Funny how so many childhood memories involve potatoes.
Purple or gold, russet or red. Starchy or not so starchy. Mashed, fried, scalloped, au gratin, creamed, boiled, baked, twice-baked. Potatoes. . .
First, you’ve gotta pick ‘em.
In the later fall, after the hot days had passed and the cool ones could be counted on, Mom would pick us up after school. Those special pick-ups were always good days, though potato days jockeyed for inclusion on the goodness continuum.
On potato days, after we’d changed clothes and had a snack, we’d head to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Grandpa would be there ahead of us with the little, sit-atop potato digger attached to the oldest little tractor we had. (Somebody had to sit on each: the digger and the tractor. I think I was old enough and strong enough to sit on the digger once. . .I may or may not have actually done anything except perch up there. . .)
The weather had to be cloudy—for no reason that I know of; it just always was. It also had to be cold—and potato picking is not a gloved activity (at least for long—or maybe it was because we had to share the jersey gloves and I rarely got them). (It was definitely not a mittened activity! I’m not sure why. It probably had something to do with the amount of dirt involved.)
With gunny sacks (aka: burlap bags) in hand, we’d follow behind the machine that followed the tractor that dug the potatoes we’d eat in the winter. Somewhere in all that following, the kids picked up said potatoes.
After a time, fingers began to chill, fresh dirt stuck beneath fingernails, and the inevitable nose drips began. I’m thinking and this is just a guess, mind you, but I’m thinking that perhaps sleeves may have been involved. But don’t quote me!
And, yes, I’d imagine there was complaining. With kids and work and cold and dirt and hunger—yes, we’d had a snack, but work makes you hungry, you know—there would’ve had to have been grumbles. But we chipped away at it, and the job got done.
A grown-up would hoist the full sacks into the bed of the pick-up. We’d clean off the parts of the digger that needed cleaning, and the job was done for another year.
We didn’t grow potatoes on a larger scale very many times. I don’t know whose idea it was to stop or whose idea it had been in the first place to grow more than just a few hills in a garden.
But I’m glad we did it.
On each of those good days, our potato days, we ended dusty and weary and satisfied. We came away with a greater understanding of the labor involved in growing some of the food we would eat. In the group effort of the harvest, we grew to appreciate each other more, to catch a glimpse of the reliance we have on those who work with us.
In that everyday way that everyday labor has of teaching, we began to learn of the fun and effectiveness—and necessity—of working together.