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Ma'Dear Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In a grammatically incorrect narrative that ambles through the past and the present, Ma’Dear, the principal character who is not otherwise identified by name, justifies renting rooms in her house to supplement her income and explains that her present single state is not intentional. She introduces herself as a widow of thirty-two years whose husband Jessie was and is without peer. She tried to find a replacement for Jessie but was unsuccessful. Whimpy Davis was crazy, Chester Rutledge was boring, and Bill Ronsonville was a rough lover. She has reconciled herself to being alone and amuses herself by sitting in the park, where she ponders death, eavesdrops on conversations, adds up numbers on license plates, and goes to the matinee if the lines are not slowed by senior citizens.

Although she thinks about death, she insists that she does not dwell on it. A more pressing concern is an imminent visit from the caseworker from whom Ma’Dear hides evidence of revenue beyond her Social Security income. Ma’Dear is convinced that the caseworker’s visit has been prompted by Clarabelle, a neighbor whom Ma’Dear considers nosy and envious. Ma’Dear believes that Clarabelle, who works in the caseworker’s office, had noticed delivery trucks at Ma’Dear’s house and sent the caseworker to spy. The trucks were delivering replacements for a couch and a boiler. Willamae, Jessie’s sister, had borrowed the money for the boiler for Ma’Dear, whose own bank would not give her a loan. The bank, however, frequently sends letters offering to refinance her house at a higher rate of interest. Ma’Dear blames the bank’s incessant letters, with questions about the effect of her death on family finances, for her preoccupation with death.

Her financial situation does not permit many extravagances—some potato chips, ice cream, and pork chops. She relies on Social Security and the roomers’ rent for income. Medicaid pays her medical expenses. She attempted to apply for food stamps but became frustrated and gave up after repeated efforts. She is, however, conscientious about her diet. She remembers that when she was young she worried about eating too many sweets for fear of gaining weight and developing cellulite. The young Ma’Dear’s teeth were bright, straight, and white; she looked healthy and attracted the attention of many men. Connie Curtis would curl her hair for a dollar and a beer. The aging Ma’Dear has no teeth, and her skin sags.

She contends that she does not miss being young, having done everything she wanted to do as a girl. She does not understand the choices that today’s young people, especially the girls, make. For example,...

(The entire section is 693 words.)