- "Why I Live at
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. Told him I was
one-sided. Bigger on one side than the other, which is a deliberate,
calculated falsehood: I'm the same. Stella-Rondo is exactly twelve months to
the day younger than I am and for that reason she's spoiled.
She's always had anything in the world she wanted and then she'd throw it
away. Papa-Daddy gave her this gorgeous Add-a-Pearl necklace when she was
eight years old and she threw it away playing baseball when she was nine,
with only two pearls.
So as soon as she got married and moved away from home the first thing she
did was separate! From Mr. Whitaker! This photographer with the popeyes she
said she trusted. Came home from one of those towns up in Illinois and to
our complete surprise brought this child of two.
Marna said she like to made her drop dead for a second. "Here you had
this marvelous blonde child and never so much as wrote your mother a word
about it," says Mama. "I'm thoroughly ashamed of you." But of
course she wasn't.
Stella-Rondo just calmly takes off this hat, I wish you could see it.
She says, "Why, Mama, Shirley-T.'s adopted, I can prove it."
"How?" says Mama, but all I says was, "H'm!" 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.
"What do you mean
'H'm!'?" says Stella-Rondo, and Mama says, "I heard that,
I said that oh, I didn't mean a thing, only that whoever Shirley-T. was, she
was the spit-image of Papa-Daddy if he'd cut off his beard, which of course
he'd never do in the world. Papa-Daddy's Mama's papa and sulks.
Stella-Rondo got furious! She said, "Sister, I don't need to tell you
you got a lot of nerve and always did have and I'll thank you to make no
future reference to my adopted child whatsoever."
"Very well," I said. "Very well, very well. Of course I
noticed at once she looks like Mr. Whitaker's side too. That frown. She
looks like a cross between Mr. Whitaker and Papa-Daddy."
"Well, all I can say is she isn't."
"She looks exactly like Shirley Temple to me," says Mama, but
Shirley-T. just ran away from her.
So the first thing Stella-Rondo did at the table was turn Papa-Daddy against
"Papa-Daddy," she says. He was trying to cut up his meat.
"Papa-Daddy!" I was taken completely by surprise. Papa-Daddy is
about a million years old and's got this long-long beard. "Papa-Daddy,
Sister says she fails to understand why you don't cut off your beard."
So Papa-Daddy l-a-y-s down his knife and fork! He's real rich. Mama says he
is, he says he isn't. So he says, "Have I heard correctly? You don't
understand why I don't cut off my beard?"
"Why," I says, "Papa-Daddy, of course I understand, I did not
say any such of a thing, the idea!"
He says, "Hussy!"
I says, "Papa-Daddy, you know I wouldn't any more want you to cut off
your beard than the man in the moon. It was the farthest thing from my mind!
Stella-Rondo sat there and made that up while she was eating breast of
But he says, "So the postmistress fails to understand why I don't cut
off my beard. Which job I got you through my influence with the government.
is that what you call it?"
Not that it isn't the next to smallest P.O. in the entire state of
I says, "Oh, Papa-Daddy," I says, "I didn't say any such of a
thing, I never dreamed it was a bird's nest, I have always been grateful
though this is the next to smallest P.O. in the state of Mississippi, and I
do not enjoy being referred to as a hussy by my own grandfather."
But Stella-Rondo says, "Yes, you did say it too. Anybody in the world
could of heard you, that had ears."
"Stop right there," says Mama, looking at me.
So I pulled my napkin straight back through the napkin ring and left the
As soon as I was out of the room Mama says, "Call her back, or she'll
starve to death," but Papa-Daddy says, "This is the beard I
started growing on the Coast when I was fifteen years old.'' He would of
gone on till nightfall if Shirley-T. hadn't lost the Milky Way she ate in
So Papa-Daddy says, "I am going out and lie in the hammock, and you can
all sit here and remember my words: I'll never cut off my beard as long as I
live, even one inch, and I don't appreciate it in you at all." Passed
right by me in the hall and went straight out and got in the hammock.
It would be a holiday. It wasn't five minutes before Uncle Rondo suddenly
appeared in the hall in one of Stella-Rondo's flesh-colored kimonos, all cut
on the bias, like something Mr. Whitaker probably thought was gorgeous.
"Uncle Rondo!" I says. "I didn't know who that was! Where are
"Sister," he says, "get out of my way, I'm poisoned."
