I never tired of admiring and loving our little Christmas trees. When we cleared the back fields, Bob let me keep about ten of the prettiest trees for future Christmas trees. The loveliest of all we sent home to the family but the one I chose for our first Christmas was a dear, fat little lady with her full green skirts hiding her feet and all of her branches tipped with cones.
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald is a memoir of the years in the late 1920’s that Ms. MacDonald and her first husband, Bob Heskett, spent running a small chicken farm near Chimacum, Washington. The Egg and I was Betty MacDonald’s first book, published in 1945, and she went on to write several more volumes of memoir and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for children.
I can see from the book why the divorce ensued. Betty MacDonald begins her story with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: “Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband.” Berry MacDonald says she went into marriage with this sort of dutiful attitude, along with adherence to her mother’s advice “that it is a wife’s bounden duty to see that her husband is happy in his work.”
“Too many potentially great men are eating their hearts out in dull jobs because of selfish wives,” quoth Mom, and Betty listened and found herself supporting Bob in his dream of owning a chicken farm. With no electricity. No indoor plumbing. No radio. No telephone. Bats hanging in the cellar and flying into the house. Dropping boards and chicken lice. Days that began at 4 AM and ended at midnight or thereafter. Homicidal chickens. Bears and cougars. Ma and Pa Kettle as neighbors. Babies with “fits”.
The Egg and I is very funny.
Betty MacDonald had a way with words. Some examples, chosen almost at random:
“Farmers’ wives who had the strength, endurance and energy of locomotives and the appetites of dinosaurs were, according to them, so delicate that if you accidentally brushed against them they would turn brown like gardenias.”
“The parlor was clean and neat. . . I was amazed considering the fifteen children and the appearance of the rest of the house. But when I watched Maw come out of the bathroom, firmly shut the door, go over and pull down the fringed shades clear to the bottom, test the bolt on the door that led to the front hallway and finally shut and lock the door after us as we went into the kitchen, I knew. The parlor was never used. It was the clean white handkerchief in the breastpocket of the house.”
“Not me!” I screamed as he told me to put the chokers on the fir trees and to shout directions for the pulling as he drove the team when we cleared out the orchard. “Yes, you! I’m sure you’re not competent but you’re the best help I can get at present,” and Bob laughed callously.
Bob’s attitude in that last quote from the book, repeated frequently throughout, is probably the reason that Betty left him in 1931 and returned to Seattle, civilization, and eventually a new husband, Mr. Donald MacDonald, who presumably appreciated her desire to support him in his work and returned the favor.
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