Southern Humor In Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living, Sleeping at the Starlite Motel and Other Adventures on the Way Back Home, and Quite a Year for Plums, author Bailey White offers readers an inviting refuge from our increasingly fast-paced society. Using humor, White transports the reader to the rural South, where the setting, the way of life, and the characters the reader meets contrast strikingly with life in the typical Northern city. Bailey Whites South has a warm and hospitable atmosphere, a pleasant alternative to cold, bustling, Northern metropolitan centers. As a cousin of the Whites puts it when she calls from Philadelphia to announce shell be visiting overnight, Ive heard so much about Southern hospitality.
Now I will be able to experience it for myself (Mama, 48). The language in Bailey Whites writings also delights, especially her characters manner of speaking, which contains many curious Southern expressions. My friends certainly would not say persnickety (Sleeping, 125), doodlebugs (Sleeping, 9), junkets (Mama, 60), describe a club as a tough juke joint (Mama, 3), or say, She sho aint gon ride no ferry here (Mama, 62)! Located in South Georgia, in the backwoods, Whites characters are allowed to do what they please without judgment from neighboring yuppies glaring down from their balconies. The village is a place where they are kind to one another and indulgent of eccentricities (Publishers Weekly, 30 March 1998).
The result is endearing true stories about rural South Georgia (Publishers Weekly, 1 March 1993) on subjects as quirky as bathtubs and Porsches on porches, backyard camping, and road-kill suppers. After remodeling their bathroom Bailey and Mama find that their bathtub won’t fit in it anymore. Instead of installing a shower, they leave the bathtub on the porch. Bailey explains that with the midsummer’s afternoon breeze blowing through the high pine woods and the fragrance of the lilies, it’s a lovely spot for a leisurely bath (Mama, 25). Joining the bathtub on the porch is a 1958 Model 356 Speedster in original condition, because the driver refused to just park it out behind the garden with those two tractors and that thing that might have been a lawnmower (Mama, 21). When inspired, Mama can (and does) go camping in the wilderness.
Bailey, however, doesn’t have to worry about her aging mother alone on a trip: their backyard is wilderness enough for camping. At night I could see a tiny glow from her fire. And just at dawn, if I went out to the edge of the pasture and listened very carefully I could barely hear her singing Meet Me in St. Louis (Mama, 38). Mama, whether camping or not, can get fast-food for dinner, Southern-style: road kill.
White and Mama have feasted not only doves, turkeys, and quail, but robins, squirrels, and, only once, a possum, but Bailey draws the line at snakes, even when her mom protests But it was still wiggling when I got there..Let’s try it just this once. I have a white sauce with dill and mustard (Mama, 39). Despite the gourmet sauce, Bailey refuses to eat any animal her mom brings in without documentation–the model and tag number of the car that struck it–to assure her of a recent kill. While chronicling small-town culture, White manages to make me laugh out loud, which is quite a feat for an author. The comical scenes from the small town of Thomasville will not only produce laughter, but a longing to move to such a quaint village. Instead of going into the Instant Care Facility, a modern walk-in medical clinic, one can, as Mama did, take advice from surgeons, I’d say, from the amount of blood and brains on those white coats, who were actually butchers on their cigarette break (Mama, 23).
The provincial aspects of life in Thomasville are evident in Plums, in the extent of interest and pride community members exhibit when Roger appears in a photograph in the April edition of the Agrisearch magazine. At the Pastime Restaurant the waitresses tape up Roger’s picture next to the In Case of Choking poster, Meade makes a mat for his picture out of construction paper left from her schoolteaching days, Hilma transposes Rogers image onto two color photos for an artistic effect, Eula puts the magazine photo on her refrigerator, and others prop it up on their windowsills (Plums, 4). The detail in Bailey Whites stories come from her own experiences living in Thomasville, especially in her first two books, Mama and Sleeping, which are both autobiographical. In my own town I know the story of every missing body part: an ear in an auto accident, a middle finger in a miscalculation at a table saw, a thumb in a freak accident involving a white horse and a Chrysler coupe (Sleeping, 5). Since Whites books are set in the rural South, nature is a part of everyday life.
What a contrast to everyday life in our Northern city, which typically finds us driving down treeless, paved streets, dashing from home to work to the supermarket!) The primary concerns of the characters in Whites writings are not bills and work, but include plants and domestic animals. [Whites] vignettes illuminatethe immense satisfaction that can be derived from an appreciation of nature (Publishers Weekly, 17 April 1995). In Plums nearly all of the characters jobs relate to nature. Roger is a plant pathologist; Tom and Gawain are foresters; Lewis is an ornithologist; and Della paints native birds (ix).
The rest of the characters frequently garden, all own Peterson Field Guides (160), and are vehemently opposed to environmentally unfriendly techniques like slash-and-burning (158-9). Southerners are known for their slow speech, their Southern drawl (especially slow compared to fast-talking New Yorkers). In Whites books the way of life is also slowed-down, with little pressure and plenty of time to pursue activities important to the characters. Critics notice the slow pace, saying, nothing much happens [in Plums] (Publishers Weekly, 30 March 1998), the characters dont do a lot [in Plums] (Friedman), and Sleeping at the Starlite Motel celebrates the valueof lives that proceed at their own pace (Fichtner). Doing nothing much is the life the characters have chosen, though; they like the slower pace. Mama loves to sit in her reclining chair all day, reading the UFO newsletter, listening to the radio, and drawing conclusions (Mama, 41).
Bailey loves to garden; she put five years into creating a wildflower meadow, a time-consuming process because, as the more responsible plant cataloguesadmitted, we have not been able to develop a mixture suitable for Zone 9 (Mama, 160-5). Bailey, in the thrall of that good old rural community spirit, also has the time to make a noble gesture, becoming a volunteer fireman (Mama, 177). Besides indulging their own interests and whims, Whites characters take the time to care for others. Mama campaigned for Vernon Bryan, working hard …