Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Potato Story

I first posted this eight years ago on the blog. I've never repeated a post before, but it seems so right. This is for my father, gone 21 years today.

My father died of liver cancer on March 14, 1992 (Sat, 9th of Adar II, 5752). I offer this post in his memory.

In 1993, as the first anniversary of my father's death approached I was quite inconsolable. My family was still grief-stricken; my father provided a lot of the emotional glue that held the family together. He was a very kind, gentle and sad soul who derived what joy he had from his wife and children.

I felt the need to mark that anniversary by drawing on several different traditions -- burn a yahrzeit, build an altar, place stones on a grave, make an offering of his favorite things (photographs of his loved ones, mystery novels, food). So, an elaborate blending of multi-cultural ritual was conceived, and in the center the yahrzeit burned for 24 hours to mark that awful day. Roger and I took a dozen roses to the Capitola Wharf at Monterey Bay (where my father's ashes had been scattered), and tossed a rose in one by one and recited out loud how well my father was loved and remembered.

The following day, after the yahrzeit had burned out, we disassembled the altar and put everything away. I took the food offerings and buried them in the yard. It was the beginning of a closure of sorts.
Roger and I jumped into spring that year the way we always do. Lots of flowers and vegetables to plant. I typically do the flower gardening and he does the veggies. Our yard faced Monterey Bay with one of those 180 degree views of the entire expanse. There is a narrow public footpath on the bayside of the house, where lots of friendly people walk by on their way from the cliffs down into town and back again. There were often bike-riders, families, sweethearts, people walking dogs, and late into the night revelers from the nightspots below. People always commented on our garden, and we had conversations about the flowers and vegetables nearly everyday.

That summer everything bloomed and fruited as expected, but an errant potato plant showed up in a border bed reserved for flowers. We were quite intrigued by this and tried to imagine how a potato came to be in that part of the yard. We assumed some passerby, with a bag full of groceries had inadvertently dropped it there or one of our gardening buddies was having some fun with us. Maybe it had been there all along, and conditions were now perfect for it to emerge. We could not find an acceptable explanation. How ever it came to be there, we harvested it one day, and had a wonderful breakfast of new potato home fries and poached eggs. And that was the end of that.

In winter of that year, as my father's birthday approached, the gnawing sadness returned, and I missed him fiercely. My siblings and I had decided we would honor our father on both his birthday and the anniversary of his death every year. So, on December 19th, I created the altar again: photographs, novels, his favorite foods, and a yahrzeit candle. After the 24 hours of observance had passed, I looked at all of those offerings and wondered what I would do with them. I would put the photographs back in the albums, the novels back in the bookcase, and the food offerings (carrots and potatoes) I would bury in the yard. And that's when it struck me: I had buried the potato in the flower bed. It had been from the plate of food offerings I'd made on the first anniversary of his death. I was stunned by how deeply I had buried that memory along with the potato. Not even the potato plant itself could coax to consciousness the memory of my actions.

Now, the planting has become part of the tradition. Every year in my father's memory I plant potatoes. Sometimes they are standard russets, sometimes yukon gold, or new red, or yellow fin, and once it was a lovely bunch of peruvian purples. Tomorrow, I will be planting potatoes again. PS-- The yahrzeit candle is burning. The potatoes have been planted. It is 2013, and I know all these years later that love lasts forever.

18 comments:

  1. whenever you write about your father it touches my heart deeply. your love for him is obvious, as is his influence on you. Bless both of you as you plant your potatoes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is just a beautiful post robin. What a wondrous thing that potato plant was and now is. Such a beautiful symbol of an undying love.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have such a beautiful way of remembering and honoring your father. It is so honest and forthright and heartfelt.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Having a good, needed cry. Thank you for the beauty you always bring.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My mother's recent death has brought back the sadness of my father's death 13 years ago. Of course you're right, the love does last forever.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Beautiful and moving. Amazing how the pain of loss lingers; that is just a measure of your love.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love this post, and I remember it. It brings me closer to my own father, who died in 1995. Big hugs to you. I love the potato tradition.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you so much for posting this today. The first time you posted this was before I had started reading your blog and so my tears of wonder from hearing the potato story are new and healing tears.

    Each year on March 14 I am moved by the love you feel for your father, and I celebrate with you that love does last forever.

    Splendid black and white photo of your mother and father!

    ReplyDelete
  9. How nice that you and your dad were so close. I liked your potatoe story very much. My dad and I were not close but I wear his old cashmere sweaters and they comfort me in many ways. I miss my mom more than I ever thought I would. I have some months to think up a nice tribute to her.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Robin, a lovely post and it's a wonderful thing to have such a meaningful relationship with your father, past, present and future.
    I know I've told you in the past how I see your father's features in your face, but as I look at the beautiful wedding photo, I really see your mother, especially in the same shaped smile (warm, sweet, a little shy). Plant your potatoes, honor his memory and know that he and your mom did right.

    ReplyDelete
  11. What Patti said. Lovely post.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lovely tribute to your dad; and spuds are amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I forgot to mention that now, after reading your story, when I look at potatoes I think of your dad. Probably always will. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wonderful ritual and sweet tribute to your wonderful dad.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I always loved this post and am glad to be reminded of it again.

    ReplyDelete
  17. xoxo

    i love the potato popping up.

    ReplyDelete