Bailey White

Bailey White
Mama Makes Up Her Mind

Bailey White belongs to the homespun class of humorist—deadpan, disarmingly candid, quietly observant. Her easy, conversational tone creates an instant bond with readers; her pitch-perfect storytelling could charm alligators out of swamps; and the people in her small Georgia town easily become the stuff of folklore.

There’s Aunt Belle, false teeth clacking as she announces, “I’ll drive the getaway car” on an errand to reclaim a copper garden ornament. There’s the substitute teacher whose prosthetic ear flies across the room when he gets excited. “Whatever Mr. Harris is saying when that ear comes off is seared into memory forever.” There are the ornithologists who take advantage of a sick child’s elevated temperature to incubate rare turkey eggs. There’s the hospital maintenance supervisor, a full-blooded Cherokee who sings a traditional Indian healing song to himself whenever someone is brought to the emergency room with snakebite (possibly saving Aunt Belle’s life).

And there’s Mama, who simply can’t understand why a black man isn’t going to be elected to public office in the South. “He’s the best man for the job,” she insists. “I don’t know how Mama got to be so wise without getting any smarter,” her daughter comments wryly.

When she’s not crafting superb first-person essays, White teaches elementary school. More rich fodder there, including her foolproof method for getting six-year-olds hooked on reading: dangling maritime disasters in front of their noses. “Give me a man overboard or a good sinking ship, and I can teach a half-witted gorilla to read,” she boasts. “When children get the idea that written words can tell them something absolutely horrible, half the battle of teaching reading is won.”

White’s own words have been called many things—intoxicating, timeless, intimate, universal, enchanting—but never, ever horrible.

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