Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Thrills of Owning a Chicken Ranch

One hundred years ago today, Vashon Island's own Betty MacDonald was born. The author of The Egg & I, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and many other books, MacDonald garnered a worldwide following and still has millions of fans today.

Why do I care? Number one, if you can't celebrate your local heroes, what the F can you do? Number two, my grandfather Don Woodfin had a chicken farm in Lisabeula (an area on Vashon) in the 1940s and '50s, and was a good friend of Betty and her family. He built them a barn, chicken coup, and caretaker house, all of which are now recognized National Historical Landmarks. Don was immortalized as "the unforgettable Marine" in Betty's book Onions in the Stew, her story of life on Vashon. After 9/11, many members of the international Betty MacDonald Fan Club e-mailed me to offer their best wishes and let us know that they were thinking of us, all because he had built her barn. It was really nice.


c. canoe said...

holy cow! you blew my mind with this news!!

they are wilding out on vashon for betty. when you and emily get back to the 206, i'd love to have dinner with you all on the rock at gusto girls.

Lee said...

So in my early years growing up on a Chicken Farm on Vashon with my parents and brother and sister, we heard many stories about Betty MacD from our Dad 'the unforgettable marine'. Of course, he was one who always liked telling a good story & had a dirty joke for every topic you can imagine. As kids, and later as devoted fans of the 'Ma & Pa Kettle' movies, we were convinced that movie family was based on our neighbors on the adjoining farm to ours. Small farmers on Vashon all had 20-40 acre tracks then so it was kids and animals roam free, with lots of chores thrown in. Our neighbors had a great big ol' farm house and so many kids, along with many foster temporary adopted kids they took in, that it was always in some funny stage of mayhem just like the Kettles. We used to run across the fields to their house 'minding to stay away from the abandoned wells' and play house under a large stand of fir trees, with old pieces of throwaway furniture and dishes and we'd sweep the dirt floor and pretend away - everyone had a part to play; or we'd play in the barn and swing from the second level on a rope. Then everyone would be called in for chores, some would bring wood in for the wood stove they cooked on (even then it seemed old-fashioned) and we all took turns doing dishes standing on a chair at the sink if you weren't tall enough (a good custom I passed onto Strath & Sky); even though they had a very long table in the kitchen,there were still too many people, so we had to cook and eat in shifts, and of course there were the loose farm animals that would walk in whenever they felt like it, pigs, goats, chickens, dogs, cats...scurrying about underfoot until they got shooed out. When the week was done, everyone had to take a bath on Saturday night to be all spiffy for sunday school the next day. To conserve on well water, the oldest kids got first dibs on the first bathwater and by the time it got down to the younger kids, 2 or 3 would be plunked in at the same time and bathe in the same water as 3 or 4 others had. Then we all had to go to bed upstairs, 2-3 per bed & a chamberpot in the hall if you couldn't hold it through the night. It was so much fun - everyday was an adventure at that house. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned our neighbors probably were not the family Betty MacDonald wrote about in her books (I was told the real family lived near Port Orchard and ended up trying to sue her for her portrayal of them) but that doesn't daunt my memory or convince me (the kid)otherwise. We were very fortunate to have a father who continued to include us and later, his grandchildren, in many of his crazy adventures throughout the years, telling us his own life stories, & teaching us that friendliness, hard work, creative & smart thinking were paths to learning & self-esteem. Strath and I visited the barn that Don Woodfin built single-handedly for Betty MacD and it is indeed was the time.

Betty MacDonald Society said...

Don Woodfin was such a fascinating personality.
He supported Betty MacDonald Fan Club with his unique memories and we are so grateful. It was such a pleasure to meet this wonderful storyteller. No wonder - Betty MacDonald and her husband Don liked him so much. We also did.
We are really very, very sad to hear he passed away. We'll never forget him.
Thanks a Million, dear Don!