"If you're poisoned stay away from Papa-Daddy," I says. "Keep
out of the hammock. Papa-Daddy will certainly beat you on the head if you
come within forty miles of him. He thinks I deliberately said he ought to
cut off his beard after he got me the P.O., and I've told him and told him
and told him, and he acts like he just don't hear me. Papa-Daddy must of
gone stone deaf.'
"He picked a fine day to do it then," says Uncle Rondo, and before
you could say "Jack Robinson" flew out in the yard.
What he'd really done, he'd drunk another bottle of that prescription. He
does it every single Fourth of July as sure as shooting, and it's horribly
expensive. Then he falls over in the hammock and snores. So he insisted on
zigzagging right on out to the hammock, looking like a half-wit.
Papa-Daddy woke up with this horrible yell and right there without moving an
inch he tried to turn Uncle Rondo against me. I heard every word he said.
Oh, he told Uncle Rondo I didn't learn to read till I was eight years old
and he didn't see how in the world I ever got the mail put up at the P.O.,
much less read it all, and he said if Uncle Rondo could only fathom the
lengths he had gone to to get me that job! And he said on the other hand he
thought Stella-Rondo had a brilliant mind and deserved credit for getting
out of town. All the time he was just lying there swinging as pretty as you
please and looping out his beard, and poor Uncle Rondo was pleading
with him to slow down the hammock, it was making him as dizzy as a witch to
watch it. But that's what Papa-Daddy likes about a hammock. So Uncle Rondo
was too dizzy to get turned against me for the time being. He's Mama's only
brother and is a good case of a one-track mind. Ask anybody. A certified
Just then I heard Stella-Rondo raising the upstairs window. While she was
married she got this peculiar idea that it's cooler with the windows shut
and locked. So she has to raise the window before she can make a soul hear
So she raises the window and says, "Oh!" You would have thought
she was mortally wounded.
Uncle Rondo and Papa-Daddy didn't even look up, but kept right on with what
they were doing. I had to laugh.
I flew up the stairs and threw the door open! I says, "What in the wide
world's the matter, Stella-Rondo? You mortally wounded?"
"No," she says, "I am not mortally wounded but I wish you
would do me the favor of looking out that window there and telling me what
So I shade my eyes and look out the window.
"I see the front yard," I says.
"Don't you see any human beings?'' she says.
"I see Uncle Rondo trying to run Papa-Daddy out of the hammock," I
says. "Nothing more. Naturally, it's so suffocating-hot in the house,
with all the windows shut and locked, everybody who cares to stay in their
right mind will have to go out and get in the hammock before the Fourth of
July is over."
"Don't you notice anything different about Uncle Rondo?" asks
"Why, no, except he's got on some terrible-looking flesh-colored
contraption I wouldn't be found dead in, is all I can see," I says.
"Never mind, you won't be found dead in it, because it happens to be
part of my trousseau, and Mr. Whitaker took several dozen photographs of me
in it," says Stella-Rondo. "What on earth could Uncle Rondo mean
by wearing part of my trousseau out in the broad open daylight without
saying so much as 'Kiss my foot,' knowing I only got home this
morning after my separation and hung my negligee up on the bathroom door,
just as nervous as I could be?"
"I'm sure I don't know, and what do you expect me to do about it?"
I says. "Jump out the window?"
"No, I expect nothing of the kind. I simply declare that Uncle Rondo
looks like a fool in it, that's all," she says. "It makes me sick
to my stomach."
"Well, he looks as good as he can," I says. "As good as
anybody in reason could." I stood up for Uncle Rondo, please remember.
And I said to Stella-Rondo, "I think I would do well not to criticize
so freely if I were you and came home with a two-year-old child I had never
said a word about, and no explanation whatever about my separation."
"I asked you the instant I entered this house not to refer one more
time to my adopted child, and you gave me your word of honor you would
not," was all Stella-Rondo would say, and started pulling out every one
of her eyebrows with some cheap Kress tweezers.
So I merely slammed the door behind me and went down and made some
green-tomato pickle. Somebody had to do it. Of course Mama had tumed both
the Negroes loose; she always said no earthly power could hold one anyway on
the Fourth of July, so she wouldn't even try. It turned out that Jaypan fell
in the lake and came within a very narrow limit of drowning.
So Mama trots in. Lifts up the lid and says, "H'm! Not very good for
your Uncle Rondo in his precarious condition, I must say. Or poor little
adopted Shirley-T. Shame on you!"
