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.