In praise of a potato, by a pris­oner

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion -

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.

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