The Egg and IBook - 1945
From the critics
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In THE EGG AND I (Lippincott), Betty MacDonald shares her experience of farming on the Northwest frontier. City slickers, she and her husband (Bob) pull the trigger and take a chance on chickens - a subject neither know anything about - and fortunately she has the presence of mind to write about it. No running water, no electricity, not much of anything for company other than Bob, except for chickens, the weather and the constant present mountains.
After some time, she pays a visit to her nearest neighbors, a mere four miles away. Maw and Paw Kettle are a picture of laziness. They live by the motto: A job worth doing is a job worth talking someone else into doing for you. Paw speaks with a slow, laborsome lisp, while Maw begins every sentence with "Key-rist!" Their farm is a chaotic mess of rusty bed springs, car parts and anything else that oxidizes under the weather. At last count they had fifteen kids, and nary a hand to help poor Paw with the chores. MacDonald describes them so vividly (and lovingly) you can't help but like them, lazy or not. They were a hit with MacDonald's readers, so much so they became a Hollywood franchise (the Maw and Paw Kettle films). Her other neighbors, the Hicks, though the opposite of the Kettles in tidiness, get no better treatment at the hands of the author. She describes Mr. Hicks as "a large ruddy dullard, [who] walked gingerly through life, being careful not to get dirt on anything or in any way to irritate Mrs. Hicks, whom he regarded as a cross between Mary Magdalene and the County Agent." Still, within the story MacDonald seems to really love her pioneering women friends for reasons other than mutual survival.
If MacDonald's descriptions of her neighbors are endearing, her descriptions of the native locals are anything but.
". . . when [Indians] came to call I filled up Stove's reservoir with water and after they had left I scrubbed the house from top to bottom with Lysol. Birdie Hicks the Second, Bob called me. I didn't care. Little red brothers or not, I didn't like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them. They had come a long way from Hiawatha."
Hmmmm. Chalk it up to the era in which it was written.
MacDonald assigns fictitious names to the local communities. Town (where one could shop), is the real life Victorian seaport of Port Townsend. Crossroads is actually Chimacum (why elect not to use a wonderful name like Chimacum?), and Docktown is Port Hadlock. To this day, there is a country lane not far from these places named The Egg and I Road, evidence of how big a phenomenon MacDonald's book was. In 1995 - the fiftieth anniversary of THE EGG AND I - I was invited by a friend to attend a reading of it at the Seattle Public Library. I went anticipating my friend and I and maybe one or two eccentric Chicken Lady types would make up the total in attendance. To my surprise the event was packed. It was a Betty MacDonaldpalooza. All week. You just had to know where to look.
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These Olympics have none of the soft curves and girlish plumpness of Eastern Mountains. They are goddesses, full-breasted, broad-hipped, towering and untouchable. They are also complacent in the knowledge that they look just as mountains should."
- Betty MacDonald, THE EGG AND I
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