you did!
Monna: But, you know, I feel, and I to this day, I still feel so incredibly guilty. And I know that I shouldn’t. I know that’s wrong of me to feel guilty, because I didn’t do anything wrong. I — they didn’t do anything wrong either, but I feel very thankful and very grateful that I have had such a fabulous life in comparison to them.
Chason: I think that you have benefitted from being the youngest-
Monna Oh, no doubt!
Chason: Because everyone else before you failed in a way. It’s not that they failed; they didn’t succeed in the way that you did, and they wanted you to succeed, and so, since you’re the youngest, I think they were all rooting for you.
Monna: Okay, I would like to think that’s right. I would like to hope that’s right, really. I know that’s right for Carolyn. And Ruth? Yeah! I do. My oldest brother was 11 years older than me, and I never remember him living at home with me.
Chason: Right. He was in the military.
Monna: He left — he left home when he was 16 years old to go take a job with pulpwooding — I had not a clue what pulpwooding was — but I was told that it was to — in North Carolina as a matter of fact, where all the — where most of the timber is. And so he went to North Carolina and got a job in North Carolina.
Chason: That’s where Rachael Hoover’s dad moved.
Monna: That’s right.
Chason: For pulp wood.
Monna: Really? Okay. That’s right, that’s right. Okay. And then my sister Carolyn was nine years older than me, and then there was D- we were two years apart until Billy and Bobby, my twin brothers were born. Then there were — my sister Ruth was two years older than them. And then there were three years. And then I was born. So, whoop de doo. Can’t you imagine how happy my parents were when they found out I was going to be born?
Chason: I bet they were.
Monna: I bet they w- they would be proud of me, though, I can guarantee you that. I guarantee you.
Chason: I’m proud of you.
Monna: You know, I don’t mean to be poor mouthing me, I do now. I know I am, but I don’t mean that to be. I’m just very blessed. It jus- I am so very blessed.
Chason: Well, knowing that you grew up without a lot of money, what’s it like being financially stable, now?
Monna: Wonderful. Wonderful. It helps me to help other people.
Chason: And you do.
Monna: That’s — I do. That’s the best I can say about that.
Monna: It does. It allows me to help people less fortunate than me.
Chason: How do you feel about living in Winder your entire life?
Monna: Well, I’m a little bit embarrassed.
Monna: Frankly, oh yeah. Yes, I am. I’m a little bit embarrassed because I have not experienced life like a lot of my friends have, living in other places for a lengthy period of time. But I love Winder. I love Winder. I love Barrow County. And I’m not sorry I’m glad that I have lived here. Now Mike and I lived in Gainesville, Florida for 11 months one year.
Chason: I’ve never heard about that.
Monna: You never knew that? Oh, let me tell you! My Michael wanted to be a disc jockey, and he was.
Chason: On the radio?
Monna: Oh yes, oh yes. He had a DJ program at our local WIMO, it was. In Winder. In high school, and right after he graduated from high school, then he went on to UGA and graduated from UGA. He wanted to be a disc jockey, that’s all there was. He majored in Journalism and so on. And that’s all he could talk about was moving to Florida and being a disc jockey. Well, we did. And — did not sell our house. See, Mike’s dad built this house and so we moved to Florida and I think — I know they did — they used Mike. They — every time anything would go wrong they’d put an additional job on Mike. Somebody else would quit; they’d put that job on Mike. Dadadadada. You know. And he got tired of it and said, “I’m not going to take this anymore. I’m just — I’m not going to work her anymore. I’m going to quit.” So we came back and moved back into our house.
Monna: Mike’s father rented it out while we were gone for that 11 months. And I was very happy to be back — to live next door to my mother and father in law-
Monna: -whom I love very, very much.
Chason: I know.
Monna: And by the way, this used to be Lee Road.
Monna: Well, not lit- not really. It should have been. It should have been named-
Chason: Instead of Hog Mountain Road?
Monna: Absolutely. It should have been renamed. Because Mike’s mom and dad and paternal grandparents lived in that house. We lived in this house. Mike’s mom and dad lived in that house. His grandmother and grandfather lived in the other house. His brother lived in the other house down the road.
Chason: So just a whole road full of Lees?
Monna: Yeah, yeah. Yes. And it should have been named Lee Road.
Chason: Do you think it ever will be named Lee Road?
Monna: No. No, no, no, I do not.
Chason: I notice you’ve been traveling a lot lately. Is that because you lived in Winder for a lot of your life? Maybe you just wanted to get out there and see what’s out there?
