Have you ever read The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald? If you haven’t, please do.
The Egg and I is the hilarious memoir of a young bride living in Chimacum (yes, that Chimacum, just across the Hood Canal Bridge) in the late 1920s. Betty was a Seattle girl transplanted to an isolated farm on the Olympic Peninsula. Her closest neighbors were the original Ma and Pa Kettle, and I don’t mean that in comparison. Their names (in the book, anyway) were actually Ma and Pa Kettle. In the 1947 movie The Egg and I starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, the Kettles were such a big hit that the characters were launched into eight sequel films starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride. I highly recommend watching at least one—big fun for the whole family.
The fact that The Egg and I was made into a movie should give you a hint at its popularity. The book was so successful (as Wikipedia assures me) that in the two years following its 1945 publication, it was reprinted on nearly a monthly basis. I believe it; my 1947 copy is from the twenty-third printing. So cool.
An international sensation, Betty’s books for some reason proved especially popular in Germany. I like to picture them—German-speaking, sausage-eating, Lederhosen-wearing, post–World War II men and women—enjoying funny stories from a young farm wife in Chimacum. I suppose they admired someone who had experienced tough times, but retold them with optimism and humor.
I’ve read The Egg and I more times than I can remember, and except for that first magical read, my favorite was one winter’s day a few years ago when I shared the book with my whole family. We had spent a couple of days with grandparents, and as the ferry is too expensive to ride westbound home when you’re paying for a car and driver and six passengers, we chose to drive the two and one-quarter hours around by way of Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Which is a story for another day.
Anyway, with all five kids and my husband captive in the van, I pulled out The Egg and I and nonchalantly said something like, “This is an interesting book. There’s one part I like that’s pretty good, if I can find it.” And I started reading, at page one.
Two and one-quarter hours later, my voice was gone, and everyone was laughing and wanting more. I had six Betty MacDonald converts on my hands.
Betty was the queen of finding humor in the everyday, and hitting the right subtle notes to turn a potentially funny story into something side-splitting. When she describes her ornery cook stove as being against her, you get it. We all have appliances (or computers, or cars) that seem out to get us.
Because you’ve been nice and read to the end, here’s a treat from The Egg and I:
“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 its 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.”
Check out The Egg and I and Betty’s other wonderful books—including the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for children—at your local library. If they don’t have these titles, request them!