Al Batt: Part Welsh, Swedish, English and potato

Published 10:29 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tales From Exit 22 by Al Batt

I like food as well as the next guy.

Probably better. I know the next guy and he’s not much of an eater.

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I relish potatoes.

Whether they are called potatoes, spuds, taters, tubers, ground apples or murphies, I like them.

This starchy tuber is the world’s fourth-largest food crop, following corn, wheat and rice.

I like them mashed, baked, scalloped, fried, boiled, grated, as potato salad, German potato salad, au gratin, knish, hash browns, wedges, tater tots, french fries, in a skillet, sliced up with Spam or in soup, pancakes, bread, pasty, casserole or dumpling.

I think of scalloped potatoes with ham as funeral potatoes. Funerals can be sad occasions and the sight, smell and taste of funeral potatoes is uplifting. When I was a small boy and accompanied my parents to the funerals of ancient folks that I didn’t really know, my thoughts were on the food that would be served and not with the dearly departed. I’m not proud of that, but I rejoiced when I learned that it was funeral potatoes. I made a joyful noise.

Lefse is made from potatoes. What a useful and delicious foodstuff. It serves so many purposes. Put butter on it, and it’s a bread substitute. Add sugar and/or cinnamon and it’s dessert. And it’s always handy as an emergency and edible napkin.

My least favorite potato-based food would be the potato chip, especially barbecued. The thought of eating chocolate-covered potato chips makes me shudder, but my mother-in-law loves them. If I have to eat potato chips, I prefer kettle chips.

The world’s most perfect food might be tater tot hotdish, particularly with peas in it. It’s a slice of heaven.

When I was a boy, I was always hungry. Even if I’d just eaten. “I’m starving,” I’d whine to my mother.

She’d toss me an unpeeled, raw potato. “If you’re really starving, you’ll eat this.”

I ate it.

It saved me from starvation.

Perhaps it was this love of potatoes that caused me to acquire a handgun.

A spud gun is a small children’s toy gun used to fire potato fragments. The potato is punctured with the gun’s hollow tip and a small potato pellet is pried out that fits snugly into the muzzle. Squeezing the grip causes a build-up of air pressure inside the toy that propels the projectile. The spud gun has a short range and is low-powered. It isn’t to be confused with the much larger and more powerful potato cannon that fires potatoes like light artillery. It can be a dangerous weapon.

I walked the beans (weeded the fields of everything that wasn’t a soybean plant) for a neighbor to get enough money to buy a toy spud gun. I was only a second-grader, but I helped some older kids. I helped by staying out of the way, but I still got paid.

I can’t remember which local emporium, Einar’s or Sibilrud’s, it was that I purchased the gun, but it was a dandy.

When summer as I knew it had ended, I took the gun to school.

It was a bad idea. I know that now.

Johnny Cash sang, “Don’t take your guns to town, son. Leave your guns at home.”

That’s good advice.

I put the spud gun in my desk along with some ammunition — a potato.

We were doing some kind of a project involving construction paper, paste and a blunt scissors. My heart wasn’t in it.

Mrs. Demmer, our teacher, was busily occupied fiddling with some papers on her desk.

I grabbed my gun and loaded it. I needed a target.

I found one in my good friend and classmate, Tommy.

I leaned into the aisle to get a clean shot like any keen spud sharpshooter would.

I aimed and exhaled slowly as I pulled the trigger.

A potato bullet flew just under one girl’s chin and just missed mussing the bangs of another before hitting Tommy in the ear.

He cried out in surprise.

That demanded Mrs. Demmer’s attention. She scanned the classroom to find the perpetrator.

And there I was. A smiling doofus leaning into the aisle while holding a spud gun.

She looked as if I’d poisoned the pudding.

She confiscated my weapon and gave me a lecture on the possibility of putting another’s eye out. Then, to add insult to injury, she took my potato, too.

She said that I’d get my spud gun back at the end of the school year.

  Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.