I’ve always thought that one main strength of your writing is your ability to demonstrate connectivity—the enduring connections among your rural and small-town neighbors. Can you tell us what these connections mean to you?
Little did I realize that living in a small-town minister’s home would prepare me for what finally became the path of my life. Day after day my father and mother showed by their loving care for the people in their congregation and in their community that people matter, that caring for them in a loving way is one of the important ways to have a fulfilled life no matter what else you do.
Both my parents were educated and spoke well, which gave me a good foundation for knowing how language should be put together. I never was very good in English, but rather I sensed its correctness, which made it possible for me to speak well. And my parents insisted that I do everything I was asked to do that got me up in front of an audience. (I thought they were being cruel—little did I know that they were preparing me for my future.)
Our family did a lot of what we might call community service, and as a child I went along handing out food, taking clothes to those in need (it was the depth of the Great Depression), and visiting hospital patients, usually children, with my father because, he said, I was cheerful and helped bring a little comfort to someone hurt or ill.
Everything I did after I grew up involved people. Teaching school, going into religious education, and working with children and youth—the great loves of my life—in many different ways. Then when I married and moved back into small-town and country Iowa, here were all the same kinds of people I had grown up with, so we were instant friends. When I began my writing and radio work, I realized how true it was, as my first publisher told me, “Always write friendly, there are many lonely people out there.“ I had a positive father who always lifted people’s spirits. Once he was gone, I took it on myself to be a positive, up-beat, “sunshiny” person. So many sad people, so much trouble. So I deliberately let in the light and smiled and was (and am) positive.
In the process I made close friends with those around me, and that circle expanded to include my
readers and listeners. It was like being a part of a family.
Evelyn Birkby is the author of Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker, as well as Up a Country Lane Cookbook and Neighboring on the Air.