Onions in the Stew Paperback – August 31, 1993
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She later wrote a book about her experiences during the Great Depression and another about her struggle as a TB patient. "Onions in the Stew" was published in 1955 and is my favorite of the four books. It tells about her remarriage (in 1942) and her family's move to Vashon Island and their life there for thirteen years.
Most of us have dreamed of living on an island, but the reality is not quite the same. In 1942, Vashon is changing from a summer-cottage resort to a year-round community and the transition isn't a smooth one. Sometimes the electricity works and sometimes it doesn't. The ferry to Seattle runs on time, except when it's early or late. The neighborly custom of everyone getting together to maintain the community water source looks good on paper, but so do many Great Ideas.
Coastal Washington State is one of the most scenic areas on the planet, but the weather is unpredictable and can be quite dicey. Macdonald tackled this strenuous life as a middle-aged woman with a loyal, but stubborn husband, and two teen daughters who were frequently as stormy as the weather and much harder to live with.
Just taking care of her house and family (in the days before fast food and other conveniences) would have been a full-time job, but she also launched her career as a writer during these years. The move to Vashon's lower cost of living was to allow Macdonald to quit her government job and concentrate on writing. It worked. Starting with the publication of "The Egg and I" in 1945, she wrote a total of four adult books and the popular children's series about "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle." She dealt with publishers and artists and fans and the press, sometimes having to play hostess since there was no hotel on the island.
Young women will find it odd that she talks so little about her career as an author. In the 1940's and 50's, it was considered bad taste for a woman to talk about her career, if she had one, and few women did. Best-selling authors like Macdonald wrote memoirs about being wives and mothers, gliding quietly over their professional accomplishments and any difference it made in their lives. It would be another generation before females could admit to having a career without being thought "unwomanly."
Her stories are funny and fascinating. Just the daily struggle to survive gave her plenty of material, but she was also raising two daughters and trying to hang onto her sanity. Her girls turned from sullen, uncooperative brats to charming , sensible young women when they emerged from their terrible teens, a change that seemed little short of miraculous to their mother.
Writing is a lonely job, but Betty Macdonald was a sociable person. Living in a small community limited her choice of companions, but she made close friends and acquired a few pests. Most hilarious of all is her encounter with pathetic Elizabeth Gage Wheaton and her bedraggled brood of children. A kind-hearted woman and an experienced mother, Macdonald immediately launches into an energetic plan to improve the lives of this sad family, while the other islanders look on and snicker. Why should they warn her about the Wheatons when it's so much fun to watch yet another person fall into the trap of helping the chronically un-helpable?
And there are family pets and wildlife and gardening and the rowboat-from-hell. It doesn't make me want to move to an island, but it's great fun to read about it. Macdonald had an incredible talent for mining humor out of everyday living. It's there for all of us, but usually we're too busy to see and appreciate it. Sadly, this fine woman died at the young age of fifty-one. I'm glad she lived to enjoy her six grandchildren and to relish being a successful author. Her books are just as fresh and witty as they were seventy years ago and I'm happy to see them available in Kindle editions.
The author rises to all these challenges and more with never failing optimism and a never ending sense of humor. The stories are all based on actual incidents in the author's life, ones that she did manage to survive. You will not be able to get through this book without laughing out loud.
Not as rollicking and raw as "The Egg and I"; a good book detailing her life and the publication of "The Egg and I."
She only wrote the four novels/pseudo-autobiographies, BUT, she did write several children's books, which are good as well, if you're interested.