Saturday, June 24, 2017

Betty MacDonald, occupational therapy and taped conversations

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Bildergebnis für Mrs.Piggle-Wiggle candy and a book

Betty MacDonald in the living room at Vashon on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

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Pippi, you're the best. 

Hello 'Pussy' it's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking:

You appeared to acknowledge on Friday that your earlier tweet hinting of taped conversations with James B. Comey was intended to influence the fired F.B.I. director’s testimony before Congress.


Betty MacDonald fan club fans,

you can join Betty MacDonald fan club on Facebook.

Thank you so much in advance for your support and interest.

I'm rereading Betty MacDonald's The Plague and I and although it's a very serious subject it's really so witty.

The book History of Firland, published by the sanatorium print shop in 1937, says: “The occupational therapy department is self-sustaining and not a burden to the tax payer.” Patients were often at the facility for a number of years, so vocational training and occupational therapy were crucial for a smooth reintroduction into society.

As you know Betty MacDonald didn't agree with this. 

She hated occupational therapy. 

‘Miss Gillespie was physically and mentally exactly what you’d expect the producer of hand-painted paper plates to be. She had a mouth so crowded with false teeth it looked as if she had put in two sets … and her own set of rules. One of these rules was that women patients could not use the basement lavatory because “the men will see you go in there and know what you go in there for”. Another forbade the pressing of men’s trousers by women, on the grounds that such intimate contact with male garments was unseemly.’

The Plague and I is my favourite book by Betty MacDonald.

Not to forget unique ' Kimi Sanbo '  our first Betty MacDonald fan club honor member Monica Sone, author of Nisei Daughter. 

Enjoy a great Saturday,


‘Anybody can have tuberculosis…’

THE PLAGUE AND I, by Betty MacDonald, originally published in in the UK in 1948, my edition 1959 (boy, do I love old Penguins)…
One of my favourites, for years and years. I can’t remember when I first encountered The Plague and I, but certain expressions and catchphrases from it have passed into our family shorthand, so my guess is that my parents loved it too.’Toecover’, for instance, a word that describes a hand-made object of uncertain usage and all-too-certain unpleasantness. Ideally, a toecover should have no discernible function, and – in my opinion – involve limp crochet in some respect. Then there’s ‘Hush ma mouth, what have ah said?’, delivered in a clichéd Southern accent. This should be deployed after the ostensibly inadvertent revelation of some fact that has got the speaker into trouble, and is ironically directed at the person who has given the game away. Then – no, enough already. You get the idea. This should not be a funny book. Absolutely not, no way, it’s about a stay in a 1930s tuberculosis sanatorium, for heaven’s sake – and yet it is. Hilarious, even laugh-out-loud funny in parts, and yet those parts are interspersed with more serious stuff. I recently lent it to a friend who had to spend some time in hospital, and she not only loved it, finding it funny too, but also found it relevant. As she said, ‘times change, but people don’t.’
betty macdonald 
In the late 1930s Betty MacDonald – who had led a slightly unconventional life but who had, as yet, not committed any of it to paper (her best-known book is probably The Egg and I, about her first marriage to a chicken farmer and which came out in 1945) – developed a series of colds, then a cough, then extreme tiredness… But, ‘operating under the impression that I was healthy and that everyone who worked felt the same as I did’, failed to put two and two together. In all fairness, so did a series of doctors (largely because she consulted each specialist about his – and I mean his – own area), until she was finally diagnosed with TB. Tuberculosis, of course, could be tantamount to a death sentence. As it can now, sometimes – but then there were no drugs which worked against it and it was horribly prevalent. It’s also highly contaigious and MacDonald caught hers from a co-worker who managed to infect several other people as well. As a single mother with two small children and a negligible income, she was luckily admitted to a charitable sanatorium in Seattle, which she calls ‘The Pines’ in the book. She was to stay at Firland Sanatorium for nine months, in 1938-9, and emerged cured.
Firland ward 
The picture she creates is so vivid that this is one of those books where the mental images generated are so strong that they dominate even when you see contradictory pictures of the place that inspired them. The echoing, draughty corridors, the never-ending cold, the sound of invisible footsteps approaching, passing and then fading into the distance… but it’s not depressing, even in the serious phases. It’s populated by a cast of characters, all of whom I find exceptionally well drawn and entertaining. They range from Betty’s family and her near-constant companion in The Pines, Kimi Sanbo, to the miscellaneous array of nurses and other patients such as Gravy Face and Granite Eyes (two nurses); Charlie who loved to pass on depressing news of deaths and disasters; Minna of the Southern drawl and ability to dump people in the cacky… there are so many of them, so well delineated, that picking just a few to mention here was difficult. But space has to be made for Miss Gillespie of the Ambulant Hospital’s occupational therapy shop, generator of many a toecover:

‘Miss Gillespie was physically and mentally exactly what you’d expect the producer of hand-painted paper plates to be. She had a mouth so crowded with false teeth it looked as if she had put in two sets … and her own set of rules. One of these rules was that women patients could not use the basement lavatory because “the men will see you go in there and know what you go in there for”. Another forbade the pressing of men’s trousers by women, on the grounds that such intimate contact with male garments was unseemly.’

