Bailey White’s collection of stories in her memoir, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, is subtitled “And Other Dangers of Southern Living”. White writes in the tradition of other Southern storytellers. There are funny stories about eccentric family members mixed with a few essays with more serious tones. And, many of those stories have a moral. But, you can hear White’s distinctive voice in every piece.
Last month, I mentioned that it’s hard to review a collection of short stories. It’s just as difficult to review a memoir that’s put together with stories.White has told her stories before in other collections and on NPR’s All Things Considered. And, every story of her odd family is worth reading.
Bailey White’s mama is definitely the star of these pieces. She’s eccentric, funny, outspoken, and independent. She never throws anything out, including the bathtub on the porch and the antique Porsche in the house. And, it’s no big deal to have snakes in the house. They catch the rats and mice. She can sleep through a hurricane, and wander off for adventures with marine biologists. White’s stories about her mama will make you laugh and smile.
But, my favorite story is “Maritime Disasters”. Bailey White is a first grade teacher, one of those dedicated to teaching children to read. She mentions the various methods that were popular in teaching, including the one used to teach me, memorization of words on cards. But, White discovered a way to teach kids that hadn’t really been used, a method that worked. She used maritime disasters, beginning with sea chanteys. “When children got the idea that written words can tell them something absolutely horrible, half the battle of teaching reading is won.” And, even better than sea chanteys is the story of the Titanic.
Bailey White’s Mama Makes Up Her Mind is a reprint. It originally came out in 1993. However, every piece in this collection is a timeless piece of Southern storytelling. Sometimes the best stories are ones of eccentric families, humor, and odd behavior. “Bless their hearts.”
Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White. Da Capo Press. 1993. ISBN 9780306818028 (paperback), 225p.