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How a Mislabeled Can of Corn Saved the Day

She had planned a big party, but forgot the main ingredient for her signature dish. Then a mistake turned into a small miracle.  

Illustration of corn in a fruit cocktail can

In just over two hours, I was expecting 100 people at my house for my father-in-law Larry’s seventieth birthday. I was right on schedule, putting the finishing touches on my corn casserole, when I froze. Where was the can of corn? I ran to my pantry, thinking I might have left it there. No luck.

Did I buy frozen corn instead? I rushed to my freezer and rummaged through bags of icy vegetables. Nothing.

Larry’s health wasn’t great, and I really wanted to make this party special for him. I’d planned meticulously, making a list of ingredients I’d need to whip up big batches of Larry’s favorite foods—such as this corn casserole. The original recipe called for peas, but my kids hate them, so I always substituted corn. The finished product is cheesy noodles with chicken and corn, melted to perfection in the oven. I’d made it for dinner dozens of times, and since my in-laws live across the street, they often enjoyed it with us. As I stood there, staring into my corn-less freezer, I could hear Larry’s compliments about the dish. “This is delicious, and the corn really sets it off,” he would say every time. “It gives it just the right texture. It wouldn’t be the same without it!”

I glanced at the clock. No time to run to the store. I considered asking my husband, Eric, to go, but he was setting up all the folding tables and chairs. I scanned my shopping list. I hadn’t even written it down. How could I have forgotten?

I’ll just have to make it without the corn, I thought.

I hated admitting that the party would no longer be absolutely perfect, but I needed to get these casseroles in the oven and move on to the next dish.

As I mixed the cheese and the chicken into the cooked noodles, my five-year-old, Nathan, wandered into the kitchen. “What are you making?” he asked.

“My corn casserole, except I can’t find the corn,” I said. “Would you be a good boy and help me look for a can of it in the pantry?”

To be honest, asking him was more just to keep him occupied and out of the way than anything else. Nathan dragged a step stool in front of the pantry, stood on it and started digging around.

“I don’t see any corn, Mommy. But what’s this?” he asked, holding up a can of fruit cocktail I’d gotten as a gift for helping with my church’s Vacation Bible School. The theme the previous summer had been “the fruit of the spirit,” from Galatians 5, and the can’s label was covered by a decorative paper sleeve listing them: love, joy, goodness, kindness, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

“It’s a can of fruit from church,” I said. “Remember VBS last year? When we learned about fruit of the spirit? The folks at VBS gave us real fruit to remind us of that.”

“Can I eat it?”

“No, you’ll spoil your dinner.”

“Pleeeeeaaasse?”

“Fine, I don’t care,” I said, balancing a casserole as I inched toward the oven.

Nathan jumped off the step stool and ran to get the can opener. Moments later, I heard him gasp. “Mom, come here!”

“Nate, I’m really busy.”

“It’s corn.”

What? Nathan showed me the can’s contents. No fruit cocktail. Corn! Apparently, I was the lucky beneficiary of a mistake made by the person in charge of wrapping the VBS cans. She must have accidentally grabbed a can of corn along with all the fruit. Relieved, I poured the corn into the second casserole, then set aside the empty can to show Eric later. I would make sure Larry’s serving came from the second pan at the birthday party. No one else would notice the difference.

The temporarily missing corn was the only mishap of the day. The party went well, and Larry had a wonderful time. More than once, he mentioned how delicious the corn casserole was.

After the guests had all left, I was cleaning up the kitchen and remembered the mystery can. I picked it up from where I’d stashed it and pulled back the decorative sleeve, revealing the manufacturer’s label underneath. I stopped short. Clearly, it was far more than luck that had brought me what I needed that night. In bold red letters, the can was labeled Fruit Cocktail.

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