That made me tired. I says, "Well, Stella-Rondo had better thank her
lucky stars it was her instead of me came trotting in with that very
peculiar-looking child. Now if it had been me that trotted in from Illinois
and brought a peculiar-looking child of two, I shudder to think of the
reception I'd of got, much less controlled the diet of an entire
"But you must remember, Sister, that you were never married to Mr.
Whitaker in the first place and didn't go up to Illinois to live," says
Mama, shaking a spoon in my face. "If you had I would of been just as
overjoyed to see you and your little adopted girl as I was to see
Stella-Rondo, when you wound up with your separation and came on back
''You would not," I says.
"Don't contradict me, I would," says Mama.
But I said she couldn't convince me though she talked till she was blue in
the face. Then I said, "Besides, you know as well as I do that that
child is not adopted."
"She most certainly is adopted," says Mama, stiff as a poker.
I says, "Why, Mama, Stella-Rondo had her just as sure as anything in
this world, and just too stuck up to admit it."
"Why, Sister," said Mama. "Here I thought we were going to
have a pleasant Fourth of July, and you start right out not believing a word
your own baby sister tells you!"
"Just like Cousin Annie Flo. Went to her grave denying the facts of
life," I remind Marna.
"I told you if you ever mentioned Annie Flo's name I'd slap your
face," says Mama, and slaps my face.
"All right, you wait and see," I says.
"I," says Mama, "I prefer to take my children's
word for anything when it's humanly possible." You ought to see Mama,
she weighs two hundred pounds and has real tiny feet.
Just then something perfectly horrible occurred to me.
"Mama," I says, "can that child talk?" I simply had to
whisper! "Mama, I wonder if that child can be
in any way? Do you realize," I says, "that she hasn't spoken one
single, solitary word to a human being up to this minute? This is the way
she looks," I says, and I looked like this.
Well, Mama and I just stood there and stared at each other. It was horrible!
"I remember well that Joe Whitaker frequently drank like a fish,"
says Mama. "I believed to my soul he drank chemicals."
And without another word she marches to the foot of the stairs and calls
"Stella-Rondo? O-o-o-o-o! Stella-Rondo!"
"What?" says Stella-Rondo from upstairs. Not even the grace to get
up off the bed.
"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'm 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
"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
"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."
But Mama just turned on her heel and flew out, furious. She ran right
upstairs and hugged the baby. She believed it was adopted. Stella-Rondo
hadn't done a thing but turn her against me from upstairs while I stood
there helpless over the hot stove. So that made Mama, Papa-Daddy and the
baby all on Stella-Rondo's side.
Next, Uncle Rondo.
I must say that Uncle Rondo has been marvelous to me at various times in the
past and I was completely unprepared to be made to jump out of my skin, the
way it turned out. Once Stella-Rondo did something perfectly horrible to him
broke a chain letter from Flanders Field
and he took the radio back he had given her and gave it to me. Stella-Rondo
was furious! For six months we all had to call her Stella instead of
Stella-Rondo, or she wouldn't answer. I always thought Uncle Rondo had all
the brains of the entire family. Another time he sent me to Mammoth Cave,
with all expenses paid.
But this would be the day he was drinking that prescription, the Fourth of
So at supper Stella-Rondo speaks up and says she thinks Uncle Rondo ought to
try to eat a little something. So finally Uncle Rondo said he would try a
little cold biscuits and ketchup, but that was all. So she
brought it to him.
"Do you think it wise to disport with ketchup in Stella-Rondo's
flesh-colored kimono?'' I says. Trying to be considerate! If Stella-Rondo
couldn't watch out for her trousseau, somebody had to.
"Any objections?" asks Uncle Rondo, just about to pour out all the
"Don't mind what she says, Uncle Rondo," says Stella-Rondo.
"Sister has been devoting this solid afternoon to sneering out my
bedroom window at the way you look."
"What's that?" says Unde Rondo. Uncle Rondo has got the most
terrible temper in the world. Anything is liable to make him tear the house
down if it comes at the wrong time.
So Stella-Rondo says, "Sister says, 'Uncle Rondo certainly does look
like a fool in that pink kimono!' "
Do you remember who it was really said that?
Unde Rondo spills out all the ketchup and jumps out of his chair and tears
off the kimono and throws it down on the dirty floor and puts his foot on
it. It had to be sent all the way to Jackson to the cleaners and re-pleated.
