Monday, November 30, 2015

All our love and support to Betty MacDonald's family

We are sending all our love and support to Betty MacDonald' s family.

Pray for those, please who are ill.

You know my 10 year old daughter suffers from Leukemia.

Thank you so much for your outstanding support.

I appreciate this a lot. 

Best wishes and many greetings from Betty MacDonald fan club fans from 40 countries.
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Golden laughter with Betty MacDonald and Mark Twain

“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” -- Mark Twain

Betty MacDonald fan club fans, 

Mark Twain would celebrate his 180th birtday today.

I agree with Mark Twain that laughter is most important in our life and it's strong like a weapon.

Therefore Betty MacDonald and Mark Twain belong to my favourite authors. 

Betty MacDonald Fan Club fans from all over the World are very interested in Wolfgang Hampel's interviews, stories and poems.

You'll be able to read some of Wolfgang Hampel's new satirical stories and poems in our  Betty MacDonald Fan Club newsletter. It'll be available in December. 

Wolfgang Hampel is journalist, author, artist and poet.

He is the winner of the first Betty MacDonald Memorial Award.

Wolfgang Hampel founded Betty MacDonald Fan Club and Betty MacDonald Society in 1983.

Betty MacDonald Fan Club has members in 40 countries.

Wolfgang Hampel visited all the places where Betty MacDonald and her family lived.

Wolfgang Hampel's new Betty MacDonald documentary of Betty MacDonald's life in Boulder, Butte, Seattle, Laurelhurst, Chimacum, Vashon Island, Carmel and Carmel Valley is really fascinating. My personal favourites are scenes of Betty's and Don's life in Carmel and Carmel Valley.

Wolfgang Hampel, author of Betty MacDonald Biography, interviewed Betty MacDonald's family and friends and many other famous artists and writers, for example Astrid Lindgren, Truman Capote, J. K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, David Guterson, Donna Leon, Ingrid Noll, Marie Marcks, William Cumming, Walt Woodward and Betty MacDonald Fan Club Honour Members Monica Sone, Letizia Mancino, Darsie Beck and Gwen Grant. 

Wolfgang Hampel is also very well known for his satirical poems and stories.

We are going to share Wolfgang Hampel's work with many fans from all over the world who adore his Betty MacDonald Biography and unique Betty MacDonald Interviews. 

Wolfgang Hampel's newest literary project is Vita Magica.

Viele Betty MacDonald Fan Club Fans aus der ganzen Welt sind sehr an Wolfgang Hampels Interviews, Geschichten und Gedichten interessiert.

Sie können einige von Wolfgang Hampels neuen satirischen Geschichten und Gedichten im nächsten Betty MacDonald Fan Club Magazin lesen.

Wolfgang Hampel ist Journalist, Autor, Künstler und Poet.

Er ist der Träger des ersten Betty MacDonald Gedächtnispreises. 

Wie wir alle wissen gründete Wolfgang Hampel 1983 den Betty MacDonald Fan Club und die Betty MacDonald Society.

Der Betty MacDonald Fan Club hat Mitglieder in 40 Ländern.
Wolfgang Hampel besuchte alle Orte wo Betty MacDonald und ihre Familie lebte.

Wolfgang Hampels neue Betty MacDonald Dokumentation über Betty MacDonalds Leben in Boulder, Butte, Seattle, Laurelhurst, Chimacum, Vashon, Carmel und Carmel Valley ist wirklich faszinierend. Ein Höhepunkt sind Szenen von Bettys und Dons Leben in Carmel und Carmel Valley.  

Wolfgang Hampel, Autor der Betty MacDonald Biografie, interviewte Betty MacDonalds Familie und Freunde und viele andere berühmte Künstler und Schriftsteller, z.B. Astrid Lindgren,  Truman Capote, J. K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, Donna Leon, David Guterson, Marie Marcks,  Ingrid Noll, William Cumming, Walt Woodward und Betty MacDonald Fan Club Ehrenmitglieder Monica Sone, Letizia Mancino, Darsie Beck und Gwen Grant.

Wolfgang Hampel ist auch sehr bekannt für seine satirischen Gedichte und Geschichten. 

Wir werden Wolfgang Hampels Werk den vielen Fans aus aller Welt vorstellen, die seine Betty MacDonald Biografie und die einzigartigen Betty MacDonald Interviews schätzen. 

Wolfgang Hampels neues literarisches Projekt ist Vita Magica.


Vita Magica

Betty MacDonald fan club

Betty MacDonald forum  

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( English )

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( German )

Wolfgang Hampel - Monica Sone - Wikipedia ( English )

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( English )

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( French )

Wolfgang Hampel in Florida State University 

Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel 

Betty MacDonald fan club interviews on CD/DVD

Betty MacDonald fan club items 

Betty MacDonald fan club items  - comments

Betty MacDonald fan club - The Stove and I 

Betty MacDonald fan club organizer Linde Lund 

Betty MacDonald loved in Germany

Axel Schappei The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber June 16, 1983

Go into any ordinary German bookstore and ask for former Islander, Betty MacDonald's paperbacks and you'll be handed - at least - three books: Die Insel und ich ( Onions in the Stew ), Das Ei und ich ( The egg and I ) Betty kann alles (Anybody can do anything).

