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Southern Lit Review: Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living

Friday, December 4, 2009



You should see my copy of this book.  One of my co-workers, who, for various reasons, has only recently seen how much I read, saw all the neon post-it flags sticking out of the side of my book and asked me what on earth I was doing.  I blushed and tried to explain how the people in Bailey White's humorous little reflection on life in the South kept reminding me of people I know, so I was just marking the pages.  She said that she'd never heard of anyone doing that, looked at me like I was weird, and moved on.

But it's true.  "Mama" in particular kept reminding me of different people.  I can see all the family members reading this and bracing themselves, but none of you put in an appearance, I promise!  Well, Luis does, but he's been warned.  Mostly they were little descriptions, but they were so spot-on that they just tickled me.  There's this one that reminds me of my grandfather:  "When Mama starts to move across a room, people pay attention.  You can never be sure she's not going to grab you by the top of the head to steady herself.  And she's pretty free with that walking stick too."  Her description of the house that she shares with Mama could have been a description of my grandmother's house.  I even recognized myself, but I can't tell you where, because it's the punchline to one of the stories.  Here's my favorite, reminding me of my husband.  After Bailey covers herself from head to toe to brave some repairs among the spiders under the house, she says, "It was no mean trick doing the wiring with those mittens on.  But I managed it and crawled out, batting spiders into the shadows.  I could hear a thud as they hit the floor joists, then a scuttling sound, then, worst of all, the silence of spiders."  I wish you all could see the picture of my husband that this brings to mind.  We were picking blackberries in a huge wild, thorny patch of them when he found a gigantic spider.  Obviously, he's not a fan, but to be fair, he lived in Colombia when he was young.  If I'd had to deal with those mega-spiders, I would probably have arachnophobia too.  Anyway, there's a gigantic spider next to a nice juicy patch he found.  He yells at me to look over, and I look.  From about 50 feet away, I could actually see it.  I don't know what kind of spider it was, because we don't grow them that big around here.  But Luis decided to brave the spider for the blackberries and he manned up, keeping an eye on The Enemy.  And then it was gone.  I heard a cry of "I can't find it!"  I looked up, and he was high-stepping it out of that patch as fast as he could go!  I am not lying about the high-stepping.  Those skinny white knees were clearing the tops of the thorns!  I laughed till I cried!  So, anyway, he understands about the silence of spiders.  And the absence of spiders.

These were mostly just short, two or three page vignettes telling an amusing story about Bailey and her eccentric family.  But there were a few stories that just told about a poignant memory she has, such as the time she came eye-to-eye with a bald eagle.  I loved them all, funny and touching.  Well, almost all of them.  There were three stories about snakes and I had the willies by the time I finished the last one!  Anyway, I do recommend this for anyone looking for a good laugh.  I don't think the appeal will only be to Southerners.  We're all just people, after all.

This little story isn't included in this book, but to hear Bailey White reading an observation she's made about gardening styles, go to the NPR website.

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