In 1999, my friend Michael Carey wrote a poem to mark the 50th anniversary of my Up a Country Lane column. Now, twenty years later, the column is about to reach its 70th year. I want to share Michael’s poem again with his beautiful way of describing some of the reasons behind my writing.

Neighboring

Michael Carey

For Evelyn Birkby

Let’s say you got hold of a piece of land, or a piece of land just got hold of you or some handsome husbandman plopped you down in the middle of nowhere and said, “Honey, this is paradise,” a million miles from anything you remember up a country lane that becomes all but impassable in almost every weather.

“Here, he says are the meals you will cook and the clothes you will iron and sew, children to nurture and feed, A whole shelf full of glass Mason jars.” Let’s say you were a city girl and you got married because you were the friendly sort and suddenly lonely.

Let’s say then, that a few words scribbled on a piece of paper then typed on the old Royal brought home again to your mother and your father to all the happy craziness of your many siblings and said to you alone, “You can do it. See? I’ll show you how. Just roll up your sleeves and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. You’ll be surprised at what sweetnessbegins to rise, at what hungers suddenly become satisfied.”

Let’s say those words stay in your hands for fifty years, for fifty years they keep coming and coming (how could one person use the same old letters over and over so differently for so long – (even the largest of dictionaries only have so many words) and still have something to say, and still have someone to listen

Try to see it’s not the words really. It’s never been words but a neighbor you held in your hands right in that chair where you were sitting, A fragile beating heart, open, like yours, to the world, asking for just one more body to pump life into.

Some of the best recipes are new versions of old favorites. That’s true with this macaroni and cheese recipe.

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 small onion, diced

¼ cup butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

1 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

½ pound grated medium or sharp cheddar cheese

¾ cup buttered bread crumbs

Cook macaroni according to directions. Drain and put in casserole. Stir in onion. Stir and melt butter and flour together until bubbly, gradually add milk and half-and-half, and continue cooking over low heat, stirring, until mixture thickens. Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and continue stirring as cheese melts and mixture is creamy. Pour over macaroni in casserole. Top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until nicely brown on top. Makes 12 to 15 servings.

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