Betty MacDonald is extremely good at expressing the life of any closed institution. The way the world narrows down; the way rumours (‘all based on a little bit of truth’) start, expand and spread; the effect of being thrown into involuntary contact with people you would normally avoid, and the intensity of the resulting reactions. (‘…the major irritation of all was my room-mate, who was so damned happy all the time, so well adjusted. She loved the institution and the institution loved her. She loved all the nurses and the nurses loved her. She loved all the other patients and all the other patients, but one, loved her. That one used to lie awake in the long dark cold winter nights and listen hopefully for her breathing to stop.’) It was a tough regime, but it had to be – no drugs, remember. TB was essentially treated by rest and some basic chest operations; there had to be rules. But there was also the pointless expression of power indulged in by some: ‘ “We do not tell the patients the rules, Mrs Bard. We find that trial and error method is the best way to learn them.” I said, “But how can I be obedient, co-operative, and helpful if I don’t know what I’m supposed to do?” She said, “We don’t allow arguing, Mrs Bard”…‘ She is also very good on how difficult it is to adapt to life afterwards, describing what could almost be a type of Stockholm Syndrome. But she did shake herself free, and the TB didn’t reappear.
So yes, a sort of happy ending. ‘Sort of’ because Betty MacDonald died in 1958, from cancer, at the age of only 49.  I’m sure she would have been surprised and possibly flattered to know that people were still enjoying her books over fifty years later. I most certainly am. Great book.

2 thoughts on “‘Anybody can have tuberculosis…’”

  1. biblioglobal 
    I hadn’t heard of Egg and I, but the name Betty MacDonald sounded familiar. Looking her up, it turns out she wrote the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books that I loved as a kid!
  2. Caroline Counihan 
    Betty Macdonald’s hilarious chronicles of frightful experiences were huge favourites in our house too….what a shame they are out of print. Making fun of personal horrors is out of fashion now, one is expected to bare one’s soul in full but poker-faced, and there is almost a feeling that to make others laugh at any aspect of one’s tragic story is to belittle oneself or the t s. To my mind nothing is more admirable than to seek out and present the funny side of one’s experiences, it can only help others in the same fix to cope, surely? As well as oneself

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    Trump Indicates Tweet on Tapes Was Meant to Affect Comey Testimony

    President Trump at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

    WASHINGTON — President Trump appeared to acknowledge on Friday that his earlier tweet hinting of taped conversations with James B. Comey was intended to influence the fired F.B.I. director’s testimony before Congress. In an interview, the president emphasized that he committed “no obstruction” of the inquiries into whether his campaign colluded with Russia.
    Hours later, Mr. Trump accused the Obama administration of failing to prevent or punish Moscow for meddling in last fall’s presidential election before the vote. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Trump was admitting for the first time that he now believes Russia interfered in the election, just a day after he ridiculed that intelligence assessment as a Democratic “HOAX.”
    During the Friday morning interview with “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump sought to explain that his tweets lambasting Mr. Comey were referring to the possibility that anyone could have taped those discussions. On Thursday, he admitted that he, himself, had not.
    “I’ve been reading about it for the last couple of months, about the seriousness of the horribleness of the situation with surveillance all over the place,” the president said in the interview. “So you never know what’s out there. But I didn’t tape, and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.”

    When the Fox interviewer suggested that the possible existence of recordings might have made sure Mr. Comey “stayed honest in those hearings,” Mr. Trump paused before responding, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.” He also said that once Mr. Comey faced the possibility that tapes of their conversations existed, “I think his story may have changed.”
    Continue reading the main story

    By Friday evening, Mr. Trump had shifted his frustration in the election inquiry — upon which his critics have seized, and which he sees as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency — toward the Obama administration.

    “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia,” Mr. Trump tweeted, shortly before 9 p.m. “Did nothing about it. WHY?”
    He appeared to be referring to a Friday report in The Washington Post that detailed months of internal debate within the Obama administration over how to punish Moscow for hackings that ultimately sought to boost Mr. Trump’s candidacy.
    Mr. Trump himself noted — and ridiculed — concerns of Russian election meddling in the weeks leading up to the vote. In a Sept. 26 debate against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, Mr. Trump speculated that election hacking could be directed by Russia, China or “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
    During the Fox interview, the president also raised questions about the impartiality of Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director who was named special counsel for the Russia investigation after Mr. Comey was fired.
    “He’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Mr. Trump said.
    Mr. Trump repeatedly refused to say whether he believed Mr. Mueller would have to recuse himself from the inquiry. The president is said to have railed in private about Mr. Mueller to aides and has said he wants to leave open the option of firing him.

    Mr. Trump said “there’s been no collusion, no obstruction — and virtually everybody agrees to that,” and he added that some of Mr. Mueller’s legal team had supported Mrs. Clinton.
    The president closed on a more positive note, saying, “Robert Mueller’s an honorable man, and hopefully he’ll come up with an honorable solution.”