Scholars in the Pegasus German courses on the Island may notice that the German titles of Betty MacDonald's famous autobiographical novels have been translated appropriatley.
Betty would like them. Betty MacDonald, who lived on Vashon Island, is tremendously popular in Germany. She once was one of the most well known and widely read novelists in the United States. But would you guess that more than two million paperbacks and hard-cover books of Betty MacDonald have been published and sold in Germany during the last 30 years? 

Her bestseller The Egg and I reached about half a million in July 1981. From March 1964 until October 1980, 107000 copies of Anybody can do anything were sold in 12 editions. Onions in the Stew - her novel about living on the Rock - sold 103000 copies from May 1964 until September 1980, also in 12 editions. "She is incredibly successful, really, not only her novels. Her books for children like Nancy and Plum or the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle-Stories still belong to the most successful childrens' books after all those years," says Wolfgang Hampel, who is so convinced about Betty MacDonald. 

He simply loves Betty MacDonald and her books: "She's so homorous, her stories about everyday-life's and awkward situations are just incomparable. It's like a good friend taking you be the hand and leading through her life." 

That's why Wolfgang Hampel and four other German Betty Fans plan to launch an extensive exhibition about Betty MacDonald, her life and her work.

Originally they wanted to open the exhibit on February 7, 1983, 25th anniversary of Betty MacDonald's death. But the five friends didn't manage to get enough exhibits together. "We're still looking for pictures, photographs, letters - in short all sorts of personal mementoes about Betty. Our exhibition has been planned for the last few years and we have written zillions of letters and bought hundreds of books, here in Germany, Europe and from the States," explains Wolfgang Hampel.They tried to get further information about their preferred author from American publishing companies. "Some didn't answer and others know less than we did already! It was like finding the different pieces of a jigsaw-puzzle without knowing what it will look like in the end." 

Why all this activity?"We think that Betty MacDonald is such a fascinating person that many people here should know more about her . Apart from our endeavors to our exhibition together we've also been in contact with publishers to convince them that a new edition of Nancy and Plum would find its readers still today.

Betty MacDonald's readers come from all ages and social groups," says Wolfgang Hampel. Of course he and his friends know that Vashon is the Onions in the Stew Island and they also know that Vashon is part of the Pacific Northwest and - more specifically - of Puget Sound. So imagine their amusement when some publishing firms told them that Vashon is somewhere up to Alaska. 

Actually, Wolfgang Hampel knows quiete a lot about the Rock, though he's never been here. All his information comes from Betty MacDonald's Onions in the Stew. So he's got the idea of the terrific view of Mount Rainier, and he also knows about her coyness.

Wolfgang Hampel has a pretty good impression about the house where Betty lived with her folks. "What we dearly need for our exhibition are pictures of the Island, books all sort of visuals to show people here in what a beautiful scenery Betty lived. So people can understand that she simply had to write books like that in such a fascinating rural enviroment.

Wolfgang would be grateful for any help he could get from the Island. "Really, the most substantial help came from Vashon so far. We got some great personal impressions about Betty from Islanders who knew her."Wolfgang is amazed about the friendliness and amount of help and encouragement that reached him from the Rock. Still it's a long way until the exhibition is ready. 

Anyone with anything they'd like to send for the planned exhibition can write to Wolfgang Hampel. 

Schlossbeleuchtung Heidelberg 

Mark Twain is born

Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain, is born in Florida, Missouri, on this day in 1835.
Clemens was apprenticed to a printer at age 13 and later worked for his older brother, who established the Hannibal Journal. In 1857, the Keokuk Daily Post commissioned him to write a series of comic travel letters, but after writing five he decided to become a steamboat captain instead. He signed on as a pilot’s apprentice in 1857 and received his pilot’s license in 1859, when he was 23.
Clemens piloted boats for two years, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During his time as a pilot, he picked up the term “Mark Twain,” a boatman’s call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he wrote a humorous travel letter signed by “Mark Twain” and continued to use the pseudonym for nearly 50 years.
In 1864, he moved to San Francisco to work as a reporter. There, he wrote the story that made him famous: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
In 1866, he traveled to Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Next, he traveled the world writing accounts for papers in California and New York, which he later published the popular book The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870, Clemens married the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture. In 1875, his novel Tom Sawyer was published, followed by Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn (1885). Bad investments left Clemens bankrupt after the publication of Huckleberry Finn, but he won back his financial standing with his next three books–Pudd’Nhead Wilson (1894), Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895), and Following the Equator (1897). In 1903, he and his family moved to Italy, where his wife died. Her death left him sad and bitter, and his work, while still humorous, grew distinctly darker. He died in 1910.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Betty MacDonald and Seattle

Seattle skyline across Pier 66 waterfront

Betty MacDonald fan club fans,

Betty MacDonald fan club event voting will be very exciting.

