Chicken Every Sunday

Earlier this year, I read Molly Guptill Manning’s When Books Went to War, which describes the huge effort by the publishing industry and the War Department to supply soldiers during WWII with lightweight paperbacks to read during their deployments. While I found When Books Went to War a bit repetitive at times, I loved hearing about the books that were selected for the printing program. Some of them still enjoy success, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Great Gatsby. Others have lapsed into obscurity, like Rosemary Taylor’s Chicken Every Sunday. The fact that this was one of the program’s most popular books piqued my curiosity. It took a little while to find a decent second-hand copy, but the effort to find it was worth it. It is a delightful, fun read.

Now, I don’t think this book could be a success today. The book was published in 1943, when ladies did not sneak across the hall at night to visit gentlemen (except they did, gasp!). There are a few problematic stereotypes, most notably the Scary Indian, but overall, I found the book to be like a warm glow (think “It’s a Wonderful Life”). And I can totally see how it would be a success with lonely young soldiers stuck in the trenches, who were probably all salivating for some of Mother’s chicken.

The book is narrated by the second child of the family, which means that the fun is often based on a child’s innocent observations and repetition of adult conversations (“for years I thought you got babies by rubbing people’s chests”). But the parents are fun, too. Father always gets into scrapes for crazy investment schemes, like buying a laundry in Tucson without knowing anything about the laundry business. Mother loves to make money, mostly to have some security during those times when Father’s investments are not coming through. So she squeezes as many people as she can into her house, all of them needing a little extra love, which Mother freely provides. She is a great cook, usually telling the hired cook what she is doing wrong, but very untidy, which means things go frequently missing (although they are usually found in the window seats).

Mother also likes to scheme a little bit behind the scenes, making sure that poor Miss Sally falls in love with the widower across the street, that Jeffrey finds the courage to break away from his overbearing mother (he goes into the laundry business), and that the homeless boys in town always get a meal. She freely volunteers to cook for and entertain 120 people in her home as a fundraiser for the YWCA, and she always makes sure her yard is untidy, so that the desperate have a place to work for some money.

You don’t need to run out to buy a copy of this charming book, but if you happen to have it around and are in the mood for some fuzzy comfort reading, go ahead and pick it up.

Mother was very much Mrs. Laundry Owner when anything went wrong with the boarders’ wash. She’d call up Russ and tell him he’d have to make it good and ask what was the matter down there that they did such poor work. But if the boarders changed to another laundry—for there were several in town now—how she would fume and fret.

“You’ve got their board money,” Father pointed out, “so let someone else have their wash. Why must you always get their last nickel?”

“I don’t want their last nickel,” Mother retorted, “but I think their business should stay in the family. Besides, how does it look to have another wagon drive up here and take clothes out of this house? People will think our laundry is so bad we won’t even go to it ourselves.”

“They think that anyway,” said Father, “when they see your wash hanging on the line every Monday.”

“That’s different,” Mother hedged.

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23 comments

  1. I’ve been curious about When Books Went to War and it is so cool that you decided to find one of the popular books from that period! I can see how this would be a popular one, so homey and comforting with that gentle humor.

    • I’d never heard of this program! Movies have taught me that men play cards and talk about their man bits when they have down time. Or, in more modern times, they play video games. In general, I try to avoid books about war, so my perspective is very limited.

      • I’m sure the soldiers did all that, too; it just wasn’t mentioned in When Books Went to War. 🙂 But it is interesting to note that the GI Bill was an almost natural extension of the program to send books to soldiers, and many soldiers who were able to go to college because of it credited their success to being able to read during their deployment.

    • You should check out When Books Went to War; it’s very interesting. And it’s a quick read (or listen), too. And yes, if you are looking for gently humor, then this definitely a book to consider.

  2. Sounds like an interesting look at the period, but somehow I just can’t imagine soldiers in war reading this kind of book! I suppose it must have been some kind of comfort reading, but still. It makes me wonder what our soldiers today are reading…

    • For a lot of young soldiers, being deployed was the first time they were away from home, and if you remember that it was a lot harder to stay in touch with people 70 years ago, I think it makes sense that books who reminded them of home were particularly popular. But I think today, this book wouldn’t appeal anymore. I’m involved with a charity called Books for Soldiers, where volunteers send books to deployed military personnel. A lot of people request sci-fi and crime, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. But every now and then, there are unusual requests (like one I had for Oblomov). Those are fun to see.

  3. I’m so glad you looked for this after reading When Books Went To war (and a little surprised you were able to find it!). I can see why this one might have been so popular.
    Mother sounds like a very busy lady!

  4. Sounds like a lovely period piece. There is something very comforting about reading literature from this period. In spite of all the trials and tribulations of war, life seemed so much more straightforward back then – less rushed and stressful.

    • You are so right! Although my coworker showed me a quote recently from Laura Ingalls Wilder, where she laments how rushed she always feels. I wonder what she would think about our lives today.
      I am currently reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, and with everything going on in the world at the moment, I almost wish that all I had to worry about was whether I should serve bread and butter or seed cakes when my friends are coming over. 🙂

  5. I love that you find such interesting old books to read! The only older books I read are the classics, but I enjoy hearing about the less well known​ ones from you​.

  6. I really liked When Books Went to War – was such a fascinating angle to the war. I’m glad you got to read this one! Reading your review, I can see what you mean about it being a comfort to men in battle.

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