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Onions in the Stew (1955)

by Betty MacDonald

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350974,207 (3.9)26
The war created nearly insoluble housing problems in Seattle, so when Betty MacDonald remarried during it, she and her new husband, Don, were unable to find anything suitable. They turned to the small islands within commuting distance, but tours of these islands turned up little available housing, at least of the suitable variety, until they found the perfect house on Vashon. Now all they had to do was learn to cope with island life. They moved to Vashon in the fall, which wasn't too bad, but then winter showed up and was tough on everyone. Unsurprisingly, Betty's two teenaged daughters reached heights of unenthusiasm. Don and Betty's commute had more in common with a marathon as they struggled to travel to the mainland daily. They nearly packed it all in that first winter, but spring came and the Island seduced them with her many different charms. The glories - and difficulties - of gardening on Vashon; the friendly and the less than lovable neighbors; the animals, starting with their own dog and cats, plus raccoons, deer and others. Their house was always full of guests, guests and more guests, and then there were the renovations, the machinery needing repairs, the undependable workmen, and what might go wrong next? All too familiar ground for most householders, but for MacDonald, these all included a slight island twist. Eventually, MacDonald's daughters do grow up into charming adults, in spite of an abrasive adolescence, and return to Vashon when they can to remember the joys. This was Betty MacDonald's last memoir before her untimely death from cancer - her farewell. Her tongue is still sharp and she still finds humor in ludicrous situations, quirky personalities, and self-turned jibes, and the whole rounds out the picture begun with the (golden) Egg. She knew she was dying, but that didn't dry up her wit or dissuade her from enjoying the life she had. She was one amazing woman and a writer whose prose remains as vibrant and enjoyable today as it was when originally published.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
In truth, Onions in the Stew can be read independently of any other Betty MacDonald memoir. All three are very different from one another. Onions in the Stew tells of the period in MacDonald's life when she and her children, with her second husband, buy a house on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. It starts off as a humorous commentary on island living but morphs into the trials and tribulations of raising two teenager daughters who just have to rebel against everything you want for them. By the end of it, the reader can't help but sigh. MacDonald blends just the right amount of laugh-out-oud funny with sweet poignancy. This was my favorite of the three memoirs by far. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 1, 2021 |
You know a book is going to be good when you're already laughing aloud on page four. Very lively and funny, this. It's about when Betty Macdonald lived on Vashon Island (across the sound from Seattle) with two daughters and her second husband. Time period is the late forties. Some things like doing the cooking and housework for a family with reluctant pre-teenagers, are awfully familiar and relatable. There are awkward houseguests and kids' friends coming and going, changing fashions you can't make sense of, hectic rushes to get out the door for school or work on time (in this case compounding by the narrow margin of trying to catch the ferryboat) and lazy weekend mornings. Babysitting for the neighbors, kids navigating their first jobs, fibbing about trouble in school . . . I'd feel like I was reading about a family I might have known growing up, or my own. Then there's details about using a phone line shared with fourteen other households, frequent power outages, using a washing machine that's a huge tub with a wringer (filled by hand), war shortages and news from overseas, Japanese neighbors that are never mentioned again after being "sent to internment camp", and an incredibly casual attitude towards smoking that soundly reminded me this wasn't of my time...

This book charmed me as The Egg and I did, because it's set in a locale I know well, having grown up in the Seattle area. (Though a lot more like Anybody Can Do Anything in tone). The rain and slippery trails on bluffs thick with huckleberries and oregon grape. The rocky shoreline and beaches where they dug clams. Beachcombing forays and attempts to garden on the hillside around their house. The antics of their dog, the constant quarrels of their children, and yet how calmly things fall together in the end. It was familiar and curiously unique at the same time. Fun.

more at the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Jan 22, 2021 |
Betty and her family had quite the time on Vashon Island, Washington State. With her second husband (Don MacDonald) and her two young girls (Joan and Anne), Betty experienced the joys and disappointments of living on an island. Set during WWII, this mostly autobiographical book recounts Betty’s life with wry humor and insight.

Once again, Betty has amused me. By now, after reading 4 books by her, I feel like Betty is somewhat of a friend. I really enjoyed this book from clamming to peaches to teen years to housecleaners. Living on Vashon Island, which was only connected to the mainland via ferries and personal boats, was quite a bit rougher than she and her family expected. There’s also the beauty of having an island house which is also captured well in this book.