Tell us your favourite city please for International Betty MacDonald fan club event 2016.

My favourite is Seattle.
I'll  contribute a Betty MacDonald letter to Betty MacDonald fan club letter collection. 

I own a very important letter of Betty MacDonald. 

I wished there was a relative in my family who met Betty MacDonald and Mary Bard Jensen.

However I'll share a very interesting Betty MacDonald letter which was inside a book I bought.

You'll be able to find my Betty MacDonald fan club contribution in Betty MacDonald fan club newsletter October.

I love the Betty MacDonald fan club motto: 

Sail away and find new treasures every day!

That's exactly what Betty MacDonald, Mary Bard Jensen, Alison Bard Burnett,  Mr. and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Wolfgang Hampel did/does.

I had the very same feelings when I saw Betty MacDonald's letter inside the book.

As I adore the Betty MacDonald items by Betty MacDonald Memorial Award Winner Wolfgang Hampel I'm going to forward a copy of the letter for Betty MacDonald biography and Betty MacDonald fan club letter collection.

The subject of Betty MacDonald's letter is her family, friends and favourite authors.

New Betty MacDonald documentary will be very interesting with many interviews never published before.

Join our current Betty MacDonald fan club contest, please.

Deadline: December 31, 2015  

You can win very interesting Betty MacDonald fan club items.

Betty MacDonald fan club honor member Mr. Tigerli  shares his autobiography. 

He is a real Casanova but this magical guy got fans from all over the world.

I belong to Mr. Tigerli's devoted fans.

Thank you so much for sharing this witty memories with us. 

Enjoy your new breakfast with Brad and Nick at the bookstore.

Happy Sunday,


Vita Magica

Betty MacDonald fan club

Betty MacDonald forum  

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( German )

Wolfgang Hampel - Monica Sone - Wikipedia ( English )

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( French )

Wolfgang Hampel in Florida State University 

Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel 

Betty MacDonald fan club interviews on CD/DVD

Betty MacDonald fan club items 

Betty MacDonald fan club items  - comments

Betty MacDonald fan club - The Stove and I 

Betty MacDonald fan club organizer Linde Lund 

                                Mr. Tigerli's memories

Copyright 2015 by Letizia Mancino

Translated by Mary Holmes

All rights reseverd 

My birthday! 

I, Mr. Tigerli, can hardly save myself from being submerged in red roses!  Oh dear, a loving cat has his problems.

Surrounded by a sea of flowers!

Mind you I’ve earned it. I have risked so much for love in my life!

I have become famous because of being such a great lover.  I am a Casanova cat.

 Am I exaggerating?  Are there not cats more famous than me, artists who paint or play the piano?

That may be so, but they are “nobodies” in the art of loving!

Look in the internet under “Erotica Felina”! You will see that my name immediately appears on the screen.

People boarding their plane in Singapore have found me at once on Google.

I am a world famous cat.

Oh no, I don’t loose my head over female cats. But women! I love women.  Yes only women. These wonderful creatures give me everything! Not only affection, good conversation and food.

I was four months old when I discovered my partiality for women.

One time I was cavorting on the bed with Roswitha, my first love – although it was strictly forbidden to get onto the bed – when under the woolen blanket I suddenly felt a wonderful soft plump area! Roswitha’s tummy! I was running backwards and forwards across it when suddenly a shot of adrenalin rushed through my cat brain. At an early age I became a slave to love!

But it was Roswitha’s foot that surprised me with my first erotic feelings. She had unknowingly stretched it out of the bed under the pressure of my four paws and for the first time I saw the naked foot of a woman. Five small tempting little sausages attracted my attention. How delicately the points moved. They were more attractive to look at than the mice in the fresh grass. I miaowed to them “I’m going to bite you”!

I understand men who kiss the feet of women so ardently.

I immediately lost my head and my innocence.

Now I began to nibble at these five little porkies.

Roswitha continued to sleep and sighed softly. Encouraged I licked her whole foot. Roswitha laughed sweetly and delightfully in her sleep.

Within eight months I was familiar with her leg.

I love beautiful legs. Without hair, without ticks or other insects. They have such a wonderful perfume. I could lick women’s legs without any saliva. Wonderful!   A refined lover begins with delicate movements, not by taking the female creation by storm. Only goats climb on the back of their females without paying a single compliment. You know, Betty, that a Casanova doesn’t come straight to the point!

Roswitha, I love you Oh, my first love! I felt so good in your bed. I lay at your feet in the night. But after two intimate years deeply in love with your feet, your husband came home. His field service away from home was over, and sadly my home service with you too.

“Get out of my bed”, he shouted. It’s not right to treat a loving cat so rudely, even when men have the right to be jealous of us. We are after all superior to them. We are supple and seductively beautiful until old age. We are not rude or, even worse, drunkards! A woman can spend romantic hours stroking us or even sleep with us in her bed and still believe in platonic love, which is hardly possible for them with a man. Women never become pregnant with us and this has advantages. Casanova was the inventor of the condom. We are the condom.

