“Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty, American (1909-2001)
This morning, I perused my collection of Penguin 60s Classics on my dresser, trying to decide which little gem I would take to the coffee shop. Penguin published these 5″ x 4″ paperbacks in 1995 to celebrate their 60th anniversary. These little books represent the best of short fiction and non-fiction, and they are so small and light, you can pop one into your pocket to fill those dull moments while standing in line at the grocery store. This morning, I chose “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty.
The story opens during the July 4th holiday in China Grove, Mississippi, where Stella-Rondo, the daughter of Mama and Papa-Daddy, returns home unexpectedly with a two-year-old in tow, Shirley-T., having just separated from Mr. Whitaker. Our “unreliable” narrator, the jealous sister of Stella-Rondo (we never discover her name but know she is the Post Mistress of China Grove), relates how the household adjusts to the unwelcome visitors. She feels compelled to move out because “the entire house [was] on Stella-Rondo’s side and turned against me. If I have anything at all I have my pride.”
I call our narrator unreliable, for the story is delightfully biased from beginning to end. The short descriptive passages and conversations are hilarious, for Eudora Welty has an excellent ear for colloquial speech, which adds to her talent in realistically portraying small-town life in the South. You will enjoy this short excerpt if you read it aloud with a southern accent!
“There I was over the hot stove, trying to stretch two chickens over five people and a completely unexpected child into the bargain, without one moment’s notice…. ‘Can that child of yours talk?’ asks Mama. Stella Rondo says, ‘Can she what? ‘Talk! Talk!’ Says Mama. ‘Burdyburdyburdyburdy! ‘So Stella-Rondo yells back, ‘Who says she can’t talk? ‘Sister says so,’ says Mama. ‘You didn’t have to tell me, I know whose word of honor don’t mean a thing in this house,’ says Stella-Rondo.
And in a minute the loudest Yankee voice I ever heard in my life yells out, ‘OE’em Pop-OE the Sailor-r-r-r Ma-a-an!’ and then somebody jumps up and down in the upstairs hall. In another second the house would of fallen down. ‘Not only talks, she can tap-dance!’ calls Stella-Rondo. ‘Which is more than some people I won’t name can do.’ ‘Why, the little precious darling thing!’ Mama says, so surprised. ‘Just as smart as she can be!’ Starts talking baby talk right there. Then she turns on me. ‘Sister, you ought to be thoroughly ashamed! Run upstairs this instant and apologize to Stella-Rondo and Shirley-T.’ ‘Apologize for what?’ I says. ‘I merely wondered if the child was normal, that’s all. Now that she’s proved she is, why, I have nothing further to say.'”
Ha ha! I’m still laughing. OK…so, where can you find this story and other gems by Eudora Welty? Look for The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty in any reputable bookstore or library. This particular story reminds me of scenes from Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where Big Daddy complains about “mendacity,” and Maggie calls her sister-in-law’s children “no-neck monsters,” both talking with that slow, easy drawl, flowing through the south like the mighty Mississippi. And I am sure that “Sister” in Welty’s story would agree with Brick in Williams’ play, when he says, “We’re through with lies and liars in this house. Lock the door.”
Did you enjoy this short story review? I would value your opinion in the comment box. Thank you.
Would you like to receive future audio clips and reviews? Please type your email in the sidebar and click the gray “Join Copley Classics” button. That’s it!
Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!