Evelyn Birkby passed away February 7 at the age of 101. She had been on a gentle glide path for several months, comfortable at the Ambassador Care Center in Sidney and assisted by many wonderful caregivers.
Evelyn’s Up a Country Lane appeared in this newspaper every week for seven decades. Several years ago, she wrote a piece she asked to be published as her final column. We are delighted to honor her request as we hold her in our fondest memories.
As with all things, it is finally time for me to leave my typewriter and microphone and move on to whatever comes next. I hope it is something like my friend Fannie Flagg imagined in her novel Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. Fannie’s radio homemaker character Neighbor Dorothy is there to welcome Aunt Eleanor into heaven by baking her a cake.
I want to let you know that my life has been a satisfying journey filled with joy, love, and deep friendships.
If I could have chosen the parents best for me, I would not have found a better pair than my father and mother. They gave me a love of music and books. They encouraged me from a young age to be comfortable speaking in front of audiences. They also gave me their example of having compassion for the needs of neighbors in the communities where we lived, and for people around the globe.
I was blessed for 70 years to be in love with my wonderful husband Robert. He encouraged me every step of the way as I strived to develop my skills and broaden my world. I hope I was able to do that for him, as well. We had fun being parents to our daughter and three sons. We have been blessed with delightful grandchildren, too.
I knew life would include sadness as well as joy, but never imagined what deep sorrow would come to us in the death of our daughter when she was five. While I have grieved for her all these years, that experience has helped me empathize with others and do what I can to support them in their times of sorrow and loss.
There is simply not enough space to tell you how much I have appreciated you. Writing my column allowed me to share so much about our families and our Iowa communities. Radio broadcasting opened doors that brought me close to many wonderful people. I thank The Valley News Today and KMA radio for encouraging me to be active with them for all these decades.
People have asked what advice someone my age has for living as long as I have. I tell them three things. First, greet every morning by saying it’s going to be a good day, and then do all you can to make that happen. Second, take care of your brain by avoiding anything that might harm it. Keep it fresh with a lifetime of learning. Finally, drink plenty of milk.
Now dear ones, I must say good-bye. I love you all so much. Please be kind to one another and wake up every morning committed to making it a good day for yourself and others.
Perhaps we will see each other again someday. If we do, I hope I can greet you into heaven with a cake that I’ve just baked, maybe from a favorite recipe from one of my columns.
Rather than closing this column with a recipe, I want to share a poem I wrote when I was a young woman and most of my life lay ahead. I have always held hope in my heart and looked for the best in every moment. Now as my years come to a close, I can look at this poem and realize I truly have known so much joy and so many bright colors.
Just twenty-one today, I’m young and it is wonderful.
My heart beats fast for love of life and all it holds.
Life stretches forth before me – on and on into infinity,
Seemingly endless, full of hopes and joys as yet unknown, undone.
Before me are my dreams, held in a shining array of colors
Bright as rainbow hues. They hold within their breathless rays
All hopes of things to come.
I know the future, underneath these dreams, holds work –
Hard work that may turn to drudgery at times,
Disillusionment, fear of things undone that should be done,
Struggle, heartache – even death.
And yet I know when I am more than twenty-one
And the bright colors of my dreams begin to fade
I will go back into the harbor of my mind
And bring my rainbow out and air it.
Perhaps by shaking it, and brushing off the dust
Of time and labor, I can see again the brilliant
Colors as I see them now – gleaming in the light of work well done
For I am twenty-one today – and very young.
(A celebration of Evelyn’s life will be scheduled for this spring or summer when it is safe for people to gather. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the Fremont County Historical Society.)