"So that's your opinion of your Uncle Rondo, is it?" he says.
"I look like a fool, do I? Well, that's the last straw. A whole day in
this house with nothing to do, and then to hear you come out with a remark
like that bebind my back!''
"I didn't say any such of a thing, Uncle Rondo," I says, "and
I'm not saying who did, either. Why, I think you look all right. Just try to
take care of yourself and not talk and eat at the same time," I says.
"I think you better go lie down."
"Lie down my foot," says Uncle Rondo. I ought to of known by that
he was fixing to do something perfectly horrible.
So he didn't do anything that night in the precarious state he was in
just played Casino with Mama and Stella-Rondo and Shirley-T. and gave
Shirley-T. a nickel with a head on both sides. It tickled her nearly to
death, and she called him "Papa." 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 Judgment Day and she was going to meet her
whole family. It's usually so quiet here.
And I'll tell you it didn't take me any longer than a minute to make up my
mind what to do. There I was with the whole entire house on Stella-Rondo's
side and turned against me. If I have anything at all I have pride.
So I just decided I'd go straight down to the P.O. There's plenty of room
there in the back, I says to myself.
Well! I made no bones about letting the family catch on to what I was up to.
I didn't try to conceal it.
The first thing they knew, I marched in where they were all playing Old Maid
and pulled the electric oscillating fan out by the plug, and everything got
real hot. Next I snatched the pillow I'd done the needlepoint on right off
the davenport from behind Papa-Daddy. He went ''Ugh!" I beat
Stella-Rondo up the stairs and finally found my charm bracelet in her bureau
drawer under a picture of Nelson Eddy.
"So that's the way the land lies," says Uncle Rondo. There he was,
piecing on the ham. "Well, Sister, I'll be glad to donate my army cot
if you got any place to set it up, providing you'll leave right this minute
and let me get some peace." Uncle Rondo was in France.
"Thank you kindly for the cot and 'peace' is hardly the word I would
select if I had to resort to firecrackers at 6:30 A.M. in a young girl's
bedroom," I says back to him. "And as to where I intend to go, you
seem to forget my position as postmistress of China Grove,
Mississippi," I says. "I've always got the P.O."
Well, that made them all sit up and take notice.
I went out front and started digging up some four-o'clocks to plant around
"Ah-ah-ah!" says Mama, raising the window. "Those happen to
be my four-o'clocks. Everything planted in that star is mine. I've never
known you to make anything grow in your life."
"Very well," I says. "But I take the fern. Even you, Mama,
can't stand there and deny that I'm the one watered that fern. And I happen
to know where I can send in a box top and get a packet of one thousand mixed
seeds, no two the same kind, free."
"Oh, where?" Mama wants to know.
But I says, "Too late. You 'tend to your house, and I'll 'tend to mine.
You hear things like that all the time if you know how to listen to the
radio. Perfectly marvelous offers. Get anything you want free."
So I hope to tell you I marched in and got that radio, and they could of all
bit a nail in two, especially Stella-Rondo, that it used to belong to, and
she well knew she couldn't get it back, I'd sue for it like a shot. And I
very politely took the sewing-machine motor I helped pay the most on to give
Mama for Christmas back in 1929, and a good big calendar, with the first-aid
remedies on it. The thermometer and the Hawaiian ukulele certainly were
rightfully mine, and I stood on the step-ladder and got all my
watermelon-rind preserves and every fruit and vegetable I'd put up, every
jar. Then I began to pull the tacks out of the bluebird wall vases on the
archway to the dining room.
"Who told you you could have those, Miss Priss?" says Marna,
fanning as hard as she could.
"I bought 'em and I'll keep track of 'em," I says. "I'll tack
'em up one on each side the post-office window, and you can see 'em when you
come to ask me for your mail, if you're so dead to see 'em."
"Not I! I'll never darken the door to that post office again if I live
to be a hundred," Mama says. "Ungrateful child! After all the
money we spent on you at the Normal."
"Me either," says Stella-Rondo. "You can just let my mail lie
there and rot, for all I care. I'll never come and relieve you
of a single, solitary piece."
"I should worry," I says. "And who you think's going to sit
down and write you all those big fat letters and postcards, by the way? Mr.
