Betty MacDonald sits at her typewriter (left); Paula Becker’s biography of the author, “Looking for Betty MacDonald.” (Private Collection Photo/Courtesy Photo)

Beloved island author celebrated

This version corrects the day of the week for the birthday party in honor of Betty MacDonald. It will be Sunday, March 26.

Countless baby boomers across the country grew up delighted by and perhaps worried about, the cures for children’s bad habits as professed by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, the main character in a series of children’s books written by beloved former island author Betty MacDonald.

MacDonald, best known for her runaway best-seller, “The Egg and I,” lived on Vashon in the 1950s, where she wrote “Onions in the Stew” about life on the island.

The Vashon Heritage Museum is planning to celebrate the world-famous author, who would have been 110 years old on March 26, with two upcoming events.

The first will be a screening of “Betty MacDonald Day on Vashon Island” from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at the Vashon Theatre. The film, created by islanders Rayna Holtz and Laurie Tucker, documents stories about MacDonald told by her friend Blanche Caffiere, daughter Joan Keil, grandson Tim Keil and other family members.

The second event will be a birthday party in honor of the author from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Vashon High School.

“It’s her actual birthday,” Brian Brenno, vice-president of the heritage board said. “We found a recipe box at the museum and inside was a recipe from Sydney Bard, MacDonald’s mother, for applesauce cake. Vashon Island Baking Company will make the birthday cake from that recipe for the event.”

Before the cake and coffee are served, Brenno will interview, on stage, Paula Becker, Seattle author of the recently released biography, “Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I.”

Becker, who is a staff historian for HistoryLink.org, has been writing about MacDonald since 2000.

“Every time I did research on her, something new would come up,” Becker said. “One thing I learned was how many people are interested in her. There are a lot of Betty MacDonald fans around the world. I receive letters that say, ‘Reading Betty cheers me up when I have a bad day,’ or ‘She makes me laugh even if I’ve read her 15 times.’”

MacDonald wrote in the first person in her memoirs, Becker said, giving intimate access to her family life and her history “and yet there is a sense that there’s more of a story there, questions still lingering.”

Becker said the more she became interested in MacDonald, the more obsessed she became with “cracking” that story.

Like MacDonald’s fans, she also felt a personal connection with the author. When Becker and her family moved from Texas to Seattle, she learned that the house MacDonald describes in “The Plague and I” was just six blocks away from her own rental house.

“Betty was talking about my neighborhood, only in 1930,” Becker said. “Reading her book was like a wormhole back into the past. It helped me conceive of what it was like then, which helped me better understand what it is now.”

Becker said she felt an obligation to share what she was discovering about MacDonald, so when The University of Washington Press asked her about writing the biography, she jumped at the chance.

“I wanted to bring Betty’s work back into public consideration — it’s hard to believe for those on Vashon or in Seattle — but in other part of the country, people who loved her are passing out of this world. Putting her back into the conversation was my top goal.”

At the birthday party, Becker will also give a short slide presentation, as well as answer any questions.

“I don’t know everything, but I had to squirrel away so much minutia for the biography and, of course, much ended up on the cutting room floor,” she said. “I hope many people who had any association with her — those who lived in her houses, went to school with her daughters or have any personal history with her — will come. We’re hoping the family, especially, will be there. We hope we can have a great 110th birthday celebration.”

Tickets for each event are $10 and available at Vashon Bookshop, brownpapertickets.com and at the door.

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