I’ve known Munchie for all of 22 years. We worked together for 10. We speak to each other once every few months, the calls usually initiated by her. So, when I saw her name on the screen early on Thursday, I expected the call to begin like many others – a reprimand for not calling her, but she got straight to the point. Mrs. Gloudon died. No Munchie I replied, her husband died last week. Wilmot she said tersely, Mrs. Gloudon died this morning. I can’t recall how the call with Munchie ended, probably with my usual promise to call her soon and she with the usual retort of Right, knowing that it will probably be 6 months before she calls again.
Sharon Nembhard titled her tribute to Mrs. Gloudon: She Changed My Life. I shared a York Castle High School form with Sharon, and until I read her post had no idea that she was involved with the LTM at all. I know she will not mind if I copy that expression as Mrs. G also changed my life. It all began one day working at the JBI and listening to Hotline and hearing a lady bent out of shape by what she thought was Mrs. Gloudon monopolizing the scripting of the annual pantomime. Mrs. G calmly explained the process of script selection and invited the lady and indeed all literate Jamaican to submit scripts and promised that they would be evaluated fairly and if they had merit, there would be a good chance of them seeing life on stage. I took that as a personal invitation and with my knowledge of Shakespeare from high school and fresh memory from some roots plays – set to work. Two months and 150 pages later I delivered a script to the LTM office. In my mind, that script was a winner and could outcompete any other for the next production.
Two weeks passed and I was summoned and appeared in the office of Mrs G. Her desk and the shelves were filled with books and papers, wall covered entirely with photos and clippings and all sort of objects occupied her space. We started talking about me and soon we were settled into a lively conversation about the Anglican church where I had been an altar server and bell ringer. She was excited that I knew about Synod, was conformed by Bishop Gibson, and despite my background of service and my father serving as a lay preacher any my mother in the Mothers Union, that I appeared to be wayward, and was not a current member of any congregation.
Then we got down to business. She thanked me for my submission which she said was interesting and showed promise. Then she explained why it would not fit the pantomime genre and politely handed it back to me. It could have ended there, but it did not. She said to me, If you are willing, I would like you to work along with me, and I could guide you along this panto road, so that in time, you could do this all by yourself. I did not take a second to agree and so began an unforgettable journey. We met two evening per week, and I would walk in with 5 pages and after review, it would end up at a page or a page and a half at best. She was master of cut and paste and had scissors and glue at hand. Everything was explained and I often what I wrote was cut into pieces and reorganized before the critical editing The scissors and glue were applied liberally to her work as well. I started to understand and gradually more pages survived.
The schooling never stopped. She was very patient but also very exacting. I got an assignment to write a song and produced lines that I was sure would be a hit. She said, Youngster, you have produced a poem – this is meant for recitation, but it will not make it as a song. She asked me to tell her the first line of the national anthem. I replied Eternal Father bless our land. She invited me to join her in singing the line. We both went Eeeteeaarrnal Faaather bleeess ooouur laaand. She did not need to explain any more so off I went, and returned a few days later with a song which although requiring fixing, was not intended for choral speaking. I eventually participated in the production of scripts for Anansi Web and Jack and the Macca Tree.
The relationship of Mrs G and the LTM family is the stuff of legends. She was undoubtedly the captain of the ship and in some ways ruled with an iron hand. But in many respects, it was a part of the show that was running offstage and there was a lot of love involved. The energy and exuberance of the cast often caused the rules to bend all to good effect. One cardinal rule was that the cast was never to mess with the script. So, if you wanted to do that, you had to wait for an evening when the show was on and Mrs G was back (confirmed) in Gordon Town before you tried a thing. She believed in order and good governance. But things could change. If there was a difficulty, there would be a discussion and the change made in time for the next show. Opening night of Jack and the Macca Tree went well except for the opening scene when the 10 ft tall knee to ankle and toes of the giant was revealed, and a little boy in the front row decided that he was taking no chances with such a large creature and screamed and ran down the aisle and straight through the doors of the Ward Theatre with his father trailing behind him onto north parade. The scene was fixed for the next night.
She cared for her audience, especially the countrybus loads of students and teachers who would be travelling from deep in the Rio Grade valley, from Irons Mountain in St. Ann, from Adelphi in St. James or from Darliston in Westmoreland. And she understood that the dynamics – the sacrifices that parents made to get their children on the trip, the worry for the safety of the children (Mass Joe was a good driver but coming from Kingston at midnight in a bus that was not so reliable, was very serious business) and the fact that they would not be in bed, but would be gathered at the school yard in the night cold and would have no peace until they saw the lights and heard the engine of the bus laboring back to the district. So one night at curtain time, there was a power cut, with 10 country buses in the parking lot. It was not simply a matter of offering refunds as the children would be very unlikely to be able to afford to return. There was waiting until the power returned, the show started late and everybody was happy.
She fought her battles with finesse. I remember a very long and tense discussion between her and Grub Cooper about how to end a finale. The options were to end loud and strong on high notes or to end very softly and almost fade into silence. The debate had several rounds and after each break, both Grub and Mrs. G would walk around. Supporters would quietly support, but no one got involved in this faceoff between giants. I can’t remember who yielded, but a compromise was reached, and the rehearsal went on as if nothing had happened.
She had a super memory and could recall with great clarity things from decades past, as if they happened yesterday. There were evening in her office when she would pour out her soul in a long soliloquy on matters of the Anglican church, politics, culture or what the future held for the young of Jamaica.. She was not soliciting a debate but wanted an assurance that you would think about the things that she said. Whether in the theatre or on the road, she had the same effusive personality. Whether we met when she took August Mawning to Mandeville or at Calabash it was always a heartfelt – happy to see you, hope the family is well. A Calabash memory: My son was a baby when I became involved with the LTM and at probably his first introduction to Mrs. G all that she got from his babble was Baah. So in her book he became Baah. Years later we met at Calabash and my son was very puzzled by this very friendly lady who obviously knew him, but who insisted on calling him Baah.
I benefited tremendously from her guidance and support. She had a great generosity of spirit and was an inspiration to so many. My mentor, coach and friend, walk good. I will miss you. For those of us who are travelling behind, I would like to share the very last paragraph of the Bridge of San Luis Rye by Thornton Wilder.
“We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”