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

32 thoughts on “Potato sorrows

  1. Maybe tonight you should light a candle to St. Fiacre. Seems like he might just be perfect one-stop shopping among the saints to help you sleep without fear of attack from Mr. Potatohead. St. Fiacre was Irish and was known for curing skin afflictions. The potatoes should be covered because he is the patron saint of gardeners, particularly when it comes to digging in dirt. Just don’t go digging any deeper into his specialties or you might find yourself with nightmares about a whole new set of maladies much worse than warts.

  2. I hope the Mr Potato Head of your dreams was wearing those googly glasses, so that he could see the sincerity of your act of contrition. You are tuber much. Really.

    That vibration you’re feeling whomping against your head is the result of the air that is being displaced by the heaving of my breast as I attempt to stifle a giggle. Those stifled giggles make my body start vibrating, and as you so eloquently stated, plucked strings have consequences, and in this case, the result is waves upon waves of forced vibration across the miles. BTW, loved the kicker at the end – matrimony in no joking matter – hah!

    • I’m glad you’re picking up good vibrations. 🙂 As you can see I was brainwashed by the Beach Boys. Can you believe they rhymed that with “excitation”?

      The Mr. Potato Head that roams around in my head wears goggly glasses and a mustache.

  3. Such a beautiful post, Yearstricken. I still have the previous potato post… and there were some things I wanted to say, but waited till my spirits would be up to it. And here, another gem. I couldn’t put it aside for later… another characteristic of blog reading… one is aware of time speeding by, here too. A beautiful read. I always enjoy your posts so much.

  4. I did a double take when I saw the map of Ireland! The last thing I expected to read about on a blog post tonight was the Irish Famine. I have never read Frank Delaney’s Ireland – I think I will check it out in my local library.

  5. At times, I will sit in thought for several minutes. I finally will come back to reality with a start, and then try to follow my thoughts backwards to see how I got to the end of that mind string. Sometimes, I am sure that no one else would believe me if I tried to explain it. You did a pretty good job on this one.
    The mind as a stringed instrument is as good a description as I’ve heard!

    • I’m glad that you liked that. It’s amazing how fast the mind can take us from headphones to pollination to beluga whales and then to the Road Runner in the time it takes to walk in the other room. 🙂

  6. Oh I have much to atone for. My Mom insisted on mashed potatos every dinner for most of my childhood. I realized now they were beautifully prepared with butter and cream. But they got stuck in my throat and I felt I was strangling. The moment I left home at 19, I never touched a potato again. Until I got sick in India and couldn’t eat anything. My cook got desperate so somehow found a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie … topped with mashed potatos.

    I was so touched my his concern that I ate it. And was surprised to find that those mashed potatoes were delicious! So they were reinstated on my menu. Not every night of course, but every once in a while. And I tuck right into them. Will cook some up for St.Paddy’s Day.

    • We ate a lot of potatoes growing up and I never grew tired of them. These days we eat more brown rice than potatoes, but I do love them mashed. And I think it’s only fitting that we eat them on St. Patrick’s Day.

  7. Now you must ask yourself, “Why doesn’t Mr. Potato Head want me in Ireland?” Find the answer to that question and you will find the key to . . . meh, it’s probably not important.

  8. “If you pluck a potato, do its eyes not cry?” (I think Shakespeare said that about String Theory, or Richard Feynman said it about doing the Mashed Potato, or some such thing.)

    I’m very glad your great-grandfather’s folk survived the Famine so that you eventually appeared on this great potato-enriched earth of ours.

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