Okay, I admit it. I was giggling. Not out loud, mind you, that would have been rude and rudeness is not allowed, ever.
It was funny, listening to readers who had never encountered Eudora Welty or her writing carry on about her.
They were reading “Why I live at the P.O.” which just happens to be my favorite short story in the whole entire world.
Or at least the world of short stories I’ve read thus far.
Have you read it?
Then you know that opening when Sister says that Stella-Rondo stole Mr. Whitaker from her.
I used to go with him first, Sister says. But then Stella-Rondo up and told him that I was one-sided, bigger on one side than the other.
It sets the tone for the entire piece.
But if you don’t know that Welty is talking about boobs, you miss the humorous, snarky tone of the entire short story.
Which all the students did, save one. Another claimed he thought of it, too, but he swore he was too prudish to say it. Of course, he’s the same student who told me last week that he watched Fifty Shades of Gray with his momma, so I remain dubious about whether he caught the boob reference. (Although, if he really watched that movie, he should have been the first to catch the reference, don’t you think?)
The boob reference frames the entire short story. Without it, a person could just come away thinking Welty wrote a story about two bickering sisters.
Which she did, but with a lot of humor and universal truths, which is how come the story has held up over the years.
Ever since I came to Yankee territory a gazillion years ago, talking with that southern dialect that was my heritage, I have known that there is a bias (a one-sideness, as my students might say) towards Southeners. I thought perhaps it had lessened over the years, but it is just as firmly as entrenched as it ever was. No matter where you are born and raised there is a learned distrust of “Others”.
So, you can imagine my silent giggles when I overheard the remarks:
“This person can’t write.”
“This writer is illiterate.”
“This writer puts in too many details.”
“This writer is backwards.”
“This writer is mental.”
Oh. Gosh. It was hard to suppress the giggles, knowing what I know about Welty, what the students know now, too. That she wasn’t backwards in any way at all. Welty achieved the greatest of achievements in the literary world as a single woman out of Mississippi at a time when being a single woman in Mississippi was an uncommon (some undoubtedly said unnatural) calling.
How can one not love the chance to strip away the one-sideness in us all?
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).