The MacDonalds took over the house during an idyllic summer. There were plenty of clams on their personal beach, including geoduck clams. The downstairs practically-outdoor shower was perfect for rinsing off after time in the sea. The great big hearth would be quite wonderful in winter. Then the cold season sets in. The family comes to find out that having a nearly-outdoor shower is onerous to heat up in winter. The great big hearth is truly magnificent but you have to haul in the wood for it, usually driftwood from the beach. The reality settles in and yet the MacDonalds still find much to love about the island.

Betty does such a great job with the humor. She gently pokes fun at everyone and is a little more jabby when focusing the eye on herself. She praises her daughters abilities while also realistically portraying their teen-aged arguments and volatile mood swings. There are plenty of characters that appear through the several years this book covers. Some are helpful handymen, some good cooks, some terrible at child rearing, some are drunk and merry.

Onions in the Stew does a good job of showing the hardships or inconveniences (depending on your point of view) of island living. Betty doesn’t paint the entire experience as a ‘wonderful’ way of life. Nope. Using humor she gives us a slice of reality. That is the root of why I enjoy her books so much. While The Plague and I is still my favorite book by her, this one was quite good as well.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Heather Henderson is great as the voice of Betty MacDonald. She also did a great job with the voices of Joan and Anne even as they age throughout the book. I also enjoyed her male voices, including Don’s. Her Japanese accent was also good. ( )
  DabOfDarkness | Mar 26, 2017 |
Down to earth and funny account of life on an island in Puget Sound in the 40's and 50's. The author has the high spirits and energy of that wonderful Julia Child sort of auntie. ( )
1 vote triscuit | Feb 16, 2010 |
Humorous look at bringing up two kids on an island in the Puget Sound in the 40s/50s. The book is a continuous narrative, of sorts, but arranged more by theme (animals, gardening, etc.) near the end. Despite references to "Bendix" for washing machine (that's what's in the other drifting-away boat on the cover) etc., it's not particularly "dated" at all.
Tough book to get ahold of though - I ended up buying this copy online (not cheap!), rather than asking my library to request one via inter-library loan.
In this book, she references a neighbor who probably served as the real-life model for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the childrens' book character about whom she wrote several books. MacDonald herself died shortly after this book was published of a relapse of TB; she'd written a book on her experiences in a sanitorium in the 30's called "The Plague and I". ( )
1 vote Seajack | Apr 6, 2008 |
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Dvanáct let jsme my, MacDonaldovi, bydleli na jednom z malých ostrůvků v Pugetském zálivu.
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Rozprávěla jsem s lidmi, které jsem znala, a dokonce i s těmi, které jsem neznala, protože pohromy bortí přehrady zdrženlivosti. (s. 68)
Chcete-li si uchovat lásku svého chotě, musíte být vždycky hezká, veselá, musíte udržovat svůj dům vez poskrvnky, musíte ráno vstávat a vařit manželovi snídani a mít i jiné zájmy. Jedno lze přičíst ve prospěch tohoto stavu věcí - člověk má životní cíl. (S.148)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Do not combine with 'Onions in the Stew: A Comedy in Three Acts' which is a dramatization of this book by William Dalzell and Anne Coulter Martens.
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The war created nearly insoluble housing problems in Seattle, so when Betty MacDonald remarried during it, she and her new husband, Don, were unable to find anything suitable. They turned to the small islands within commuting distance, but tours of these islands turned up little available housing, at least of the suitable variety, until they found the perfect house on Vashon. Now all they had to do was learn to cope with island life. They moved to Vashon in the fall, which wasn't too bad, but then winter showed up and was tough on everyone. Unsurprisingly, Betty's two teenaged daughters reached heights of unenthusiasm. Don and Betty's commute had more in common with a marathon as they struggled to travel to the mainland daily. They nearly packed it all in that first winter, but spring came and the Island seduced them with her many different charms. The glories - and difficulties - of gardening on Vashon; the friendly and the less than lovable neighbors; the animals, starting with their own dog and cats, plus raccoons, deer and others. Their house was always full of guests, guests and more guests, and then there were the renovations, the machinery needing repairs, the undependable workmen, and what might go wrong next? All too familiar ground for most householders, but for MacDonald, these all included a slight island twist. Eventually, MacDonald's daughters do grow up into charming adults, in spite of an abrasive adolescence, and return to Vashon when they can to remember the joys. This was Betty MacDonald's last memoir before her untimely death from cancer - her farewell. Her tongue is still sharp and she still finds humor in ludicrous situations, quirky personalities, and self-turned jibes, and the whole rounds out the picture begun with the (golden) Egg. She knew she was dying, but that didn't dry up her wit or dissuade her from enjoying the life she had. She was one amazing woman and a writer whose prose remains as vibrant and enjoyable today as it was when originally published.

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