I was thrown out. Are men all so brutal, Betty? The bedroom door was locked. But I was still allowed to live in the house: three sofas in the living room, a bed in the guest bedroom, and an old divan in the cellar were available for me. Roswitha could come to these. But I was appalled!

Mr. Brummi avoided my dirty looks. Since then I have not befriended men, to say nothing of cats!

Without Roswitha’s feet I had to eke out a miserable existence in the house. And she complained that her feet were cold.

The husband however was obdurate. He tried, without success, to take my place: to stroke Roswitha’s feet, to rub them, to tickle them! But Roswitha’s five little white toes remained in the bed as motionless as if rigor mortis had set in.

There were no more giggles. The doctor recommended an evening foot-bath. To think that I should be replaced by a herbal bath! How outrageous!

Should I have scratched at the bedroom door every night? I am a proud cat! I would rather look around! She wouldn’t have heard me anyway. The husband snores as loudly as a vacuum cleaner on the point of collapse. Should I have dropped five dead mice in front of the door? But I don’t bring her these presents any more. If you love me, I thought, get divorced!

“Darling” I hear her say to her husband, “Couldn’t you snore more quietly?”

I comforted myself with her socks. The dirty ones, naturally. There were a few flakes from her skin that I swallowed with joy. Some men even sniff underwear. Idiotic love. That’s going too far for me. I, Mr Tigerli, don’t do that because I am an aesthetic cat. Gradually I’d had enough of the socks. Should I look for a new woman? The thought of being unfaithful came to me quite suddenly.

The nights in my basket passed peacefully  - and also the nights in Roswitha’s bed. Cold feet and migraines are two passion killers. The husband was sullen. She never suffered with me. I laughed - even if cats can’t laugh – behind my beard and knew that she had remained faithful.  I didn’t. I found the young servant in the house very fascinating. Her legs were not so beautiful as Roswitha’s , but the risks were low. The young woman was a Russian, temperamental, pretty and I liked her. Infidelity was for me a triviality.

“Oh, Mr. Tigerli”, cried Putziputzi  (that was her pet name. I’ll say no more, she had two brothers) “why are you licking me so tenderly?”

I could have answered. “You are my second choice. I am missing Roswitha’s feet.” But I wrapped myself round her leg, as all loving cats do.

She gave an even louder cry and ran away! I was perplexed!

I had no idea that genuine love-play begins with “No, no, I’d rather not, please don’t”.

I still had a lot to learn. Then I thought: Quick , Tigerli, follow Putziputzi and sing her a song! After that wonderful days followed: I showered her soft thighs with delicate little love-bites. It was intoxicating!

We constantly changed the spot we chose for our love-making. On Mondays and Fridays we lay on the three sofas, on Tuesday on the bed in the guest room, but most of the time we spent together in the cellar. She was crazy! Is this sex,

I asked myself. What man can make a woman so happy?

Putziputzi was soon dismissed from her job.

I have no great opinion of husbands and I must admit I have good reasons for this. But that their wives should react with such jealousy was for me an insoluble puzzle.

It wasn’t long before I was lying in bed with Roswitha again.

The husband had probably seen that the loss of a servant can have serious consequences. Now it was his job to vacuum the whole house: from the cellar to the attic. Roswitha assured him this would only be for a short transitional period, until she had found a replacement for Putziputzi.

“Yes, yes!  But the replacement must be ugly and unattractive and she should only work in the house and she must not play with Tigerli”, he answered.

“Yes, yes! I agree”, answered Roswitha, “and it would be wise if you would allow Tigerli to sleep in the bed with me again”.

The husband willingly gave his consent.

He nodded his agreement and it was clear that he saw me in a new light.

I was no longer a competitor.

What the heck, he thought! The guy was sleeping in my bed with my wife when I was away anyway!

So thanks to the vacuum-cleaner I was able to continue my love-affair with my first love Roswitha.


                      Who is Mr. Tigerli?                             

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Betty MacDonald and Pike Place Market

Betty MacDonald fan club fans,

great Betty MacDonald fan club news.

A new Betty MacDonald fan club contest!

Send us a mail with your answer, please: ( see questions below )  

A, B, C or D?

You also have to answer this Betty MacDonald fan club contest question:

Betty MacDonald described Pike Place Market in her book   ........................

Pike Place Market celebrated its 108th birthday on August 17, 2015.

Did you know Pike Place Market was almost demolished in the 1960s?

For Betty MacDonald fan club contest can you figure out why Pike Place Market was nearly torn down?

A. It was severely damaged by the Great Seattle Fire.

B. A tsunami hit Seattle, destroying parts of the Market.

C. Gold was discovered underground, beneath the Market.

D. A proposal was being seriously considered to replace the Market with a plaza that would include a hotel, an apartment building, four office buildings, a hockey arena, and a parking garage.

Deadline: December 31, 2015

Don't miss your chance, please to win the most interesting Betty MacDonald fan club items.

