My sons Bob and Craig are visiting from their homes in Seattle. We have been talking about this house on Honey Hill where they grew up. Bob wrote down our conversation as I told them that in my childhood, I lived in many places.
My father was a minister in Chatham, Illinois, when I was born. It was the custom of the Methodist Church to move ministers every few years. Soon dad was assigned to a different congregation in Winchester, Illinois.
In Iowa, we moved as he served churches in Madrid, then Dexter, then Prairie City, and Waukee. We arrived in Sidney when I was a high school senior.
Once I was on my own, there were two years in Indianola at Simpson College followed by teaching grade school in Carlisle and then Tripoli. I worked at a Methodist church in Waterloo, and as youth director at the Chicago Temple in the heart of that city.
I returned to Southwest Iowa when I was 27 to marry Robert Birkby. We lived in several farm houses south of Farragut and one near Sidney. In 1964, we built our own home on the north edge of Sidney. That was 55 years ago. I haven’t moved since.
Our house is on land at the edge of Sidney that had been divided into lots and auctioned off in 1921.
Fliers advertised the property in glowing terms. One proclaimed, “Highland Addition is destined to become the beauty spot of the city. Here will be erected HOMES such as will delight the eye – here will live people who will be contented, comfortable, satisfied. Here will be husbands, wives and children bound together with the common bond of HOME OWNERSHIP. Here will be peace and plenty.”
On the day of the sale, a smartly-dressed auctioneer promised that Highland Addition was destined to become the most attractive and beautiful residence in this section in Iowa.
He added that as homes appeared on the lots, Sidney would become one of the most charming cities on the face of the globe.
The lots were sold, but no houses went up. Nobody seemed willing to be the first to build. Some felt the ten minute walk to downtown Sidney put the land too far out in the country. In a few years the Great Depression would discourage others.
Jump forward to 1946. Just before he married me, Robert took me to the high point of that land. Since graduating from high school a decade earlier, he had been buying plots that came on the market. There was still not much interest in the land, so prices were reasonable. Robert had planted an orchard. Several cows grazed on the grass.
We stood next to a big mulberry tree and Robert told me someday we would build a house here. It would take another thirty years for us to save up for that dream to come true.
Our young sons built tree houses in the mulberry tree. They helped their father plant more trees and tend gardens, bee hives, and grape arbors. Friends and family came for many dinners. These walls have held much laughter and love. My mind is full of wonderful memories.
I feel the same way about Sidney, Shenandoah, and all of Southwest Iowa. I left Chicago to be with Robert and never had any regrets. With this area as their base, my sons have gone far into the world. I’ve had opportunities to travel, too, but I have always returned to this home on what we call Honey Hill.
I have spent more than half of my life here, and I’m glad I did. Our home has truly lived up to that 1921 flier advertising this as a place of peace and plenty.
Honey Hill Bread
About the time we built our house, a friend from Malvern sent this recipe for delicious, easy homemade bread. It makes four gorgeous brown loaves, or can be shaped into rolls.
3 packages yeast
4 ½ cups warm water
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup salad oil
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon vinegar
10 to 11 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in honey. Let stand 5 minutes.
Add oil, salt, vinegar, and eggs. Beat well. Stir in 2 cups flour and beat until smooth. Gradually add more flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on floured bread board and knead until smooth and elastic.
Place in greased bowl, turning to grease the dough on all sides. Let rise until double in bulk.
Knead down. Cut into four or five portions. Let rest 10 minutes. Knead each ball well. Shape as desired. Place in well greased pans. Let rise until double. Bake in 375 degree oven until done.
This browns very quickly. After about 10 minutes of baking time, check and if it is browning too rapidly, cover with aluminum foil.
Bake loaves about 40 to 50 minutes, rolls about 20 minutes. A dull thumping sound indicates when the bread is done. Turn out onto cooling rack. Enjoy!