When you view Dianne Holland’s meticulous records and marvel at how some years she has "put up" close to 450 packages of food by either canning or freezing, she’s quick to point out it’s nothing amazing in her viewpoint.
"I just didn’t know when you grew up you weren’t supposed to do this," she laughed. "I just admired my mother and daddy’s work ethic and their whole attitude about life. This is just what they did."
Well — maybe that’s not all they did!
Dianne’s father, Drew Collier, was an educator for many years, serving as Cleveland High Principal, 1953-1969 (the year Dianne graduated); Blount County Assistant Superintendent of Schools, 1969-1972; and then Appalachian High Principal until his retirement in 1976.
Dianne’s mother, Lois, taught first grade for 44 years; first at Ashville, then at Locust Fork and finally for many years at Cleveland.
"The summer months they were always off work, so we always had a huge garden," Dianne explained. "Daddy always had pigs and cows. He usually made the garden and mama and I shelled and put up."
They canned mountains of green beans, tomato juice, tomatoes "and every kind of jelly, jams and preserves imaginable."
Lois also had a passion for cooking. Although it seemed hundreds of folks came to the funeral home when she died in 2000 and told about how she shaped them in the classroom, every minister who spoke at her funeral also told of times they’d enjoyed feasting on her great meals around the dinner table.
When Drew was 84, he was trapped underneath his tractor for about 30 minutes before anyone found him on that Thursday afternoon. Although the accident seriously injured one leg, his main concern Saturday morning was he would be unable to sell at that morning’s Blount County Farmer’s Market!
Drew married Norma when he was 88 and kept on gardening. Along the way he and his gardens were featured in newspaper articles and a spread in Southern Living magazine.
He passed away in 2010 just one week before his 96th birthday.
His oldest sister, and the only remaining of the family’s seven kids, Faye Campbell, is now 99 and lives in Texas. When Dianne talked, just before this interview, to one of her cousins there, Faye had DRIVEN home early that afternoon because she wanted to get an early start planting green beans the next morning!
So Dianne does come by her work ethic genetically and by example!
Dianne and husband Mark have been married 25 years and dated two years before that to ensure their blended family would survive. They now together have four grown children, eight grandchildren and another grandchild waiting in Heaven.
Dianne learned a lot from Mark’s dad, Earl Holland, who passed away in December 2010, who also had that same work ethic and was a fantastic farmer. Living next door on the family farm near the Blount-Etowah County line continues to be a blessing.
Dianne worked for what is now Compass Bank for more than 15 years, returning to finish her college education at age 39 and graduating from Jacksonville State at age 43, then completing her Masters at the University of Alabama.
She’s taught second grade at Susan Moore Elementary for the past 17 years and hopes to teach at least a couple more.
And all that time she’s been canning and freezing, each year from a more than one-acre garden.
"When the kids were little, it was like a necessity because money was always tight," she explained. "Then they grew up and you think you won’t do as much, but they start families and you just can’t stop."
Mark worked for Chicago Bridge and Iron in Birmingham and then Walker County; then Steward Fabrication; and now works as an inspector with the Alabama State Highway Department.
Dianne refers to him as the "chief farmer" since he’s in charge of the plowing and planting. Since Dianne, like her parents, now has summers-off work, she does the "picking and putting up."
Two years ago, the couple tore out the kitchen which was original to their home, replacing it with mahogany cabinets, built by Etowah Cabinet Company, and stainless steel appliances; with Mark noting Dianne has meant so much to the family with her delicious meals at family gatherings and all her canning and freezing, she "deserved" the more modern work space.
A birthday gathering is held each month for the family’s birthdays, and then there’s the annual Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, as well as just about any other reason to celebrate.
Adjacent is a large pantry AND the laundry room, which also features two freezers and another wall completely lined with shelves of Dianne’s canned goods.
The summer of the kitchen remodeling, when there was virtually no kitchen for four months, Dianne still canned more than 200 quarts!
Dianne started keeping a canning journal May 14, 1990, and the poem she later wrote on the first page perhaps explains her "food philosophy" the best:
Gardens Grow the Seeds of Love
by Dianne Holland
This book was started when all you kids
Were still at home to feed,
I canned and froze all the food I could,
There was definitely a need.
I tried to keep a record
Of what I canned each season
So I would know how much more
To put up, within reason.
Then one by one you left us,
To make your own sweet nests,
And I don’t have to can and freeze
I’ll now have time to rest!
But as you know, that’s not the case
Cause I still love you so.
And with each new face,
I realize, I’ve many years to go.
And so for each of you
And my precious grandkids,
Til I’m so old I can’t go on,
I’ll keep on boiling lids!
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.