Whitaker? Just because he was the only man ever dropped down in China Grove
and you got him
is he going to sit down and write you a lengthy correspondence after you
come home giving no rhyme nor reason whatsoever for your separation and no
explanation for the presence of that child? I may not have your brilliant
mind, but I fail to see it."
So Mama says, "Sister, I've told you a thousand times that Stella-Rondo
simply got homesick, and this child is far too big to be hers," and she
says, "Now, why don't you all just sit down and play Casino?"
Then Shirley-T. sticks out her tongue at me in this perfectly horrible way.
She has no more manners than the man in the moon. I told her she was going
to cross her eyes like that some day and they'd stick.
"It's too late to stop me now," I says. "You should have
tried that yesterday. I'm going to the P.O. and the only way you can
possibly see me is to visit me there."
So Papa-Daddy says, "You'll never catch me setting foot in that post
office, even if I should take a notion into my head to write a letter some
place." He says, "I won't have you reachin' out of that little old
window with a pair of shears and cuttin' off any beard of mine. I'm too
smart for you!"
"We all are," says Stella-Rondo.
But I said, "If you're so smart, where's Mr. Whitaker?"
So then Uncle Rondo says, "I'll thank you from now on to stop reading
all the orders I get on postcards and telling everybody in China Grove what
you think is the matter with them," but I says, "I draw my own
conclusions and will continue in the future to draw them." I says,
"If people want to write their inmost secrets on penny postcards,
there's nothing in the wide world you can do about it, Uncle Rondo."
"And if you think we'll ever write another postcard you're
sadly mistaken," says Mama.
"Cutting off your nose to spite your face then," I says. "But
if you're all determined to have no more to do with the U.S. mail, think of
this: What will Stella-Rondo do now, if she wants to tell Mr. Whitaker to
come after her?"
"Wah!" says Stella-Rondo. I knew she'd cry. She had a conniption
fit right there in the kitchen.
"It will be interesting to see how long she holds out," I says.
I am leaving."
"Good-bye," says Uncle Rondo.
"Oh, I declare," says Mama, "to think that a family of mine
should quarrel on the Fourth of July, or the day after, over Stella-Rondo
leaving old Mr. Whitaker and having the sweetest little adopted child! It
looks like we'd all be glad!"
"Wah!" says Stella-Rondo, and has a fresh conniption fit.
"He left her
you mark my words," I says. "That's Mr. Whitaker. I know Mr.
Whitaker. After all, I knew him first. I said from the beginning he'd up and
leave her. I foretold every single thing that's happened."
"Where did he go?" asks Mama.
"Probably to the North Pole, if he knows what's good for him," I
But Stella-Rondo just bawled and wouldn't say another word. She flew to her
room and slammed the door.
"Now look what you've gone and done, Sister," says Mama. "You
"I haven't got time, I'm leaving," I says.
"Well, what are you waiting around for?" asks Uncle Rondo.
So I just picked up the kitchen clock and marched off, without saying
"Kiss my foot" or anything, and never did tell Stella-Rondo
There was a girl going along on a little wagon right in front.
"Girl," I says, "come help me haul these things down the
hill, I'm going to live in the post office."
Took her nine trips in her express wagon. Uncle Rondo came out on the porch
and threw her a nickel.
And that's the last I've laid eyes on any of my family or my family laid
eyes on me for five solid days and nights. Stella-Rondo may be telling the
most horrible tales in the world about Mr. Whitaker, but I haven't heard
them. As I tell everybody, I draw my own conclusions.
But oh, I like it here. It's ideal, as I've been saying. You see, I've got
everything cater-cornered, the way I like it. Hear the radio? All the war
news. Radio, sewing machine, book ends, ironing board and that great big
peace, that's what I like. Butter-bean vines planted all along the front
where the strings are.
Of course, there's not much mail. My family are naturally the main people in
China Grove, and if they prefer to vanish from the face of the earth, for
all the mail they get or the mail they write, why, I'm not going to open my
mouth. Some of the folks here in town are taking up for me and some tumed
against me. I know which is which. There are always people who will quit
buying stamps just to get on the right side of Papa-Daddy.
But here I am, and here I'll stay. I want the world to know I'm happy.
And if Stella-Rondo should come to me this minute, on bended knees, and attempt
to explain the incidents of her life with Mr. Whitaker, I'd simply put my
fingers in both my ears and refuse to listen.
to Great Writers Page
Copyright © Eudora Welty
You might also like to read "Eudora:
How a Southern writer came to lend her name to a computer program"]