In 1949, Iowa farm wife Evelyn Birkby began to write a weekly column entitled “Up a Country Lane” for the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, now called the Valley News. Sixty-three years, one Royal typewriter, and five computers later, she is still creating a weekly record of the lives and interests of her family, friends, and neighbors. Her perceptive, closely observed columns provide a multigenerational biography of rural and small-town life in the Midwest over decades of change. Now she has sifted through thousands of columns to give us her favorites, guaranteed to delight her many longtime and newfound fans.
Evelyn begins with her very first column, whose focus on the Christmas box prepared by a companionable group of farm wives, the constant hard work of farming, and an encounter with an elderly stranger over a yard of red gingham sets the tone for future columns. Optimistic even in the wake of sorrow, generous-spirited but not smug, humorous but not folksy, wise but not preachy, Evelyn welcomes the adventures and connections that each new day brings, and she masterfully shares them with her readers.
Tales of separating cream on the back porch at Cottonwood Farm, raising a teddy bear of a puppy in addition to a menagerie of other animals, surviving an endless procession of Cub and Boy Scouts, appreciating a little boy’s need to take his toy tractor to church, blowing out eggs to make an Easter egg tree, shopping for bargains on the day before Christmas, camping in a converted Model T “house car,” and adjusting to the fact of one’s tenth decade of existence all merge to form a world composed of kindness and wisdom with just enough humor to keep it grounded. Recipes for such fare as Evelyn’s signature Hay Hand Rolls prove that the young woman who was daunted by her editor’s advice to “put in a recipe every week” became a talented cook. Each of the more than eighty columns in this warmhearted collection celebrates not a bygone era tinged with sentimentality but a continuing tradition of neighborliness, Midwest-nice and Midwest-sensible.