The Egg and I is based on life in the Chimacum Valley, much of which remains nearly as pristine as it was during Betty MacDonald’s time there. Several of the original farmhouses, barns, outbuildings and even broken down tractors from 60 years back or more are visible, and it doesn’t take much imagination to envision an earlier era.
Betty called Chimacum “Crossroads” in The Egg and I, and with good reason. Three roads dissect the valley: Beaver Valley Road, Center Valley Road, and West Valley Road. Still intact are the original Bishop family home, as well as Senator Bishop’s home, the Chimacum Grange, Chimacum schools K-12 and Annie McGuire’s residence (the character of Mary MacGregor was based on Annie). The picturesque local cemetery carries the monikers of many of the local families who have lived – and died – there for generations.
In The Egg and I, Betty describes Mrs. Kettle’s jealousy towards her sister, who was married to an important man. In real life, Mrs. Bishop’s sister was married to a U.S. Senator. Although the Senator’s last name also was Bishop, he was half Native American and no relation to the Bishop family after which the Kettles were modeled. Of the current residents I interviewed, none recall any ill will between the two sisters. Many do recall Albert Bishop (Pa Kettle) had a pronounced lisp, which gave him a peculiar way of speaking which Betty captured well in her descriptions.
Crowbar, Geoduck and Clamface really were locals who lived in the area, as was a rather legendary Native American called Sharkey, whom Betty described quite accurately in The Egg and I. His stature can only be described as “over-sized,” and he was easily able to do the work of two men. Betty describes Sharkey carrying two bales onto the boats in the harbor, until the plank broke, sending him into the bay and greatly disappointing the local labor boss when he subsequently walked off the job.
There are very few old timers from Betty’s era still living in the area. One is George Huntingford, who was a young boy at the time Betty lived in Chimacum. He was a friend of Betty’s brother, Cleve, and recounted to me riding the bus with her younger sisters, one of whom he believed dated one of the Bishop sons. George also recalled Betty’s clever wit and the general hilarity of the whole Bard family. Betty had fertile ground from which her writings stemmed.
Chimacum today has missed much of the development experienced by the surrounding communities. It has been said that when the local tavern burned down, the resistance to rebuilding it in Chimacum (and its subsequent move to nearby Port Hadlock) was the turning point in Chimacum’s development. Port Hadlock (“Docktown”), Port Ludlow and Port Townsend (“Town”) now significantly outsize Chimacum. If you blink, you may miss this one stoplight outpost.