Monday, January 25, 2010

"Why I Live at the P.O." by Eudora Welty

Just mention Southern Literature, and Eudora Welty (1909 - 2001) is one of the first names that comes to mind. "Why I Live at the P.O." was one of her earliest stories, appearing in Atlantic magazine in 1941 and later in the collection A Curtain of Green. It features southern dialogue, the ultimate dysfunctional family and, despite it's dark nature, some very funny moments.

The story opens:
"I was getting along fine with Mama, Papa-Daddy and Uncle Rondo until my sister Stella-Rondo just separated from her husband and came back home again. Mr Whitaker! Of course I went with Mr. Whitaker first, when he first appeared here in China Grove, taking "Pose Yourself" photos, and Stella-Rondo broke us up."

The first person narrator, known simply as "Sister", gently appeals to the reader to take her side as younger sibling Stella-Rondo attempts to turn the family against her. Adding further interest, Stella-Rondo has brought home her "adopted" 2 year old daughter, Shirley-T, that the family knows nothing about and who bears a striking resemblance to Mama's father, Papa-Daddy.

Things come to a head on the Fourth of July, when Uncle Rondo takes action:

"But at 6:30 A.M. the next morning, he threw a whole five-cent package of some unsold one-inch firecrackers from the store as hard as he could into my bedroom and they every one went off. Not one bad one in the string. Anybody else, there'd be one that wouldn't go off.
Well, I'm just terribly susceptible to noise of any kind, the doctor has always told me I was the most sensitive person he had ever seen in his whole life, and I was simply prostrated. I couldn't eat! People tell me they heard it as far as the cemetery, and old Aunt Jep Patterson, that had been holding her own so good, thought it was Judgement Day and she was going to meet her family. It's usually so quiet here."

Sister decides she must move out. There are some very funny passages as she chooses what to bring with her, what is rightfully hers, as she goes to live at the China Grove Post Office where she is postmistress.

The story can be read in its entirety here, and a 1956 audio clip of Welty reading an excerpt can be found here. I don't read much Southern Literature, but "Why I Live at the P.O." has got me thinking about trying one of Welty's novels.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. Stop by to see who else has a short story post to share.

14 comments:

  1. This sounds fun and I just love the title. Will check it out when I get a bit of time!

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  2. Great review, JoAnn! I wrote about it here:

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2007/03/todays-short-storywhy-i-live-at-po.html

    Don't believe me when I said that I was going to read one short story a day. Ha! Well, at least I'm reading one a week, usually. I love it.

    I also wrote a bit about giving up on EW. I hardly believe it myself. I thought I loved her work, but I just don't.

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/03/givin-it-up.html

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  3. I just printed it to read later. I had never heard of Eudora Welty before so thanks for the introduction.

    I read "Ghosts" which John reviewed last week:
    http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2010/01/ghosts-by-edwidge-danicat.html

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  4. I'm currently reading The Optimist's Daughter, and it features a dysfunctional family...and quirky characters, too.

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  5. Dark nature and dysfunctional family-- that's what I'm talking about! Sounds good.

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  6. Verity - This was a very good 'southern' story. If you get to it, let me know what you think.

    Nan - When I was reading this story, I thought it was the one you had reviewed! I think one short story a week (as opposed to daily) is just fine, too. I see you didn't care much for The Optimist's Daughter. The other novel I'm thinking about is The Ponder Heart.

    Teddy Rose - Let me know what you think. I'm intrigued with Welty and will try one of her novels soon.

    Softdrink - That's the one I'm thinking about reading! I'll look forward to your review.

    John Mutford - Hurray for dysfunctional families - they make for great stories!

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  7. Sounds like an interesting short story for sure. I just bought a book of short stories this weekend.

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  8. Staci - I've been enjoying a lot of short stories lately. What book did you get?

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  9. I know I've read a Eudora Welty novel. It's been so long ago that I don't remember which one. I have a nice "feeling" about EW so I must have enjoyed it. So, I'm going to check out this short story of hers.

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  10. I've read this short story, and it is etched in my mind. The southern idiom/voice are superb, and the humour and resilience of the narrat0r
    Eudora Welty captured the ultra small town world of these people perfectly with her use of language and the main character who unselfconciously speaks the truth.

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  11. Delta Wedding is my favorite of Eudora Welty's, and is the only one that I've re-read. It captures how it feels to be at a gathering of extended relatives, with people all over the place, and all the thoughts and motivations going on under the surface. Also it has a hazy, summery feel.

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  12. Merenia - Thanks so much for commenting! There is certainly a lot to admire in this story. Have you read Welty's novels? I'd be interested in your recommendations.

    Christy - I'm not familiar with Delta Wedding, but I love your description. Will look for it - thanks!

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  13. I just now read this wonderful story and will attempt a post on it soon-I really found your post very helpful-I think she does a great job capturing the speech of her characters without condescending to them-really a brilliant story-

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  14. Mel U - So glad you enjoyed this story! I'll be looking for your post. I plan to read Welty's novel The Optimist's Daughter later this month for Virago Week.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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