.. kup truck into town every day to man campaign headquarters, and she spent hours studying voter registration lists and calling on the phone to urge people to vote. She volunteered for everything” (Mama, 139-140). Mama also taught Luther, whose jam caused Bailey to rush over to the sink and wash her mouth out, the fundamentals of cooking, beginning with “Jams and Jellies,” moving on to “Pickles and Preserves,” then to “Biscuits and Pastry,” and finally “Sauces, Marinades, Shellfish, and Game… Soufflés… Desserts” (Mama, 151-155). Bailey took time to listen to old Mrs.
Bierce with the wandering eye, and to visit Mrs. Helgert, tolerating her frequent interjections of “Hot? Honey! That was a hot night” (Sleeping, 38-41). Meade and Hilma looked after Rogers house when his childhood horse Squeaky died. “He must be relieved of all the little household chores–laundry, the preparation of meals, housecleaning tasks. He should come home at night to a bright clean home, a supper warm on the back of the stove, and his bed turned down,” said Meade, outlining her elaborate plan to take care of Roger (Plums, 148). The activities the characters choose in their free time demonstrate the importance of relationships. In Plums, “a charming story of human relations” (Haddock), “Whites 14 or so characters are introduced and identified as they would be in any small town in the South: by their family relationships to others in the rural Georgia community” (Publishers Weekly, 30 March 1998), thus showing the weight of family. In Sleeping, after Great Aunt El disappears twice and complains of elephants and ghosts, Bailey and Mama become concerned about her and decide its “time to get someone to look after her” (47).
Reminding Bailey that “Blood is thicker than water,” Mama succeeds in bringing Els nephew Ralph down to stay with her (49). Unlike our male-dominated society, strong women dominate Whites world. The women are independent, with no need for marriage. They handle everything themselves, even if it means crawling under the house in “high-topped boots laced up tight, a turtleneck shirt, and a ski mask” (to protect oneself from spiders, of course) to move the telephone jack (Mama, 34). All of the characters in Whites books are unmarried, which appears to be all right with the women, but the not-so-strong men express a longing to be married. As Dean Routhe repeatedly said, “Men need wives” (Plums, 211).
Ever since Ethel left Roger “the women in town have worried about Roger… Hilma and Meade discuss him at their weekly readings. Eula frets over his welfare–not to mention his appetite” (Haddock). Within one year after Ethel left Roger, Ethel has two men lusting after her while another woman has left Roger. The characters in Whites books, peculiar but delightful, working-class but educated, and understanding and accepting of themselves and each other, present a refreshing contrast to the conforming, pretentious sophisticates who inhabit our Northern cities. At the head of the long list of quirky characters is Mama, who attracts ornithologists (Mama, 12), who then use Baileys 102 degree feverish body to incubate wild turkey eggs.
Other memorable characters include the obsessed typographer who feels personally called to save vanishing typefaces, Louise, who thinks letters and string will entice creatures from outer space, the hippie fruit tree man with the jujube trees, and homeless Elmer who can only talk to horses. Modern society is in the Information Age, in which technology demands more and more of us. The average workweek is 49 hours, and many so-called successful lawyers, doctors, and businessmen frequently work ten, twenty, or even thirty hours more. Even to reach the hiring stage takes a competitive drive and long hours studying. It is not surprising, then, when Bailey says, “Over the generations my family has metastasized from that hill to lower spots all over the county.
Once members of the leisure class, we are now farmers, carpenters, teachers, and mechanics” (Mama, 54). Baileys Aunt Eleanor recalls, after a minor plumbing disaster of her own, how great-uncle Melville ” Shot right through the ceiling medallion..and landed in the tomato aspic” (Sleeping, 9). Bailey admits, “Theres no denying that our family fortune frittered away, the big house sold. We are probably not up to a second-floor plumbing disaster involving chandeliers and crown moldings” (Sleeping, 10), which is what Aunt Eleanor says shows style, class, and breeding. Although not up to showy plumbing disasters, Whites characters are educated.
Hilma and Meade have a 50-year ritual of reading together every Thursday of every May (Plums, 17). On summer picnics Lucy would read Pride and Prejudice aloud. Mama reads The Naked Lunch and decides shes “..tired. Im tired of breathing the essence of a sheep fold; Im tired of teaching babies to knit; Im tired of being set upon by crazed Christians one minute and unbridled libertines the next” (Mama, 38). “Two of the characters [in Plums] are retired schoolteachers to whom the classics of literature are daily companions; in fact, most of the characters, no matter how humble, quote lines from famous poetry or prose and are knowledgeable about plants, flowers, birds and animals” (Publishers Weekly, 30 March 1998).
Whites characters are also neither pretentious nor materialistic. When Aunt Eleanor is sulking over the modest plumbing disaster Bailey buys her a $60 watch and a linen skirt, and tells her that nowadays people judge not by plumbing calamities but by clothes, cars, and vacations (Sleeping, 10). Aunt Eleanor, however, is not impressed: “I guess Im just old-fashioned” (Sleeping, 10). When Meade and Hilma call on a new family, the women brags about her eagle statues–“exact replicas of a certain castle in England..they were not cheap” (Plums, 156). Later Meade brings up a house she particularly liked, explaining, “No pretension there” (Plums, 159). The key to Whites stories is her characters’ wisdom: understanding that timeworn truths are worth paying heed to.
When prissy Aunt Eleanor comes over for dinner, she praises the bird. “The quail are delicious..I havent found a single piece of shot. How do you manage it? Intersection of 93 and Baggs Road, recites Mama. Green late model pickup, Florida tag. Have another one.
And some rice, El” (Mama, 40). Whites stories “offer us snatches of humor in the largest sense, written with an..often self-mocking compassion” (Trachtman). White opens up for her readers a different world, one without many of the annoying traits of modern society: dull, gray scenery, traffic, impersonal contact, alarms, cell phones, male-dominance, uniformity, pretension, conflict, materialism, censorship, isolation, and superficial relationships. She reminds us of a life that, in most places, has ceased to exist and invites us to return to its comforts in the pages of her books.