Special to the Reporter
Betty MacDonald introduced millions of Americans to life in the rugged Northwest with her 1945 bestseller “The Egg and I” — a hilarious tale about running a chicken ranch on the Olympic Peninsula. MacDonald later testified that most of what she had described as autobiographical was made up, yet her fans didn’t seem to care.
A half century later, historian and writer Paula Becker became fascinated with MacDonald, writing a biography and, more recently, delving into the murky waters of memoirs with a presentation titled, “To Tell The Truth: Reading Betty MacDonald in the Age of Memoir.”
Becker will explore that theme at the next Redmond Historical Society’s Saturday Speaker Series program on March 10. How does MacDonald’s kind of nonfiction relate to the popular genre of memoir today? What — then and now — does “truth” in memoir mean?
There’s no doubt in Becker’s mind that “The Egg and I” is still relevant today.
“The story of a woman using her wit and family support to make her way through a difficult world despite many obstacles is always relevant,” says Becker, who will speak thanks to financial support from Humanities Washington.
“I became interested in Betty MacDonald shortly after moving to Seattle in 1993,” she adds. “I wrote about her for HistoryLink several times over the years and met many of her family members. As I realized how important she’d been to forming global ideas about Washington, I felt strongly that her life deserved a full biography.”
The result was Becker’s 2016 book titled “Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I”.
As for “The Egg and I,” Becker notes it was well timed — published just as World War II ended.
“Readers were ready to laugh again, and Betty’s book gave them plenty of opportunities to do so. Loving Betty MacDonald’s books is a family tradition passed down from generation to generation. Betty’s story continues to resonate because of her warm and witty writing style and because her essential message is that laughing beats complaining helps readers recast their own problems and keep getting by.”
Becker’s interest in memoirs is not happenstance. It turns out her own current project is a memoir titled “Long Way Down.”
The Saturday Speaker Series is presented by the Redmond Historical Society on the second Saturday of the month with three programs each in the fall and spring. It is held at 10:30 a.m. at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, located at 16600 N.E. 80th St. Topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest. There is a suggested $5 donation for non-members.
The Redmond Historical Society is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that receives support from the City of Redmond, 4 Culture, Nintendo, the Bellevue Collection, Happy Valley Grange, Microsoft and 501 Commons as well as from other donors and members.