“Canning” Memories… for the New Year


Dear Reader:

As I sat on the sofa yesterday deciding on what story would end 2014…a child’s name kept trying to break through the cobwebs of my memory. A story that really touched me but had been pushed aside for another story a few weeks ago. I remember thinking (at the time) to “bookmark” the pages.

Not only did I not do that…I didn’t even write down which book the story came from. I knew the overall gist of the story (loved it) and that it involved a little girl with a different name….but nothing else would come.

I started looking through the nearest books around my computer… but with no luck. I finally gave up and went to get something out of the guest bedroom and there was a book lying on the bed that I knew intuitively was the book.

photo  It didn’t take five minutes to find the story: “Iva Mae’s Birthday” written by Nita Waxelman in Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

The story is told by the author….as she remembers a little girl in grade school with a special birthday that taught her classmates important lessons in life… that would come much later.. only with maturity and reflective hindsight.

Before we start the story… Take a minute and think back to the one adult in your life who was there for you during the tough times and the bad times growing up….yet never judged you while the crisis was at hand. (Later perhaps… but not during the crisis)

Dee Dee and Poppy were these two caring adult mentors for their grandchildren. It was mainly the granddaughters,( though also the grandsons occasionally) who sought Dee Dee’s wisdom with problems at school, dating issues, and “Mom doesn’t understand me” conflicts.

Poor Poppy got the midnight calls once the boys started driving…they were broken down, or in a fender-bumper…what to do when the police came, and even more serious car wrecks. Poor Poppy, at this period of his grandchildren’s adolescent lives… always seemed to be missing his truck or car which he had loaned a grandchild with car problems.

It is very important in child development that there is a grandparent or relative to assist in the awkward growing up antics of adolescence skirting the first line of offense…the parents. ( Now that I am a grandparent I understand this new position even clearer.)

However, (in our story today)  it is Iva Mae’s mother who emerges as the real hero and birthday saver… while teaching one of the most important lessons in life to twelve first graders.

“Iva Mae’s Birthday”

The year is 1936 and Iva Mae Maples has never had a birthday…but this year, in the first grade, she is determined to do so. She has walked around and invited all her classmates (orally) to her birthday party which would fall on the third Friday of September.

It is deep in the Great Depression, all the children are wearing scraps on pants legs and dresses as they would grow taller throughout the year… but at least they all had shoes. Not so with Iva Mae…very quickly the children understood that she was the poorest girl in the first grade class.

Her feet could be seen through the holes in her mother’s shoes. They were too big and kept falling off her feet. She even wore her mother’s cardigan sweater as a coat…even though the sleeves fell down to her knees.

But no matter…Iva Mae was the most popular girl in the first grade…she was funny and giggled all the time tucking zinnias into her pigtails. She would belch and then glare at the poor student sitting next to her saying, “Well. I never, I sure hope you feel better now.”

Iva Mae brought the most wonderful lunches to school. Her mother canned day and night to keep food on the table and the results were wonderful to the other classmates who watched her eat homemade vegetable soup with a big square of buttered cornbread…as their mouths watered…staring down at their peanut butter sandwich.

Finally Iva Mae’s birthday arrived. The teacher had all the children put their presents in the coat closets until after school when they would follow Iva Mae home for the party. Everyone was so excited…ice cream and cake…WOW! Iva Mae’s eyes were as big as saucers as she stared at all the presents in the closet.

When the bell rang at three everyone grabbed his/her present and began to follow Iva Mae. But she was suddenly acting strangely….the closer we got to her home…the quieter she became and now her eyes looked bigger than saucers….filled with terror.

Everyone soon discovered why. When the dozen students trouped into Mrs. Maple’s two room house…she looked confused and dazed. Bewildered she stared down at Iva Mae… waiting for an explanation.

In the quietest voice we had ever heard  …while twitching this way and that…we listened to her say: “I just decided to have me a birthday party, and I didn’t think you’d mind. I plumb forgot to tell you and …” She was now staring down at her feet sticking out of her mama’s shoes.

You could have heard a pin drop. Poor Mrs. Maples didn’t know about the party…oh no…no ice cream, no cake!

