Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551
Aunt Munsie is the town character, an old black woman who makes her way daily through the streets of town pulling a small wagon in which she collects slop to feed her pigs. Sometimes she stops traffic when she enters the square. She walks in the middle of the street, and most townspeople, when driving in town, simply call out to her until she moves out of the way. Only newcomers to town and ill-mannered high-school boys ever toot their horns at her.
As she makes her daily rounds, stopping at the houses of white women who hand her packages of garbage scraps for her slop wagon, she often calls out, “What you hear from ’em?” Her question is misunderstood by people who do not know her. Some even think she is an old beggar woman who calls out, “What you have for Mom?” Aunt Munsie knows these people laugh at her behind her back, but that does not bother her. She considers them ignorant people of “has-been quality.”
The white patrons who know Aunt Munsie understand that her question is related to her history with the Tollivers, a prominent family in town. They know that she single-handedly raised the Tolliver children after their mother died. She wonders when Will and Thad, her favorites among the children, plan to return from Memphis and Nashville, where they have successful careers, and take up residence in Thornton, their hometown.
Thad and Will have made unannounced visits to Aunt Munsie’s house separately over the previous ten years. During their brief visits, their children would go through her house into the backyard to see the pigs and chickens. Aunt Munsie would hug the children and fuss over them and soon be asking Thad or Will when they were coming back. They always told her that someday they would leave their businesses, buy property on the edge of town, and move back to Thornton.
Miss Lucille Satterfield, the widow of Judge Satterfield, understands Aunt Munsie’s maternal feelings for the Tolliver children, and she shares any news of them when she can. At the same time, Miss Lucille and some of her neighbors are concerned that Aunt Munsie, who is thought to be nearly deaf and blind, may be struck by an errant automobile on her daily rounds. Her refusal to stop pulling her old wagon around town leads the Tollivers and others in town to come up with a plan to stop her daily activities on the streets of Thornton. The Tollivers consult with the mayor and discover that Aunt Munsie is one of only three people in town who own pigs. The Tollivers buy the pigs from the other two owners, and then the town passes an ordinance forbidding the ownership of pigs in the town limits.
When Aunt Munsie’s daughter Crecie tells her about this new ordinance, Aunt Munsie sells her pigs to a neighbor who lives just outside the town limits. She never talks about the conspiracy to anyone. She lives another twenty years, outliving Crecie by many years. She begins to act like other old black women in town. Her character and manners become less harsh and offensive. She often reminisces with Thad and Will, who still visit her, but never again asks them when they are coming back.