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Digging Potatoes - Haphazardly

Yesterday midday Bill sent out the word – time to dig potatoes!

Liam was working on the new anvil stand he’s fashioning from a tree stump found along the hay field. Aidan was re-stringing the yellow 4-wheeler start cord because the original worn and frayed one gave way when he gave it a good yank. He was hot to fix it so he could ride out to check the trail camera he set up in a secluded area beyond the creek. He’s curious to see what animals hang out over there.

The fast-approaching Halloween has captured Marlee’s attention so she was single-mindedly working on different aspects of her costume. Should she be a pirate? Or a Harry Potter character? It really depends on the props – doesn’t it? And I had just arrived home from working on Kriss Marion’s State Senate District 17 race and was tired. None of us particularly felt like helping Bill.

But the weather was great, and when potato digging commences on our farm, everyone is expected to pitch in –- no exceptions barring illness.

By the time we resigned ourselves to the task at hand and walked out to the potato plot, Bill had several beds broken open.

It would make sense to start on one end of the plot and walk through each bed methodically to pick up the freshly exposed potatoes . . . and that is the way we start. However, the magic of the open ground, the warm sun and the fresh breeze in our faces all conspire with the draw of a potato peeking from the row down the way to foil the plan. We are soon spread across the field in a haphazard manner.

I try to create order from the chaos, but I am ignored. Everyone is collecting potatoes, and that being the ultimate goal, I give in to the randomness and trust we’ll catch any missed potatoes on our last walk through.

When Bill and I get close to each other, we analyze the size, quality, and quantity of the harvest. We begin deciding whether to order this same variety or to look for a different one next year.

Wandering away from each other, I squat and pick up the oblong treasures of starchy goodness. Rubbing off big hunks of dirt, I toss them into my bucket. The dirt feels good and smells sweet.

I'm lost in my thoughts, but I soon realize Aidan and Marlee are teasing each other. It’s ironic that as much as they get on each other’s nerves, they almost always choose to work together. I focus one ear on their conversation, wondering if it is good-natured or if it has potential to make one of them (probably Marlee) stomp off. I don’t want that because it would drop our workforce by one. But also because I know the days of us all working together are waning. I conclude the argument is benign and move on.

Liam orbits around the rest of us, off to the side stopping to watch the dogs and contemplating something or other. It feels like a metaphor to me – he’s nineteen and logically separating from our family unit. He notices me and calls "Hey" before getting back to work. A good sign for our time-to-come, I think. He will always stay in touch. Suddenly I’m overwhelmed with a sense of future of nostalgia. You know, like when you imagine how someday you will look back on these times with fondness. The kids may even reminisce about their shared experiences when Bill and I are gone. Maybe they'll say

“Remember when Mom and Dad made us dig potatoes?”

“Yeah, we had to drop whatever we were doing to help, or Dad would get ornery.”

“And remember how Mom was always trying to get us to move to a different row even though we were picking up potatoes in the one we were in?”

“What was that about?”

“And remember how it seemed like we’d never get done?”

Now I feel calm and content basking in the realization that I am extremely lucky to be who I am, when I am, where I am. And even though it can often be a lot of work, I'm lucky that I love my family and my farming life.

Before I can get too sentimental, though, I'm pulled back to the present when I hear Marlee yell at Aidan to stop throwing dirt at her.

He does . . . and I pick up another potato to put in my bucket.

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