June and Ruth can only see their mother through their own eyes, their view distorted by their individual wants and needs. "I was guilty of this with my mother. How I wished for her to be a perfect mother and homemaker, a hostess worthy of Betty Crocker," notes Cullen. "Couldn't she be just 'like everyone else?'"
Betty Crocker looms large in "The Sisters of Summit Avenue," as June becomes one of a team of 21 young Minneapolis-based women behind the General Mills marketing icon. Trim and tidy in white dresses and pumps, the group tested recipes, answered fan mail and served as the cumulative "face" of Betty Crocker on radio and in homemaker-targeted magazines. It was a workplace that served to bring hope — veiled with perfectionism and man-pleasing — to women across the country in the midst of the Great Depression, a time Cullen describes with stinging detail.
Mother Dorothy’s detachment and isolation have profound effects on both girls, with Ruth taking on all the anger for the family. Her personality is shaped by the unfairness she feels when attention is showered upon June, and incidents of neglect by their mother. On her first day of kindergarten, Ruth is left to wander home alone in a nightmarish scene. Understandably, Ruth acquires a hard shell that doesn’t lend her character much likability. Her fortitude as a farmer and mother to four girls is admirable, but when she isn’t exploding in anger, she’s muttering surly asides or scowling.
‘The Sisters of Summit Avenue’
Lynn Cullen. "The Sisters of Summit Avenue" book launch. 7 p.m. Sept. 9. $10. Margaret Mitchell House, 979 Crescent Ave., Atlanta 404-814-4000, www.atlantahistorycenter.com