Wolfgang Hampel's new project Vita Magica is very fascinating because he is going to include Betty MacDonald, other members of the Bard family and Betty MacDonald fan club honor members.

Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel wrote a great story of Pike Place Market.

He presented it on 'Vita Magica' in August.

It's simply great to read Wolfgang Hampel's  new very well researched  stories about Betty MacDonald, Robert Eugene Heskett, Donald Chauncey MacDonald, Darsie Bard, Sydney Bard, Gammy, Alison Bard Burnett,  Darsie Beck, Mary Bard Jensen, Clyde Reynolds Jensen, Sydney Cleveland Bard, Mary Alice Bard, Dorothea DeDe Goldsmith, Madge Baldwin, Don Woodfin, Mike Gordon, Ma and Pa Kettle, Nancy and Plum, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and others.

The next Vita Magica will be on December 15, 2015. 

Betty MacDonald fan club honor member Mr. Tigerli  and our 'Italian Betty MacDonald' - Betty MacDonald fan club honor member author and artist Letizia Mancino belong to the most popular Betty MacDonald fan club teams in our history.

Their many devoted fans are waiting for a new Mr. Tigerli adventure.

Letizia Mancino's  magical Betty MacDonald Gallery  is a special gift for Betty MacDonald fan club fans from all over the world.

Don't miss Brad Craft's 'More friends', please. 

Betty MacDonald's very beautiful Vashon Island is one of my favourites

Wishing you a great Saturday,


Vita Magica

Betty MacDonald fan club

Betty MacDonald forum  

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( German )

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel in Florida State University 

Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel 

Betty MacDonald fan club interviews on CD/DVD

Betty MacDonald fan club items 

Betty MacDonald fan club items  - comments

Betty MacDonald fan club organizer Linde Lund 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Betty MacDonald, ugly glasses and Vive la France


Betty MacDonald fan club fans

join our new Betty MacDonald fan club contest, please.

Do you wear glasses?

It isn't a problem at all now because we have very stylish glasses.

However wearing glasses was a huge problem 70 years ago.

What was the reason why?

Because the glasses looked rather ugly.

Tell us please two members of the Bard family who were shortsighted.

Good luck. 

You can win very interesting new Betty MacDonald fan club items.

Deadline:  November 30, 2015

Good luck!

Enjoy a new breakfast at the bookstore with Brad and Nick.

Don't miss it, please. 

Have a nice Friday, 


Vita Magica

Betty MacDonald fan club

Betty MacDonald forum  

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel - Wikipedia ( German )

Wolfgang Hampel - Ma and Pa Kettle - Wikipedia ( English ) 

Wolfgang Hampel in Florida State University 

Betty MacDonald fan club founder Wolfgang Hampel 

Betty MacDonald fan club interviews on CD/DVD

Betty MacDonald fan club items 

Betty MacDonald fan club items  - comments

Betty MacDonald fan club organizer Linde Lund 

#osnabrück #dortmund
Beim Arzt auf meinen
#work #selfie #smile
#brille #essen #slp
Kapitalismus? Nein d

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Betty MacDonald, Anybody can do anything and Vive la France

    Mary Bard Jensen and Betty MacDonald

Claire Dederer, Author of Poser : My Life In Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
lives in Seattle and writes about books and culture for the New York Times, Vogue, Newsday, and many other publications.

Dear Betty MacDonald fan club fans,

I knew of the Betty MacDonald Fan Club but didn't know its activities were so extensive.

That's wonderful.

I checked in with the magazine and they said please feel free to reprint or repost.

I will keep you updated if I do any more pieces on Betty.

Thanks so much for all you are doing!

All the best,

Claire Dederer

Second Read — January / February 2011 Her Great Depression

Re-reading Betty MacDonald’s Anybody Can Do Anything, on the Northwest’s bust years

By Claire Dederer

From the time I was nine or ten, I carried a spiral-bound Mead notebook with me at all times. I wanted to be a writer, felt I probably already was a writer, and feared I would never be a writer. I was constantly looking for clues that would tell me that someone like me, someone from Seattle, someone who was a girl, someone who was no one, might be able to write a book. A book that got published.

I was always on the lookout for a message, something that would tell me that this thing could be done. I realize now that what I was looking for was an influence. Influence is a message about what is possible, sent by book from one writer to another. Different writers are looking for different messages. As a child, the message I sought was simple: This place is worth writing about.

Just as I was a nobody, Seattle at that time was a non-place in literature. This was the 1970s. There were few nationally published authors from Seattle. Whenever I encountered any writing at all about the Northwest, I fell upon it gratefully. I was happy to read anything that had blackberries and Puget Sound and Douglas firs and the names of the streets downtown. I read Richard Brautigan stories; Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, though I didn’t even pretend to enjoy it; collections of columns by crabby old Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspapermen of the 1950s; poems by Carolyn Kizer. I read Tom Robbins and was embarrassed by the sex. I read Mary McCarthy’s first memoir, but she seemed to hate the place.