Mrs. Maples clutched at her throat saying repetitively…”Oh my…oh my.”

We could all feel the indecision as she looked down into Iva Mae’s pleading eyes. Then, suddenly, she started to laugh while tears flowed down her face. She went over and hugged Iva Mae. “You’re right…it’s party time.”

For the first time the whole class began looking around at all the shelves in both rooms of the house. Every shelf was jammed with home-canned produce from her garden. It actually was a beautiful sight of plenty…the different colored jars were catching the mid-afternoon’s sun rays and sparkling like they knew they should be decorative for the party.

Mrs. Maples grabbed four quarts of soup from one shelf and began to warm it up. She then told the girls to go pick fourteen pears from the garden and a bunch of zinnias to decorate the table.

Out in the garden one girl asked Iva Mae why her mother gave so much room to the zinnias when she could grow more produce if she made it smaller. Iva replied that her mother said: “Oh the zinnias are the food for our souls.”

The zinnias were beautiful…every color imaginable!

While snacking on soup and crackers…we soon forgot all about the ice cream and cake. Mrs. Maples arranged the 14 pears on a big platter and right in the middle placed a candle which she lit and we sang Happy Birthday to Iva Mae.

Everyone munched on his/her delicious pear… as Iva Mae opened all twelve presents: paper doll books, coloring books, hair ribbons, lotion, scarves, Old Maid cards, puzzles, yo yo’s and even a kaleidoscope. Iva Mae’s face was pink with delirious happiness.

And Mrs. Maples? She glowed also to see the happiness on her daughter’s face.

Before everyone left mother and daughter gathered zinnia seeds and gave them as a thank you gift…placing them in each child’s palm. Mrs. Maples said, ” Plant these next spring, and remember me when you see them bloom.”

The author concludes it has been 65 years since she was in that little first grade class with Iva Mae and she still remembers the courage of that poor mother surprised with twelve children… expecting a birthday party.

“I remember her good humor, her sweetness, her creativity, her courage in making do during a hard period in their lives. I remember her showing me that you don’t need ice cream and cake to have a great party, and that no gardener is ever too poor not to have something to share with others.”

“Perhaps most of all, I remember how I no longer felt that Iva Mae was the poorest girl in our first grade class.”


So until tomorrow…Let us end 2014 remembering the brave and kind individuals who helped us grow along our journey….and let us begin 2015 by stopping to look back and lend a hand to those behind us who need a boost at this point in their lives.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

* The photo of these two canned tomato jars (title) came from gifts from Honey at Christmas. Getting ready to make some more vegetable soup.

Eva Cate got an easel for Christmas and she has the ‘art bug’ going around now… which makes her mom (art teacher) very happy…Mandy told me she painted three “Masterpieces” yesterday and shared one with us.

IMG_20141230_140918 (1)

I can hardly wait to see you, blog readers, next year (tomorrow) and share together what the New Year brings….Thank you for your loyalty to the blog! I will share some information WordPress sent about the old and new blog stats. Quite interesting.

A Big Shout-Out to my oncologist, Dr. Silgals, who ordered me antibiotics to help me get rid of this never-ending bronchitis/larynigitis yesterday. I finally see hope where it was fading for me after three weeks of “muteness.”

Thanks Dr. Silgals for stepping up to plate for me on this medication. A homerun!

Happy New Year!




About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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5 Responses to “Canning” Memories… for the New Year

  1. Brooke says:

    What a sweet story to end 2014!! Feel better, my friend!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jo Dufford says:

    I look forward to your blogs in 2015. Hope you have the best year yet. Aren’t we the luckiest, no, most blessed people in the world to have people to love and people to love us? HAPPY NEW YEAR! (12 hours early).


  3. Becky Dingle says:

    JO…how right you are! What would we do if we had to live in a world without love? I love you Jo Dufford…..Happy New Year!


  4. ambikasur says:

    Happy New Year, Becky! God bless you and your friends and family…😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Becky Dingle says:

    God bless you Ambika! I am still in wonder over how we met….those years ago…in the land of seeking Hope. And now look how your life has changed. Happy New Year….may only the best turn up at your door!


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