Monna: Well, Mike and I, had planned — that’s what we had planned to do when he retired. That did not happen, of course. Let’s see. Well it was only eight weeks from the time he was diagnosed with lung cancer that he passed away. And he had planned to — that was in February of ’96…. That’s correct, yes. February of ’96 he was diagnosed with cancer. I honestly think — I know — I’m almost positive that he had know that he had cancer and would not go to a doctor because he did not want to know the truth. I feel sure of that. And he became — his back — he had more pain, more pain in his back, he said, “I have got to go to a doctor.” So he did, and, that day, they found a mass in his lungs. And…. Where was that story going?
Chason: You were talking about traveling.
Monna Oh okay, yes. And he — we were going to travel when he retired. Well, our superintendent came to his death bed and signed the papers for him to retire. Absolutely. Dan Cromer, who is a wonderful man. As a matter of fact, they had planned to retire the following December.
Monna: The next December. And Mike passed away April 30th, in ‘97
Chason: Well, I’m glad you still get to travel. And you have a lot of fun.
Monna: Yes, I am very fortunate that that is happening. I started to go to Sunday school in church after my Michael passed away, started back to church, and met these wonderful, wonderful ladies, who — and husbands — who do travel, and do enjoy travel. Well, they ask me into their group, and that’s how that started. It’s wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Chason: How did Winder change after Papa died?
Monna: Well, let’s see. There have been more people moving moving in. There have been a lot, a lot of people passed away. Absolutely, yeah. Barrow County is growing geographically. It is going more toward Gwinnett County and so on. And, I tell you what, unfortunately, different kind of people are coming to be honest with you. It’s changed a lot. Yes, it is, yes it has. There’s more violence, more robberies, more accidental deaths. Oh yeah, a lot of that has changed.
Chason: Do you think that has a lot to say about the future of Barrow County?
Monna: I do. I do. That’s very unfortunate also.
Chason: So, you don’t really like the changes that are happening?
Monna: I do not. I do not like the changes.
Chason: Because it used to be quaint, and now it’s-
Monna: Oh it did! It used to be very quaint. I used to be really, really, really happy to say that I’m from Barrow County. And within the last 5–6 years, you know, I’ve heard people make not very nice quotes about Barrow, “Oh, you’re from Barrow County, huh? Well, I’ve heard some things about Barrow County.” Now I don’t like that. I do not.
Chason: I definitely have a good association with Barrow County. I don’t have a bad one.
Monna: Well, you know, I still do. And, your mom teases me on this because I will call anybody out on when they say anything disrespectful about Barrow County. I can do it all I want to! But nobody else can. Sandi says, “Mom, you need to get over that.” Because, no, I don’t like anybody else saying anything bad about Barrow County or Winder. I have not a problem with that whatsoever.
Chason: I know now it’s really busy, but what was it like growing up?
Monna: Oh, this road, you talk about the traffic. Oh, let me tell you. Yeah. When I — when we. Mike and I moved here in 1962 when we got married in 1962. It was a busy day- it was a busy day if ten or twelve cars went down this road. Seriously!
Chason: That’s what Uncle James said, too.
Monna: Seriously. And now, I have to wait sometimes five or ten minutes to get out of my driveway.
Chason: And you drive slow, too, so it’s hard.
Monna: Ah, I used to drive slow.
Chason: Oh no, now you’re a speed demon.
Monna: Now Deron got onto me the other day for driving. “Mom, you need to slow down!”
Chason: Do you like living close to family, and when everyone else was alive-
Monna: There are advantages and there are disadvantages.
Chason: Let’s hear them.
Monna: Oh, no.
Chason: Let’s hear the advantages.
Monna: No, I’m teasing you. Oh, yes indeed. Oh, yes indeed. I love having Deron close to — Deron and Charity close to me. I don’t see them much. I do not. I see them going up and down the road. We have, you know… And when I don’t see them, that bothers me.
Chason: I can understand that.
Monna: You know. If Deron’s got a job out of town somewhere, and I don’t see Deron going up and down the road, that bothers me.
Chason: It’s comforting to see them.
Monna: But it’s very, very comforting. Oh, yes indeed. Yeah, I have called Deron and Charity in the middle of the night: “I need you.” Absolutely. And they have been right here. Absolutely. But then yes, it does worry me when I don’t see them for days.
Chason: Okay, can I ask you to tell me a story. Anything. It can be from your childhood. It can be what you had for breakfast this morning.
Monna: Oh my gracious. Come on, you can do better than that.
Chason: But, I was going to say, but hopefully not what what you had for breakfast this morning.
Monna: No, because I haven’t had breakfast. I had a tomato sandwich at lunch.
Chason: Tomater sandwich?
Monna: Tomater sandwich. How’s your momma and them?