And, eventually, I read Betty MacDonald. She had been there all along, on my own shelves, in the form of her familiar, tattered Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Then, browsing my mother’s shelves one summer afternoon, I came upon a grown-up book by MacDonald: Anybody Can Do Anything.

I had seen it before but assumed it belonged to the dreary crop of self-help books that had mushroomed on my mother’s shelves over the past few years. Bored enough, I picked it up—and found therein an enchanted world. Enchanted because it was exactly real. Anybody Can Do Anything is Betty MacDonald’s story of how she and her family weathered the Depression in an old wood-frame house (not unlike my family’s) in the University District (just a mile or two from where I lived). And though my historical circumstances were very different from hers, our shared geography was enough to make me feel that I was seeing my life reflected in her pages.

It’s funny to think of a time when Betty MacDonald’s books were new to me. Over the years I would come to know them the way I knew houses in my own neighborhood—with a casual intimacy. MacDonald began writing toward the end of her short life, in the 1940s, when she had found happiness with her second husband on their blackberry-ridden acreage on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. Her first book was The Egg and I, set in the 1920s. This chronicle of MacDonald’s life on an Olympic Peninsula chicken farm with her first husband would become her most famous book, make her a fortune, and form the basis of a wildly successful 1947 film. This, putting aside her books for children, was followed by The Plague and I, a surprisingly entertaining account of her stint in a tuberculosis sanitarium just north of Seattle. How she created a ripping yarn out of lying in bed for a year is one of life’s mysteries. Next came Anybody Can Do Anything, which I held in my hands. Finally she wrote Onions in the Stew, about life on Vashon Island, which came in 1955, just three years before she succumbed to cancer at the age of forty-nine.

But it was Anybody Can Do Anything, with its Seattle locale and its scrappy, cheerful message of survival, which spoke most directly to me.

As the book opens and the Depression begins, MacDonald has been living on the chicken farm in damp exile from her real life in Seattle. Married at twenty, she had followed her husband to the Olympic Peninsula so he could live his agrarian dream. Now she has reached her breaking point with the rain, the chickens, the monomaniacal husband, the whole affair. “Finally in March, 1931, after four years of this,” she recounts, “I wrote to my family and told them that I hated chickens, I was lonely and I seemed to have married the wrong man.” She snatches up her little daughters and makes her long, rainy, difficult way back to the city by foot, bus, and ferry.

There she and her girls are folded happily back into her large family’s bosom. Her mother’s “eight-room brown-shingled house in the University district was just a modest dwelling in a respectable neighborhood, near good schools and adequate for an ordinary family. To me that night, and always, that shabby house with its broad welcoming porch, dark woodwork, cluttered dining-room plate rail, large fragrant kitchen, easy book-filled firelit living room, four elastic bedrooms…represents the ultimate in charm, warmth and luxury.”

The book describes life in that teeming, cozy household with her mother, her three sisters, her brother, and her two little girls, plus whoever else might be sleeping over in one of those elastic bedrooms. It also details the literally dozens of weird and none-too-wonderful jobs that MacDonald held throughout the Depression: hapless secretary to businessmen of every stripe, fur-coat model, photo retoucher, rabbit rancher, firewood stealer, Christmas tree decorator, baby sitter, receptionist to a gangster.

The author jumps from job to job, with whole industries blowing up behind her as she leaves, like Tom Cruise running from an exploding warehouse. She’s hustled along in the ever-shrinking job market by her sister Mary, who considers herself an “executive thinker.”

Mary has a job ready for Betty as soon as she gets off the bus from the egg farm, never mind that Betty is utterly unqualified. Mary won’t hear of such talk. She is quick to admonish her sister: “There are plenty of jobs but the trouble with most people, and I know because I’m always getting jobs for my friends, is that they stay home with the covers pulled up over their heads waiting for some employer to come creeping in looking for them.”

The truth of this statement is disproved throughout the book. There were certainly not plenty of jobs. The portrait of Depression-era Seattle that emerges is definitively—though quietly—desperate. But on my first read, I hardly clocked the despair. I just thrilled to the evocation of my home, captured in such throwaway phrases as, “There was nothing in sight but wet pavement and wet sky.” MacDonald describes places that still existed, that I myself knew—the I. Magnin’s at the corner of Sixth and Pine, the palatial movie theater named the Neptune. Here she is on the Pike Place Market:

The Public Market, about three blocks long, crowded and smelling deliciously of baking bread, roasting peanuts, coffee, fresh fish and bananas, blazed with the orange, reds, yellows and greens of fresh succulent fruits and vegetables. From the hundreds of farmer’s stalls that lined both sides of the street and extended clear through the block on the east side, Italians, Greeks, Norwegians, Finns, Danes, Japanese and Germans offered their wares. The Italians were the most voluble but the Japanese had the most beautiful vegetables.

Such descriptions caused a strange firing in my brain. I was accustomed to imagining locations from books; there was a deep pleasure in having that necessity for once removed. Even the food they ate was the food we ate. For special treats, MacDonald tells of buying Dungeness crabs and Olympia oysters, just as my family did.

