The Egg and I, a memoire by Betty MacDonald. Originally published in 1945.
This is one of those books that are equal parts entertaining and educational. I really enjoyed it, it was well written, and it offered a unique insight into the life of a hard working farm wife isolated from the family and friends she left behind to support her husband as he pursued his dream. From what I learned, she later left him so there’s that, but the book covers the period of time from Betty MacDonald’s childhood through the early years of her first marriage.
There were lots of bits here and there that put to death the notion that wives and mothers of yesteryear were women who understood that life was all about fussing over every detail of home and children. Or that they viewed any outside interests as a cardinal sin. Betty MacDonald’s mother -whom I’m sure loved her children very much- was first and foremost a wife and had no reservations about leaving the children with their grandmother while she went off with their father on some grand adventure.
This left Betty with a far less adventurous spirit than her mother, since she was most heavily influenced by her grandmother, to whom adventure was much overrated. Some of the funniest moment in the early parts of the book were her grandmother’s ways of dealing with nature or the potential intruder who never paid a visit.
Nevertheless, there was one thing that Betty’s mother taught her that she took to heart and it’s this lesson with which she opens the book:
Along with teaching us that lamb must be cooked with garlic and that a lady never scratches her head nor spits, my mother taught my sisters and me that it is a wife’s bounden duty to see that her husband is happy in his work. “First make sure that your husband is doing the kind of work he enjoys and is best fitted for and then cheerfully accept whatever it entails. If you marry a doctor, don’t whine because he doesn’t keep the hours of a shoe clerk, and by the same token if you marry a shoe clerk, don’t complain because he doesn’t make as much money as a doctor. Be satisfied that he works regular hours,” Mother told us. page 1
It was in this spirit that Betty, as a young bride, followed her new husband Bob into his dream of being an egg farmer in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. He loved it there, thrived on the hard work, and prospered at everything he put his hand to. Betty on the other hand, worked hard and supported him, yet felt perpetually burdened by the isolation, loneliness, and way of life that was foreign to her.
Indians (Native Americans for the politically correct), illegitimacy so commonplace that half families socializing hardly raised eyebrows, a doctor known for doing abortions, and the general lack of propriety fascinated Betty who had been raised on Northeastern values. More than that however, the lack of socialization and proper reading material weighed on her.
Despite it all, she clearly maintained a wicked sense of humor and it shines forth in The Egg and I. I recommend it. It’s a quick, funny read which offers a take on life in the late 1920’s to early 1930’s that we don’t hear much about when people wax on about the pristine, prim and proper “good ol’ days”.
There is nothing in the content which merits an advisory.