When I look at these homemade canned tomato jars…my memories quickly settle on Dee Dee…my mother-in-law. I remember that receiving a jar of canned tomatoes from her was far better than any other type of birthday present or Christmas gift I could get.
Homemade vegetables soups and homemade spaghetti were never the same when I had to resort to using canned tomato paste or sauce from the store. Oh…it was still good…but just not rich like fresh canned tomatoes.
Actually these two cans, in the photo above, didn’t belong to Dee Dee but were Christmas gifts from Honey back in 2014. I went crazy…when she handed them to me….the best Christmas presents I got that year. Every time I had a spoonful of vegetable soup or a forkful of spaghetti during that cold month of January…I thought of Dee-Dee…and Honey. My favorite canned memories.
And it was within those memories that the story of “Iva Mae” popped back up. The time was the Great Depression and one event was so powerful in one little first grader’s memory that, when she later became an author, she re-told the amazing story of a mother whose strength of character resided in the hearts and memories of twelve little first graders for life… When the poorest little girl in the class became the richest in the eyes of her classmates.
“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.
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…in fact, she was the richest.”
Resource: Nita Waxelman: Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.
So until tomorrow….”Hard times reveal one’s character… Circumstances don’t make a person- instead they reveal a person.”
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
In these last dog days of August…the selection of flowers have dwindled considerably since early spring…but there is one flower I can always count on...zinnias. I especially love how Iva Mae’s mother decorated with zinnias and gave each child at the party…the gift of life…with the seeds of colorful zinnias for them. What a thoughtful, creative mother! Here are my zinnias! And Iva Mae’s mother was right…”Zinnias are the food of our souls.”