Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White

Don’t mess with Bailey’s Mama. She’s not afraid of anything. She sleeps on the front porch during a hurricane. She kills rattlesnakes by rapping them sharply on the head with her walking stick. She keeps skydiving worms in a bowl in her kitchen.

Bailey’s Mama is feisty, but you can’t help but love her. She’s the only elderly white lady campaigning for the town’s only black political candidate. When a crowd of marine biologists start poking around in the swamp next door, Mama spends hours staring at them with her binoculars. Next day they invite her to join them, so she spends the afternoon examining clam specimens and then stays up all night reading books about bivalve mollusks.

Along with her incomparable Mama stories, Bailey treats us to tales of her other eccentric friends and relations, from Aunt Belle, who tames an alligator in the swamp, to Luther, the town taxidermist, who is so desperate to learn how to cook that he asks Mama to give him lessons.

Bailey’s adventures as a first-grade school teacher are included, as well as tales of her travels, from taking the train to New York City disguised as a pregnant lady to her trip to the North Florida town of Micanopy, which is so overgrown with vegetation that tendrils of wisteria creep in through the back door and curl around the bookshelves.

In fact, Bailey can make anything sound like an adventure, even if it is just buying a used car or taking Mama to the doctor. It is nice to know that Southern literature does not have to be just dreary tales of family skeletons in the closet. Bailey’s “skeletons” are on display, right next to her brother’s snakeskin collection, the rusted 1930s typewriter on which Mama writes her memoirs, and the dark oak bed that has a disconcerting habit of folding up on its occupants in the middle of the night.

You never know what you are going to find at Bailey’s house, but you can be sure it will be an interesting experience.

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