Chicken Every Sunday by Rosemary Taylor, with Donald Mackay, illustrator. Blakiston, 1944. Hardcover.
Reading When Books Went to War, about the armed forces editions during WWII, I discovered this was one of the most popular books among troops. I’m not sure I’d ever heard of it, let alone read it, so I found a copy at the library.
It’s a memoir of a family living in Tucson in the Thirties and early Forties. The father is a wheeler-dealer, often quite successful, always looking for his next business venture. The mother, always remembering her hardscrabble early years as the daughter of plantation owners ruined by the Civil War, makes her own money by taking in boarders and catering, often with what was then considered Mexican food for various parties, groups and charities. Their three children, including the author, contribute to the various family enterprises with varying degrees of enthusiasm and skill.
The tone of the book is lighthearted, the contrast between the big-dreamer father and the penny-pinching mother is funny, rarely bitter. The various boarders and their peculiarities are described with amused affection. There were school teachers, people connected with the mining business, Easterners sent to Arizona for the healthy climate. The author’s family took them in and made them part of the family for a couple of weeks or months, in a strange mixture of hospitality and commercial acumen. There are some really funny episodes, such as the time when Mother and the maid suspect that one of their boarders might be a German spy, or when a retired Easterner decides to go on a mine-prospecting trip with Father.
It’s important to remember that in the early 20th century, Tucson was still a brand-new city, and that many people had personal memories of the Civil War. People were still trying to get gold out of abandoned mines, and the city was developing and growing. So although there is a lot of hustle and bustle in the book, there are moments where the sense of connection with the past is marked.
Some modern readers may find common expressions of the time offensive, such as referring to a black cook as Mammy, but enlightened readers should be able to accept such. Sure, the book is dated, but that’s part of the fun. I’m glad I read this one.