I saw, illustrated perfectly, and in the cold light of nonfiction, the possibility that Seattle might be the setting for a book. I would not be struck so thoroughly by the possibility of a true Northwest literature until I started reading Raymond Carver in the mid-1980s. 

My mother told me that Betty MacDonald had died in the 1950s, but that her niece lived in our very own neighborhood. I walked by the house, gazing at it with a true feeling of awe: the niece of an author lived therein! Of course I knew authors were real people. But Betty MacDonald was more than real; she was tangible. She was prima facie evidence that the materials I had at hand—those trees, that rain—were enough.

Other writers came and went; Betty MacDonald was among those who endured for me. This was because she was funny. No, that’s not quite right. Though I didn’t have the language for it when I first read her, Betty MacDonald was comic. As I became a writer myself, I studied her, trying to figure out just how she did it.

She wrote long, ridiculous set pieces about her various jobs. She wrote hilarious portraits of her bosses, who in her hands become one long parade of human oddity. She wrote fondly of her family’s eccentricities. But above all, she wrote with unflagging self-abasement. Her books twanged with the idea that one’s own ridiculousness was comedy enough. A good example of her rueful tone:
Until I started to night school, my life was one long sweep of mediocrity. While my family and friends were enjoying the distinction of being labeled the prettiest, most popular, best dancer, fastest runner, highest diver, longest breath-holder-under-water, best tennis player, most fearless, owner of the highest arches, tiniest, wittiest, most efficient, one with the most allergies or highest salaried, I had to learn to adjust to remarks such as, “My, Mary has the most beautiful red hair I’ve ever seen, it’s just like burnished copper and so silky and curly—oh yes, Betty has hair too, hasn’t she? I guess it’s being so coarse is what makes it look so thick.”

It almost goes without saying that she distinguishes herself in night school by being the absolute worst student in every class.
MacDonald was master of the comic memoirist’s first art: self-deprecation. Other types of memoirists value lyricism, or shock tactics. Comic memoirists are utterly dependent on knowing that they themselves are the silliest people in any given room.
I know whereof I speak—I am this year publishing a memoir about my own very, very ordinary life. Memoirists like me are writing what author Lorraine Adams has called “nobody” memoirs. As she said in a 2002 piece in the Washington Monthly, such memoirists are “neither generals, statesmen, celebrities, nor their kin.”
How, then, to proceed? You’re nobody. You want to write a memoir. Your first order of business is to let readers know that you know that they know you’re a nobody. So you must imply your unimportance as quickly as possible, and never, ever stop. By means of that simple dynamic, the memoirist makes a friend rather than an enemy of her reader.

In Anybody Can Do Anything, MacDonald fails again and again. It’s an entire book about failure: her own, and the economy’s. It’s also about persisting in the face of one’s own admitted shortcomings. What she wants is a job commensurate with her skills, which she presents as nil: “I wanted some sort of very steady job with a salary, and duties mediocre enough to be congruent with my mediocre ability. I had in mind sort of a combination janitress, slow typist and file clerk.” 

Finally, she washes up safely on the sandbar of government work, taking a job at the Seattle branch of the National Recovery Administration, the New Deal agency started in 1933 and charged with organizing businesses under new fair-trade codes. There she felt right at home, surrounded by federal-level incompetence: “There were thousands of us who didn’t know what we were doing but were all doing it in ten copies.”
MacDonald is rarely remembered for her wry tone. When she’s remembered at all, she is preceded not by her own reputation, but that of the big-screen version of The Egg and I, starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, which is pretty nearly unwatchable. In the film, Ma and Pa Kettle—neighbors who are fondly, if broadly, drawn in the book—have been turned into tobacco-spitting, raccoon-roasting caricatures. And the public loved them. On the movie poster, the faces of these two crackers loom huge; Colbert and MacMurray cower tinily in the corner. Ma and Pa Kettle proved so popular that nine more films were made about them and their fictional fifteen children, and Betty MacDonald lost all hope of being taken seriously as a writer.

Many years after all of this, I was having dinner with a British writer who had undertaken to write about the Northwest. “You have to be careful about using too much humor, otherwise you end up sounding like Betty MacDonald: housewife humor,” he said, finishing in scathing (if posh) tones. MacDonald has been trapped in this role of domestic lightweight. But her writing, with its quiet irreverence, has more in common with, say, Calvin Trillin or Laurie Colwin, than it does with a mid-century housewife humorist like Erma Bombeck. (Though, really, what’s so bad about Erma Bombeck?)

What MacDonald models in her writing is actually very freeing—self-deprecation as a kind of passport to the ordinary. With it, you can take your reader into the most mundane details of your life, and they will often go.

I teach adult writing students. When we work on memoir, they want to write pieces about what they’ve achieved. About their good marriages. About their sterling qualities. “Nobody wants to hear about that except your mother!” I tell them. Which is never very popular. Even so, I try to explain the Betty MacDonald principle to them: what people want to see in the memoir are reflections of their own failures and smallnesses. If you can show readers that you have those same failures, those same smallnesses, and make them laugh about it, they will love you. Or at least like you. Or at least accept you as a fellow nobody.

