April 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
Jill Conner Browne (aka THE Sweet Potato Queen) is the multiple #1 New York Times bestselling, laugh-out-loud funny leader of the Sweet Potato Queens—a movement that boasts some 6,200 chapters in more than 37 countries. Known for her bawdy, tongue-in-cheek humor, and for spreading what she refers to as “sparkle,” Browne started her reign when she and a few friends decided to enter the Jackson, Mississippi, St. Patrick’s Parade in 1982. The Sweet Potato Queens focus on sisterhood, self-esteem (you’re never too old or too anything to be a Queen) and positive thinking. Their annual Zippity Doo Dah Parade benefits the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, which just dedicated an examination room named for the group in its new ER.
The book that launched Browne was The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, a kind of manifesto for the movement, which came out in 1999. Here, Browne writes about the events that gave rise to the ninth book in the series, Fat Is the New 30: The Sweet Potato Queens’ Guide to Coping with (the crappy parts of) Life, out this month.
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Since 1999, I have cranked out a funny book about my life as THE Sweet Potato Queen every year or so and had more than my share of success. Out of eight books, all attained “bestseller” status with two actually reaching that much-coveted spot on the Only List That Really Matters: #1 on the New York Times list.
In 2009, I’d have to say my status as a writer felt pretty safe and secure—as did my whole life, truth be told. Married to a wonderful man (The Cutest Boy in the World), my only child doing well in college, a houseful of dogs and cats—happy as a pig in the sunshine would not be overstating my condition.
Life was perfect—until one day, it wasn’t anymore. “Mama fell.” How many friends have told me sad stories that began with those two words? Every minute of every hour of every day for six months, my husband and I were my mother’s total caregivers. Her hospital bed was literally in our bedroom with us until she died.
The daily horror of that six months took an enormous toll on my entire being and I was unable to write or fulfill speaking engagements. I am a humor writer, after all and this was not exactly fertile ground.
Or was it? My daddy always taught us that there are very few situations in life that we really and truly cannot change—but when we do encounter one of those, the task at hand is to either figure out how to make fun out of it or to make fun of it. Time to test his theory.
One afternoon Mama called me to her bedside and told me she was upset. “I can’t remember my young’uns names.” Choking back tears, I leaned down and softly said, “Well, do you know that you have some?” Yes. “Do you know that they love you?” Oh, of course. “Well, then, Mama, it doesn’t really matter what you call us—but I’m Jill—and I’m your favorite. And That Other One is Judy and she lives in New Orleans.”
Couldn’t wait to call and report this exchange to That Other One, and we did share great guffaws over it—kinda like laughing in church. Nothing is ever quite as funny as the stuff you’re not supposed to be laughing at, in a place where you’re not supposed to be laughing.
By and by, it became incumbent upon us to compose Mama’s obituary. Now, if you’re not from the South, you may be unaware of this, but down here, we do purely love a “good obituary.” I have seen summations of the lives of the Dearly Departed say things like, “He was fond of bowling and squirrels.” We were determined to give Mama the most entertaining obit to ever run in Mississippi’s largest newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger. (You can read it here). It went viral and was even read aloud on NPR in San Francisco. Mama woulda been so proud.)
My new book was born out of the self-therapy I had to do—utilizing my Daddy’s sage advice—in order to recover and heal. It turns out that laughter really is the best medicine after all.
Photo of Jill Conner Browne by Tom Joynt
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