has a better memory than she'll admit. "My brain isn't that good," she'll tell you if you ask about the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, where she was working as secretary to the regional director of the United States Department of Labor at the time.
She'll say the same thing if you ask her
about growing up in a segregated South, or about the workings of Madison circa 1979, when she
moved here permanently.
Just give her
lived on the west side of Atlanta, and she
attended Rush Memorial Congregational Church
for kindergarten, Ashby Street School and Booker T. Washington High School
liked S. L. Neal's
science class in high school, and she
was also, as she
put it, "crazy about math."
"We really did get a good education," she
remembers more than she
lets on. Rena
has a lot to remember.At 80 years old, she's
seen more historical ups and downs than most Morgan countians.Her
hands belie her
age, they aren't lineless, but their skin is soft and the color of chocolate milk.
"By the time I cut a garment, the phone rings with funeral business," Rena
said."I just can't."She
also used to decorate cakes for her
friends (she was paid in "thank yous," she
said.) Shorthand, another of Rena's long-lost talents, doesn't totally elude her
Rena's office walls are covered in plaques.Once hung in a strictly perpendicular manner, the nearby train tracks have derailed any chance of permanent 90 degree order.When the train goes by, she
takes care to re-hang each cooked plaque and photograph.The train keeps coming, but so does Rena
worked all her
graduated from high school, Rena
went on to study at the Blayton School of Accounting
, where, like many women of her
learned typing and the aforementioned shorthand.
"I loved every bit of it," she
uses historical benchmarks to straighten out her
own life's chronology.When she's trying to remember what years she attended the Blayton School, she wonders aloud "When did Kennedy get killed?"Rena's
been gainfully employed for the last 50 years, so sweeping social phenomena like the Civil Rights Movement, while not sidestepping her
completely, weren't focal points for her
"I didn't participate," she
says of her
days spent watching parades march through Atlanta."You can do a whole lot of things on paper that all that walking won't do."
Every four years, Rena
does things on paper.She
estimates that she's
been voting for 55 years, ever since she
was in college and saw a campaign urging anyone over 18 to cast a ballot.In this quiet way, Rena
vote as an instrument of change, however small.
"One vote will count, but if you don't vote there's no vote to be counted," she
At 80, Rena's
still a worker.She's
on the clock at the funeral home, which is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For a funeral home, normal business hours often aren't enough, and 3 a.m. phone calls mean Rena
often inadvertently works the midnight shift.If you ask Rena
how many hours she
works a week, she'll answer you with a laugh.
"All of 'em, from any time I'm needed," she
says. Working at a funeral home doesn't bother her a bit,she's been doing it full-time since leaving the Department of Labor after 21 years, six months and five days.Her
grandfather had a funeral home in Forsyth, and when she
was younger her
mother would send her
there during summers.
Jones and Turner
is adding on a new wing, one that looks very different from the dark wood-paneled rooms of the original building.The new wing will seat 120 people, and the walls are cream-colored and feature several large windows.When this wing is finished, Rena wants to retire.After working for so long, does Rena
have any plans for retirement?
"Yeah, help them," she
says, referring to her
son and grandson."It keeps me occupied."
Thing is, Rena's
been occupied for a while.And even though she's
winding down, as she'll tell you, there's still work for her