In praise of a potato, by a prisoner
Editor’s note: the following essay was written by the late father of Karin Yarmish of Prince George. Ian Bruce Macaskie served as a captain in the British Army during the Second World War. He was captured by the Germans early in the conflict and spent five years as a prisoner of war.
For many months I have wanted to put down words expressing my great respect and affection for the common potato. It is with regret that I look back on the unreasonable years of my life and remember how inconsiderate I have been towards solanum tuberosum, taking it for granted in a callous fashion. Remorse compels me to make this confession with the hope that others may take heed.
I feel a genuine sorrow when I recall the smooth white shapes that lay in cool water waiting to be cooked and set before me as golden fingers or fluffy complement to my meat. I am filled with grief now, that I was so lacking in appreciation as to have refused a second, a third, nay a fourth helping. How was it that I better favoured asparagus or artichokes and treated the potato as a mere stopgap vegetable?
Consider then, what a noble act of charity and forgiveness was shown to this ignorant youth when he fell upon hard times. Instead of keeping aloof and holding the grievance of a neglected past against me, the potato stretched out the hand of friendship. Weary and hungry, I received my meager ration for the day and from that moment became a humble man.
Looking on the gnarled and scabby figure that lay in my palm, I realized with bitterness that it was man’s disinterest, ungentlemanly treatment and injustice that was responsible for such ill health in millions of his kind. Brutally unearthed and shovelled into dark corners, potatoes were obliged to endure in silence conditions of monstrous overcrowding, dampness and necrosis.
When eventually brought to light to feed such as I, instead of seeking an understandable revenge, they kindly presented all the good that remained within them.
Conscious of a fresh understanding I tenderly administered to that which had become the light of my life, washed the grime from the shrunken body and with the skill and patience of a surgeon I cut away all that was rotten. I dressed the wounds with salt and refused to turn from the odour of disease.
Thus I did my best to make amends for the scorn of the past, full of wonder that no grudge was borne against me, and grateful for the nourishment afforded by my new-found comrade. He paved the way for a love for his species and during subsequent years behind bars we went through difficult times together. I have cared for him in dank places and he has always responded to the best of his ability. We have met under a variety of conditions in summer, winter, autumn and spring and I must hold in high esteem his consistent and touching devotion.
There are few hours that find us apart. We face each other daily and take stock of one another, the result being of benefit to both parties.
When I can afford a little margarine I help him to attain the dignity that is his birthright, and so that he may not become bored with his shape I sometimes mash him. And I do not think that our shining example in communication only works while beneath a common roof. Even the stranger far out in the field has welcomed me.
Once while fleeing from my oppressors and much in need of refreshment, I dug beneath the yeilding soil, awoke a tuber from his slumber and he fed me without question.
Such affection is truly noble and familiarity between us breeds no contempt.
But I cannot concentrate on further praise. The jailer shuffles to the door.
Is it the dinner hour already? I come my friend.
I will not keep you waiting.