Every so often history offers us a chance to revisit a good book. This March is the centennial of the birth of Betty MacDonald, author of The Egg and I (1945) which is a memoir of life on a “chicken ranch” on the Olympic peninsula near Chimacum from 1927-1931. Betty observed the very rural and undeveloped farmland and forest and commented on the facts about farm living. Her large cast iron cookstove which she nicknamed “Stove” was a constant source of frustration for her; baby chicks seemed to be self-destructive; her neighbors throw-backs from evolutionary development of the species. She wrote the book after her divorce and she had remarried and moved to Vashon Island. Here’s a sample:
“By one o’clock on winter Sundays the house was shining clean, my hair was washed, Bob had on clean clothes and dinner was ready. Usually, just as we sat down to the table, as if by prearranged signal, the sun came out. True it shone with about as much warmth and lust as a Victorian spinster and kept darting behind clouds as if it were looking for its knitting and sticking hits head out again with an apologetic smile, but it was sun and not rain. The mountains, either in recognition of the sun or Sunday, would have their great white busts exposed and I expected momentarily to have them clear their throats and start singing Rock of Ages in throaty contraltos.”
~ The Egg and I. p. 77
In her relatively short life (1908-1953) Betty was married twice had two daughters, wrote five autobiographical books and several children’s titles, with The Egg and I on the best-seller list for years and reaching one million copies sold in less than a year after it was published. Tuberculosis, the White Plague, forced her to be sent to the Firland Sanitarium for almost a year. She struggled to find a job that would support her and her two daughters after her divorce. The Egg was made into a movie with Claudette Colbert and the famous “Ma and Pa Kettle” TV and radio spinoffs. Search Historylink for several articles and other information about her life and writings. You might also enjoy checking out The Betty MacDonald Society or The Friends of Betty MacDonald, or perhaps one day stay at her farm on Vashon Island.
The Hugh and Jane Ferguson Seattle Room in the Central Library has a fine collection of first editions of MacDonald’s works which will be on display from March 7 thru April 25, 2008. The exhibit is on Level 10 and can be viewed anytime the Library is open.