These simple things would be enough for me: a story of Seattle; a tale told with self-deprecating humor. But what MacDonald achieves in Anybody Can Do Anything is something more than that: a finely observed journalistic record of her time.
The ridiculous set pieces, the fond portraits of her family, and what New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called the “earthy tang” of her writing do not seem like indicators of a work of serious journalism. But MacDonald is getting down on paper what she sees happening all across Seattle, and ultimately providing us with a rough draft of history. The details of home and work life accrue, anecdotes pile up, and suddenly the reader has a real sense of daily existence in the West during the 1930s. This is a cheerful, unassuming way of documenting a socially and economically turbulent period. But it’s documentation nonetheless.

Take, for example, MacDonald’s account of one of her earliest jobs. This chapter encapsulates the uneasiness of the early part of the Depression, eerily suggestive of the economic tenterhooks we’ve been on since 2007. She’s been summarily fired from her first job as executive secretary to a miner, so the ever-resourceful Mary has found her a job at her own office, where she works for a lumber magnate. When Betty protests that she hasn’t any of the qualifications the lumberman is looking for in a secretary, Mary tells her not to fret. “‘You thought you couldn’t learn mining,’ Mary told me when she installed me as her assistant in the office across the street. ‘There’s nothing to lumber, it’s just a matter of being able to divide everything by twelve.’?”

As she makes her way to work each morning, MacDonald is nervous but glad of the work: “Now I grew more and more conscious of the aimlessness and sadness of the people on the streets, of the Space for Rent signs, marking the sudden death of businesses, that had sprung up over the city like white crosses on the battlefield and I lifted myself up each morning timidly and with dread.”
Her employer’s business is clearly failing, but MacDonald feels she shouldn’t leave her boss, Mr. Chalmers, in the lurch. She intends to stay until the end. “And I did,” we read, “in spite of Mr. Chalmers’ telling me many times that the Depression was all my fault, the direct result of inferior people like me wearing silk stockings and thinking they were as good as people like him.” Again, this blame-the-victim language recalls some of the rhetoric of today’s subprime mortgage crisis. But despite the boss’s efforts to draw a sociological line in the sand, he too is laid low by the economic downturn, and the chapter comes to an abrupt end: “Lumber was over.”

The author and her family soon lose their phone service, their electricity, their heat. Being Betty MacDonald, she makes it all sound rather jolly. She tells of endless bowls of vegetable soup eaten by candlelight. And when she complains about being broke, she does it with typical good humor: “There is no getting around the fact that being poor takes getting used to. You have to adjust to the fact that it’s no longer a question of what you eat but if you eat.”
But sometimes the details tell the story that the tone masks. When the heat and the electricity have been turned off, the family relies upon old Christmas candles for light and firewood for heat: “When we ran out of fireplace wood, Mary unearthed a bucksaw and marched us all down to a city park two blocks away, where we took turns sawing up fallen logs.” Here, despite the characteristic pluck, you feel straits getting uncomfortably dire.
This isn’t an overlay of social commentary sitting awkwardly atop a narrative. Instead, such commentary is tightly knitted to MacDonald’s own experience. When she notices that “[e]very day found a little better class of people selling apples on street corners,” she’s not making an idle observation—she’s wondering if she’s next.

When I came to write my own memoir, I was telling a small, personal story about being a mom at the turn of the millennium. I wanted to link the story to larger cultural forces I had observed, to what I saw as a kind of generational obsession with perfect parenting. In Betty MacDonald’s writing, I once again found just the model I needed. It was possible to connect the larger story around me to my own small story, without pretending to be definitive or historical. In fact, the more I focused on the details of my own very particular experience, the more I could give a feeling of the culture that I swam in.

The message that Betty Macdonald sent me, through this book, is one of sufficiency: Your small life is enough. Other writers might be looking for a message that will feed their huge ambitions. From books, they learn how far they might go with their own writing. For me, the question has always been: How close to home might I stay?

MacDonald’s qualities as a writer—the focus on the very local, the self-deprecating humor, the careful and personal observation of social changes—are modest qualities. They inspire through their very humility. The homely, says Betty MacDonald, is more than enough. This was the message I needed to hear. There’s a clue, of course, right there in the title. It’s been telling me since I was a girl, right up through the time I became a writer myself: Anybody can do anything. Even this. Even you.

Such lack of pretension doesn’t necessarily come with great rewards. There are no monuments to Betty MacDonald. No endowed chairs, no scholarships, not even a public library conference room named after her. But in the shallow green bowl of Chimacum Valley, a two-lane road leads to the chicken farm where MacDonald lived for four tough years. It’s been renamed “The Egg and I Road.” It veers west from Route 19, cutting through farmland before heading up a hill into some evergreens. It’s nothing special. It’s just ordinary. It’s just a county road.

Vita Magica

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