Volume 35, Number 2

The Man Who Loved Potatoes

Michael Braswell

He loved potatoes. Baked, boiled or mashed, all he needed was butter, salt and pepper. On special occasions, he prepared his personal favorite, scalloped potatoes made with cream, cheese, flour, onions and even a bit of garlic.

Since his wife died, he lived alone on his small farm, tending the garden, orchard, chickens and Rose, his milk cow. When the Germans came, life became more difficult.

Although things could have been better, he remained grateful. His garden kept him busy, and his dog, Jules, kept him company.

Given his gastronomic affinity for potatoes, they were in one form or another, the entrée for each evening meal. A hearty supper followed by an evening walk, a full pipe, and a warm fire enjoyed by Jules and him until bedtime. Then a page or two from the Good Book and a short prayer signaled the end of another day.

Each day his routine followed the same pattern—just the way he liked it. Until the morning he entered the barn to milk Rose and found a wounded American pilot.

The Germans would be looking for him. Had his nosey neighbor, Pierre, who lived down the lane caught sight of him? He wished the American had picked another barn. Truth be told, he wanted him to leave his place of relative calm and freedom.

That’s when Father Francis’s homily from last Sunday came to him, the one that commanded him to care for the stranger and the one who was in need. Given the present circumstance, it was a message he didn’t want to hear or remember.

Then the American stood up and spoke his name, “Peter.”

The wounded pilot didn’t know any French, and he didn’t know any English.

With a tip of his hat, he slowly approached the American and with Jules leading the way, helped him to his house.

After cleaning and bandaging the American’s wound, he did for him what he did best. He served him a nice plate of boiled potatoes, cooked in butter with leeks, properly salted and peppered along with a piece of bread and a glass of Bordeaux. Although he was something of an artist when it came to cooking potatoes, he had never seen anyone relish each mouthful the way the American did. Each spoonful brought a groan of culinary satisfaction and a fresh smile to his face. Sopping up the plate’s scattered remnants, his guest popped the last bit of bread in his mouth and bowed in appreciation.

That night the farmer slept little, pondering what his next move might be. The sound of a Wehrmacht military transport at first light answered the question.

The long and short of it was that Peter was questioned by the Germans and sent to a Prisoner of War camp, and he was sent to the local police station to be interrogated. The village folk knew him well, including Pierre and the other collaborators, so it became clear soon enough that he wasn’t part of the Resistance, just a widower who lived alone on a small farm with his dog and milk cow. Of course, the Germans as was their nature, preferred to err on the side of safety rather than mercy.

Jules went to Father Francis, Rose, the chickens and the title of his farm went to the local orphanage.

The next morning, his back against a pock-marked wall in the courtyard, he stood facing a firing squad. As they raised their rifles, he closed his eyes and wondered if there would be potatoes in heaven.