My Up a Country Lane column has been published in this newspaper every week without fail since 1949.
Now I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m no longer able to write as well as I used to. I want to pass the landmark of 70 years of columns, and then put a bow on my writing career. My November 27th column will be my last.
In the weeks until then, I’m going to look back at some highlights of Up a Country Lane. There are people to acknowledge and memories to revisit. Most of all, I want to thank my readers for seven decades of support.
In 1949, my husband Robert and I were living on a small farm at the end of a long country lane. We had a two year old daughter and I was seven months pregnant.
Robert saw an advertisement in the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel (now the Valley News) asking for a weekly columnist. He encouraged me to apply. I told him I’d never written for a paper, but he insisted I try.
I talked with Willard Archie, the Sentinel’s publisher who encouraged me to write about farm life, my family, and whatever else I found interesting. “And always put in a recipe,” he added. “Readers like recipes.”
When I got home, Robert pulled his big, clunky Royal Standard typewriter out of a closet and set it on the kitchen table. I put in a piece of paper, took a deep breath, and began to type.
My father had been a minister who used just his index fingers to type his sermons every week. In my early twenties, I had enrolled in a typing class that met in the evenings. In the first session we learned how to hold our hands over the keys so all 10 fingers could come into play. Because of work commitments, I was unable to go to the rest of the classes, but I’d learned enough to figure out typing on my own.
It seems as though I was always destined to share experiences. I think I was born talking. As a child I loved sharing stories. I was always reading books, too, and probably noticing how authors told their tales.
My writing routine would change little over the next 70 years. I like to have a cup of black coffee first thing in the morning and then sit down at my desk. Often there have been recent events that spark ideas for columns. If I couldn’t think of anything, I would start typing anyway, putting down any words that popped into my head. Before long the words would become sentences and a column would be forming.
I used that Royal typewriter for the first 40 years of columns. I would put in two pieces of paper with a sheet of carbon paper between them. That created a copy as I wrote. If I made a mistake, I corrected it using an eraser or paint on White Out and typed again.
The finished columns went into the mailbox at the end of the lane, arriving a day later at the newspaper office in Shenandoah. I thought of that mailbox as my window to the world.
For the last 30 years, I’ve worn out several Apple computers and used email to deliver my columns.
Editors would go through the column and then turn it over to typesetters to get it ready for printing. An editor reviewing a column I had written about morel mushrooms changed the spelling to “moral” mushrooms. I’ve always laughed about the morality of mushrooms.
Another time I had a recipe for grapefruit salad that required 1/2 cup sugar. When it came out in the paper, the backslash had disappeared and the printed recipe called for 12 cups of sugar. I hoped the mistake was so bad that nobody would actually try to make the salad.
An error that was clearly mine happened when a friend give me her handwritten recipe for what I thought were Cherry Brownies. After I published it, readers called to tell me I’d not included any cherries. My friend told me I had misread her cursive handwriting. The recipe was for Chewy Brownies.
Through more than 3,600 columns, there have been many discoveries, lots of laughter, some tears, and a few errors in recipes. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
One of my favorite recipes is this one introduced to me by my sons. If you are wondering, it really does not have any cherries.
My Sons’ Favorite Triple
1 box regular chocolate cake mix
1 box chocolate pudding mix (the kind you cook)
1 cup chocolate chips
Cook the pudding mix according to directions and remove from the stove. Cool slightly. While still warm, stir in the dry cake mix. Beat well with a mixer or spoon until the cake mix is completely dissolved. Spoon into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top (and nuts, too, if you like them). Bake according to directions on the cake mix. Brownies will be thick, heavy, and chocolaty.