What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Mama Day
by Gloria Naylor

Field-Tested by Andrew Huff

on a porch in Chicago, Illinois

The late August heat and humidity were oppressive, fit for nothing other than to sit in the screened-in, front porch of my parents' house, reading a book as I whiled away the days before heading back to college. Nobody ever used the porch; I had to sweep out the dust and wash out the cushions on the chairs. But it was relatively cool, quiet, and hidden from the street by overgrown wysteria vines, so it made a perfect reading spot.


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A friend had lent me Mama Day, a book she had read for one of her classes and had fallen in love with. The book's setting, on one of the Gullah islands along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina (right on the border between the two states, in fact, rendering the island a sort of jurisdictional no man's land, connected to the States by a single bridge), seemed particularly fitting for the dripping, dog days of summer.

I poured a nice, tall glass of lemonade, settled into a chair and immediately got sucked into a world in which witchcraft was a natural and everyday thing, to be wielded for good or for evil, and embodied by Mama Day, the nearly 100-year-old family matriarch who still gets up every day to feed the chickens and check on her sister next door. She watches over her family and friends, keeps them from harm by the vain and malevolent Ruby, and provides a strong link to the past as the modern world begins to creep into sleepy island life.

The slow pace of living in Willow Springs is contrasted sharply by the life of her prodigal granddaughter, Ophelia, in New York City, who meets George, a handsome architect raised in the city. They court, fall in love, marry, and eventually, George comes with Ophelia to visit her family, brewing much more trouble than either expected.

As I reached the book's climax, a huge storm rumbled in from the west, embodying in nature what I was picturing in my head. I kept reading, safe in my spot, right through the storm, its build-up, release, and an aftermath eerily mirroring the events on the page.

It was a magical moment, and considering the magical world Mama Day inhabits, not necessarily coincidental. In fact, I had the opportunity to reread the book years later, and once again, a storm manifested at just the right time. I'm half the mind to read it again this summer. You'll want to have an umbrella handy for when I get to the climax.

Andrew Huff is editor and publisher of Gapers Block, a Chicago-centric webzine. He also writes at Me3dia.

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