Monna: Let’s see. A story…. Give me a little-
Chason: Let’s say…. One of your first dates?
Monna: Okay, how I met Mike!
Chason: Exactly, okay.
Monna: Would that be alright?
Chason: That’d be perfect.
Monna: That’d be perfect? Alright. This is a good story. Okay. Of course I was not dating anyone. I was not the most popular kid in high school. I did good in high school, though. I was alright. I — I’m happy with my high school years. Okay. I — we — have a cousin that you do not know — have a cousin named Larry Holland. He was a grade younger than me. He was in the same grade with my best friend, Polly. And Mike and Larry were good buddies. And Larry had been wanting to date my best friend, Polly. Alright? Mike said, “I don’t know Polly, would you show her to me? So, that Friday afternoon — we always had assembly on Friday afternoon in the auditorium. And so Larry says, “Alright, see that girl down there with the long pony tail? That’s Polly. That’s the girl I want to date.” My Michael says, “Who’s that cute little blonde-headed girl sitting next to her?” “Oh, you don’t want to date her, she’s my old cousin.” Mike said, “Oh, yes I do. Yes, I do!” So, the next Friday afternoon, Larry and Mike come down to where Polly and I were sitting — we always sat in the same place — and Larry introduced Mike and me. Of course, he and Polly already knew each other because they had classes together. Mike did not know me, or did not know Polly, so…. They ask us for a date for the following Thursday night, which was November 19, at First Baptist Church in Winder: Thanksgiving dinner. And, of course, I was excited about that. Polly’s mom and dad had just gotten divorced. Thank goodness. Because, I mean, I say that for a reason. Because, I did not want Mike to come to my house to pick me up.
Monna: Polly’s house was okay on that end of town.
Chason: One second. *Plane flying overhead*
Monna: So, I’m sure Mike must have thought I was homeless because I didn’t let him come to my house for several — six months or so. Because I was embarrassed about my house and so on. And so on. So anyway, we had a nice date. We had a date at church. Dinner, Thanksgiving dinner. And Polly and Jim never had another — excuse me — Polly and Larry never had another date. Jim is who she married. But Mike and I continued to date-
Monna: Obviously, yeah! Mike continued picking me up at Polly’s house, and continued picking me up at Polly’s house, until about Thanksgiving. Now, that was November.
Chason: A whole year?
Monna: Oh yeah. So, a whole year, yeah. And — and Mike did not come to my house until the next Thanksgiving. So….
Chason: That’s a sweet story.
Monna: That’s a sweet story. It is. And, so we dated for two years and two days.
Chason: Two years, two days, got married.
Monna: Two years and two days and got married. We got engaged on one of the Junior-Seniors. I think it was his Junior-Senior. At Lake Lanier. And, of course, Polly was in our wedding. She was my Maid — Maid of Honor. Larry was in our wedding, also. And, so anyway, that was a good story.
Chason: Thank you. That’s all the questions I have for you today. So, I would like — I would like to thank you for coming today. Thank you very much for-
Monna: I love you, baby.
Chason: Love you, too.
Monna’s story wholly embodies my community in both the present and the past. She tells of her experiences in an extremely quaint and rural Winder, GA, and how this town has transformed into a more urbanized environment. Her perspective on life in Winder with and without my grandfather is also wildly apparent with her reminiscent tone of sadness coupled with her newfound independence. As her closest grandson, in terms of both location and emotion, I feel directly impacted by her story. I feel sorrow for her childhood, though I am thankful for her part in the history of Barrow County — especially the meeting of Mike Lee, for without his help, I would not exist.
I was ignorant to much of my community’s history, as well as that of my own grandmother. After the interview, I have a greater appreciation of my homeland. In regards of community history as a whole, I feel that each individual should seek knowledge of their roots. With this power, your routes become more apparent as well.
This project compelled me to delve into the history of my community. I wanted to learn countless namesakes and facts. Furthermore, this project inspired me to meet and interview new friends such as James Almond Lee and Rachael Hoover.
When I began this project, I hadn’t the first clue where to start. Columbus? Ireland? North Carolina? I have family in all of these places. Other challenges certainly include time management, gas money, and sleep. For my next oral interview, I will hopefully have a higher quality camera to record with. If not, I will use two cameras I currently own and splice the recordings and key points of the interview to maintain the attention of the viewer. Also, I’ll happily pay a few dollars for transcribing software.
Had I been the tradition-bearer, I would have liked to tell stories of my childhood. Swimming every day of every summer. Staying up all night to play video games. Sneaking out and rolling houses, only to feel guilty and clean them up the very next day. As of now, my collegiate stories are quite interesting as well!