Potato sorrows


I woke up after a troubled dream of Mr. Potato Head chasing me out of Ireland.  This is what comes of writing about potatoes in the morning and reading Frank Delaney’s Ireland at night.



I spoke ill of potatoes yesterday, and now I feel the pangs of contrition. Potatoes helped make me. Not just my thighs, but all of me. My great-grandfather came from Templemore in North Tipperary, Ireland. I have no doubt he was raised on potatoes, the staple crop of Irish peasants.


Ideas are like the strings of a guitar. When you pluck a string, it vibrates and causes nearby objects to vibrate as well, something called forced vibration. When you pluck on an idea, it sends out vibrations to other ideas, and soon you have a whole group of other ideas humming along. When I plucked potatoes, my wart vibrated. Then I looked around the web and the two words vibrated  into Potato Wart, a serious fungal disease that potatoes fear. No wonder they get upset when we humans rub our warts on them. Our warts come from viruses, not fungi, but try telling that to a potato.


The fungus synchytrium endobioticum, which we call Potato Wart, caused the Irish Potato Famine that began in 1845. It led to at least one million deaths and the migration of at least another million Irish. My great-grandfather left Templemore some time after the famine, but his family would have lived through it. In the suitcase he carried across the sea, underneath his dreams of a better life, he would have carried clean but tattered memories of the potato blight, hunger, oppression, and poverty.


So I apologize to potatoes, we share the same history and we both worry about warts. Putting “worry” and “wart” in close proximity sends out another vibration, which makes me think of worrywarts. One day I will pluck that string, but not today.



I woke up with the pangs of contrition, and though we usually associate that with the idea of sorrow over wrongdoing, its first and literal meaning was to rub things against each other: the way my mother rubbed that potato against the palm of my hand. In the most literal sense, that rubbing of the Irish potato against the palm of the somewhat Irish little girl was an act of contrition. Both had roots in Ireland, shared a history of loss, and had a fear of warts. Today, I was reminded of the Irish saying, “Only two things in this world are too serious to be jested on, potatoes and matrimony.” So, in a second act of contrition, I think I need to apologize to the humble tuber.


Since I’m only part Irish, I only need to follow part of the admonition. I will refrain from jesting about potatoes, at least until after St. Patrick’s Day, but after thirtysome years of marriage, there is no way I can refrain from joking about matrimony.



Drawings from: http://adminstaff.vassar.edu/sttaylor/FAMINE