When someone reads through Bailey White’s Mama Makes up her Mind, they may say that she has a very unique family that does some very peculiar things. There are also some essays about White’s own quirkiness. At first I was taken aback by the things her mother did like cooking road kill for meals, going to a bar to get smoked mullet, and sleeping on the sun porch during an intense hurricane. Other family members had their interesting quirks too. Her uncle Jimbuddy slices part of his finger off but does not want to put it back on because one day they will all be the same length, and one of her aunts had “tamed” a crocodile. All her little stories within the book not only show something about the way southerners live, but about loving family even through their oddities, however funny or bizarre. This theme of unconditional family love is also crosses over to love for yourself within her last section of the book “The Imagination Game,” where most of the little vignettes are based on herself and her career.
There are many underlying topics to the major themes of self-love and unconditional love for family or others. These topics include southern hospitality and the inability to throw meaningful junk away. White goes to explain that southern hospitality really is not as perked up as it seems to be in “The Bed.” She explains her mother makes guests sleep in the antique bed that comes down from the wall and sometimes folds up on them in the middle of the night. This is odd because one would think the usual southern host would let the guests sleep in the best bed in the house. The inability to through meaningful junk away is most stressed in the “Good Housekeeping” vignette. Bailey White and her sister, Louise, try to tidy up their mother’s home before a newly married cousin’s new in laws came to visit. They found a bunch of junk including a rat carcass which they disposed of. The mother insisted on keeping an old typewriter and she worked all day on fixing it. By the end of the little story we find out that Mr. Mitchell ended up loving her old rare plants and seeds, which some had been brought to the dump by her daughters. White may have been trying to show that no matter how much something looks like junk to someone it could mean the world not only to the person who owns it, but to other people.
A topic that personally touched me was human versus nature. My favorite of the vignettes that showed this was “Buzzard.” Many people get mad when there are animals in the road or in their way we really don’t stop to look at them and wish they’d get out of our way, or run over them. We do not stop and really let the wilderness live on, but restrain it and expect animals to leave us be. We pollute it and we expect it to give us what we need like food, fresh water and clean air. When she took time to notice it was a bald eagle, she noticed he was staring at her. To have anyone stare at you in the eyes is a bit “eye-opening” (no pun intended). But to have one of the most rare wild animals stare at you in the eye, like White says, does make you feel smaller. I’d even take it a step farther and say makes you feel guilty for all the things you and humanity have done to these creatures that were here beforehand.
There are many more little topics scattered throughout but I see it more as a way of wrapping up the aspects of life into true and sometimes hilarious stories of which the reader can relate. Plus they all travel right back into the main theme to unconditional love of family and learning to accept not only others but yourself. You can see the love for her mother and family all throughout this book. Though it is obvious they do quirky things she shows how much she loves them through writing about them. Her mother would not be her mama if she did not do the little bizarre things that she does. In the last vignette, “Finding Myself,” She talks about how southerners go west to California to find themselves and completely change on the inside. She personally tells “herself” to become something else, a tree, because she doesn’t mind who she is and has come to terms with her life because it really is not too bad. Overall this book seems to be about acceptance and love of your family, yourself, your way of life, others and the natural world. Without these things, what do you have to live for anyway?