Greenville native celebrates southern women in book

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2006

A Greenville native is sharing the secrets of SWAG with the nation. &uot;SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully&uot; is the title of Melinda Rainey Thompson’s collection of wry and witty essays on an &uot;ordinary, 21st century modern woman’s life.&uot;

Southern laughter

From the joys of &uot;Cherries in the Snow&uot; lipstick, sweet tea and home-grown summer tomatoes to the timeworn connection between southern women and cemeteries, Thompson provides moments to make you laugh out loud, shed a few tears and stop and smell those roses – southern roses, of course.

Along with her amusing essays are a number of chuckle-inducing lists scattered throughout the book, among them &uot;Things a Southern Woman Could Live Without&uot; (Humid weather that makes her hair frizzy and her face shine), &uot;Things Southern Women Find Suspicious&uot; (Children who fail to say &uot;yes, ma’am&uot; and don’t get scowled at when they forget), and &uot;A SWAG’s Checklist for Obsessive Behavior&uot; (You schedule a surgical procedure around your favorite football team’s game schedule).

A happy accident

The author, a former English instructor at Birmingham Southern turned stay-at-home mother of three, said the book's origins really happened &uot;by accident&uot; back in the summer of 1999.

&uot;I had three children in a span of six years. I didn’t want a job because I really wanted to be with my children – but I was going stir-crazy,&uot; Thompson, a longtime Birmingham resident, said in a recent phone interview with The Advocate.

&uot;I needed some intellectual stimulation, so I came up with the idea of a newsletter I would send to 20 friends or so. Only it didn’t work out quite like that.&uot;

Instead, Thompson found her cozy group of correspondents steadily growing.

&uot;My friends kept asking me to add the names of other friends, parents, grandparents, etc. to my subscription lists…I finally had to start charging just to cover postage costs.&uot;

Before she knew it, the author had 5,000 subscribers in 38 states.

&uot;I was running a business out of my dining room – it had gotten a bit out of control. I asked myself, ‘What could I do? How could I build on this?’ That’s how the idea for the book was born.&uot;

Thompson has included both her favorite newsletters and some brand-new, previously unseen material in &uot;SWAG.&uot;

‘Joys of ordinary life’

The author said she isn’t ashamed to offer &uot;a little bit of escapism that’s guilt free and calorie free.” Her writing is also G-rated (&uot;you won’t have to worry about leaving this around the house for the kids to pick up&uot;).

&uot;I think these are stories that anyone can relate to; if it’s not you, it’s something that reminds you of a sister or mother or wife or aunt,&uot; she said.

&uot;It may sound a little corny, but I really like writing about the joys of ordinary life.&uot;

Husband Bill, who is on the Alabama Court of Civic Appeals, children Warner, 12, Nat, 10 and Lily, 7, several fish and an 18-year-old cat who refuses &uot;to go in to the light&uot; all figure into Thompson’s humorous tales, along with best buddies, sorority sisters, workmen, car salesmen and a few squirrels with an attitude problem.

A Greenville girl

Thompson’s hometown, and a childhood she describes as &#8220almost idyllic,” is never far from her writing.

&uot;Greenville was just a great place to grow up. I got to be part of the first Fort Dale Academy graduating class (1981) that had spent all 12 years there. I loved the school; I loved the town.”

The daughter of Linda Foster Rainey and Bartlett Rainey, Thompson still has relatives in the area, including uncles Tuffy and Lionel Rainey.

&uot;Two of my dearest friends - Elizabeth Matthews and Vivian McGowin – are still there in Greenville. I’ve been in Birmingham for years, but I will always be FROM Greenville,&uot; Thompson said.

The multigenerational, hometown family values the author learned growing up in the Camellia City have stayed with her, she said.

&uot;This pervading sense of humor, personal values, beliefs; all these things that were part of my childhood in Greenville have made me what I am today. I am so grateful for that.&uot;

Thompson said she is still astonished by the laundry basket full of letters from her newsletter readers from across the nation. &uot;People kept writing me and saying, ‘I feel like you are writing about me and my life.’ It was great to get that feedback.&uot;

While Greenville is not presently one of the stops on her upcoming two-week book tour through the South, Thompson wouldn’t mind the chance to do a book signing in her hometown – once she gets her feet wet, that is.

&uot;I’m a bit nervous about the whole signing thing; this is new to me. It’s one thing to teach a class, and another to talk about your own book,&uot; the author laughed.

Thompson is slated to sign copies of &uot;SWAG&uot; at Capitol Books and News in Montgomery at 4 p.m. on Oct. 10. She hopes to see some familiar hometown faces at the signing.

&uot;I had a wonderful time putting this book together and hope lots of people will enjoy it.&uot;

&uot;SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully&uot; lists at $14.95. It is available through the publisher at and will be stocked in chains and independent bookstores in the next few weeks.