Reading Mama Makes Up Her Mind (1993) is as refreshing as drinking a big ol' glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day. In these autobiographical sketches, Bailey White has captured (and more than likely embroidered on) some of the outrageous eccentricities of her Mama and a front porch full of relatives all living in rural Southern Georgia.
Mama uses her walking stick to kill any errant rattlesnake that has the misfortune to crawl out from underneath the porch. Ms. White's sister Louise buys a dress for a family wedding only to discover it makes her "look like a zipper." Aunt Belle (no relation) trains an alligator to crawl out of the pond and bellow on cue. Cousin Lucy was memorizing Pride and Prejudice at age seven. Another cousin, May, has a morbid fear of cows - something to do with their lips.
In Ms. White's world there are beds that fold up in the middle of the night trapping unsuspecting house guests in a tangle of sheets and terror. There is the Porsche parked permanently on the front porch. There is a typewriter that lives under the kitchen sink not far from the bowl of night crawlers that Mama keeps. There are ghosts, UFOs, buzzards, vicious swans, a county fair, and a train trip involving fifty pounds of daffodil bulbs.
Just your everyday portrait of Southern living!
Ms. White herself is a first-grade schoolteacher. She discovers that the secret to teaching children to read is maritime disasters:
Give me a man overboard or a good sinking ship, and I can teach a half-witted gorilla to read. I start with old sea chanties. The children rub their fingers under the written words on their song sheets as the singers on the tape recorder yowl out the tales in a dirge-like pace -- exactly the speed beginning first graders read.
When children get the idea that written words can tell them something absolutely horrible, half the battle of teaching reading is won.
And that's when I turn to the Titanic.
Pour yourself a glass of iced tea, add a sprig of mint, and enjoy reading this book.