Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Edna Ferber's Great Son

Ferber is one of my favorite authors and I meant to honor her birthday on August 15th with a post but it seems like nothing goes according to plan anymore. Isn't that strange? I mean, here I am with all this supposedly extra time at home and yet I have once again been absent from my blogs. Daily I go to Instagram and lose 45 minutes or more even though I don't even post there. 

I've done a lot of reading lately, lots of cooking, and yes, lots of Netflix at night. Otherwise, my time is lost to the dailyness of life.



Great Son is a slim book, a quick read published in 1944 about a fictional founding family of Seattle, Washington. Ferber makes the city sound fascinating and exciting but I'll narrow down my quotes here to two women in the protagonist's life.

Vaughan Melendy, a white haired giant of a man, is Seattle, heart, soul, and mind. He is a son of Seattle, as are his son and his grandson but it exasperates him just how different the two younger men are, the same way it exasperates him that his city is changing.

The three women in his life are his wife Emmy, his aging mother Exact Melendy who lives in a house up the hill from his and Emmy's, and another woman, Pansy, who lives in another house on his property. Pansy is the mother of his son who he and Emmy adopted and raised as their own. While I admired his mother for her past frontier life and her stubborn old lady ways, it is the other two women I want to give you a glimpse of.

 Emmy was a good woman and a wonderful housekeeper and a crashing bore. She sat now at her breakfast table, and everything she wore was fresh and in perfect order, and everything on the breakfast table was shining and exquisite, and Vaughan knew that the orange juice would be cold and the eggs would be hot...A neat and fussy housekeeper, completely feminine, and abysmally dull, as are all completely feminine women...Emmy ate almost no breakfast, drank her coffee black, had a way of making a hearty breakfaster feel guilty.

 After listening to his wife pick apart their daughter-in-law, Vaughan stands up, throws his napkin on the table, and leaves. After his daily visit to his mother, almost as exacting as is Madam Exact Melendy herself, he rewards himself by stopping by Pansy's house before leaving for work. Pansy is painting the kitchen wood trim, paint smear on her cheek, breakfast dishes piled in the sink. She says:

"Don't you love blue in a kitchen! Not all blue, but pieces of it, like this. The baseboards, and these three panels. Gay. The painters said they had never heard of such a thing, so I'm doing it myself. Painting's wonderful. Makes you feel so talented."


She never talked loudly; if you wanted to hear what she had to say you had to listen; there was nothing strident or sharp about her. Not like his womenfolk, not like Emmy's querulous whimpering or Exact's trumpetings.


 Pansy, in a bright pink apron and her "touched up" hair sometimes admits, "I haven't got a mite of style. Put a thousand-dollar dress on me and it looks like a bungalow apron."


Pansy's house was like her clothes--good and clean but careless...Sometimes the dishes were washed at once, sometimes they piled up for three meals, four...A natural cook, there always was good food in Pansy's house--a cold chicken in the icebox, a heel of succulent ham, beef for a midnight sandwich. She ate heartily as a man, liked her food without fripperies...

Emmy liked the recipes you saw illustrated in the women's magazines; in her cuisine mayonnaise mingled with pineapple slices and whipped cream and chopped nuts; maraschino cherries mated with lettuce.


I could go on and on but this should give you the picture. This great son of Seattle, Vaughan Melendy, is old Seattle, one of many men who made their fortunes in the Alaska Gold Rush. But times are changing, a world war looms, and life is sometimes a balancing act with three generations of Melendys.

And then there is Pansy, living near. The wife in me wants to stand up for Emmy and shun Pansy. But I can't and I don't think  you could could either.

 I adored Edna Ferber's So Big, Giant, Ice Palaces, Showboat, and other novels. I admire what this author of novels and short stories and Broadway plays wrote, especially knowing that she was the victim of frightening anti-Semitism in her childhood. And if you ever find a copy of Great Son, a quick read, I think you'll like it too.



Edna Ferber

August 15, 1885 - April 16, 1968