It’s official. I am writing another memoir. This one will revolve around the home I own on Vashon, once the home of famous 40s author Betty MacDonald, who wrote “The Egg and I” and the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” series of books. I plan to call the book “The House and I.”
I hope it will be a little bit memoir, and a little bit biography of Betty, since there seems to be very little published about her, which is a shame. She was such a great writer of humor, her words and phrases are brilliant and although she insisted she didn’t write what we would now call memoir, her stories are very myopic and revealing, more for what she doesn’t say than for what she does. None of her books mention her divorce from her first husband, but after her experience at the chicken farm near Port Townsend described in the “The Egg and I,” she took her toddler daughters, Anne and Joan and left her first husband Robert Heskett after four years of marriage to move back home with her mother in Seattle. While in Seattle, she tried to get a job, or rather a series of jobs which she later chronicled in “Anybody Can Do Anything,” her book about trying to find work in Seattle during the Depression. She was then forced to leave her children (now around 9 and 1o years old) with her mother for almost a year while she was treated at Firland Sanitorium (in her book “The Plague and I” she called it The Pines) for tuberculosis. Later, she met Don MacDonald and in 1942 they married. Together with Anne and Joan (now 14 and 15) Don and Betty moved to Vashon, where she eventually left her job with the government to write her first book, “The Egg and I.”
I have been doing some research on Betty by going to the Vashon/Maury Island Heritage Museum where there are two big binders of letters, photos, book covers and such. I sat in the back room of the museum surrounded by shelves of books, the binders open with me snapping photos of the pages with my iPhone. Gee, remember when we used to photocopy stuff? There were so many letters, written by Betty or by people writing to her. I particularly liked this one that she wrote to Bert Lippincott (the original owner of J.B. Lippincott Publishing Company, the publisher of her books, but who had obviously retired from the company) because it mentions how she is beginning to write “Onions in the Stew,” her book about Vashon and the house.
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