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In Appreciation of Mashed Potatoes

22 Nov

Webb Farms Potato BarrelIt will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me at all that my absolute favorite meal of the year is…. Thanksgiving Dinner!

The main reason for this is, of course, the turkey (yes, I’ll admit it; to quote Jean Shepherd’s wonderful line from “A Christmas Story,” like “the Old Man” in that movie I am “a turkey junkie… a bona fide Gally turkicanus freak!”), but actually, coming in a fairly close second are the mashed potatoes; specifically, and if at all possible, made with genuine Aroostook County potatoes planted, grown and harvested in Maine soil!

I know that this makes me sound like something of a Yankee loyalist; and admittedly, on those occasions I’m at the market I’ve tended to carefully check labels on the produce bags, not only for fear of bringing home some lesser spud from Idaho or California (a faux-pas that could potentially ruin any feast!), but also just in case I might know of the town where the potatoes were grown, or even perhaps recognize the name of the family whose farm produced that particular harvest; and what a treat it was, especially during our years living in the Midwest, to pick up a bag of potatoes and discover that they came from the familiar locales of Bridgewater or Monticello, Maine!  I guess that for me, potatoes – as well as the Thanksgiving celebrations where they’re served – have always seem to come to represent home and the people who live there.

I also have to say that I that as much as I enjoy potatoes, I also appreciate potatoes; they’re such a common part of our diet that it’s easy to forget how much work is involved in getting them to us.  That potatoes even grow in the rocky soil of northern Maine is improbable: historically speaking, experts used to tell farmers who settled in the Aroostook wilderness that they were crazy to try to grow anything up there (and frankly, there’s still a lot who still say so!).  Indeed, if you’re a potato farmer up in “the County,” you know that even in the best of circumstances what you’re doing is a difficult and risky proposition: you plant as soon as the ground thaws, you work from sun up to sundown all through the summer pulling weeds and picking stones, and then you rush to get the potatoes out of the ground before snow flies (which in that part of the world can quite literally happen most anytime in the fall!).  And all through this cycle of “seedtime and harvest,” you’re fervently hoping and praying that there’s been the proper measure of sun and rain so you don’t lose the crop entirely; not to mention that when the harvest finally comes there’ll be a decent price paid per barrel!

It’s an arduous task, to be sure; but in the end it becomes a good and joyous thing for the farmer and the workers in the fields; but also for you and me who are fed from the harvest. And therein lies a parable, friends; speaking to the truth – in farming as in life itself – that out of great difficulty will often come something of great meaning and joy.

It’s actually one of the great themes of scripture: as proclaimed by the Psalmist, singing songs of hope to the people of Israel in the midst of their captivity in Babylon: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!  Those who go forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”(126:5-6) Likewise, there are many of us who, in the midst of our own seasons of living, have known what it means to have “sown in tears,” but who also have come to know the incredible strength, peace and yes, even joy that have come out of the experience; and to recognize that this movement from weeping to laughter comes by the graceful and guiding hand of a loving God.

With its place at the beginning of an almost overwhelming holiday season, along with the increasingly ubiquitous focus on things like “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” I often fear that as a culture we’ve misplaced the purpose and true meaning of Thanksgiving Day.  Nonetheless, next Thursday the yearly tradition will unfold yet again and many of us will gather to rightly express gratitude for our abundance; thankful for our manifold blessings. In ways as varied and as unique as are families and friends, we will pause, if for only a moment, to give thanks for the fruit of the harvest, for the gifts of God manifest in life, health and food, for the people whom we love and who love us, and for all the good things that we’ve received in our lives over the past twelve months – and then, of course, enjoy the sumptuous feast of turkey and mashed potatoes!

And while this is all how it should be – and will be, I suspect, for most of us – understand me when I also say to you that this is the easy part of true thanksgiving.  What’s harder and far more challenging is to give thanks for the arduous journeys that brought us to the table of feasting; to show grateful praise for even the difficulties of our lives and living, and to acknowledge with hopeful certainty that even though the way might still be rough now, it won’t always be; for as “they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” (v. 2)

And so might it be for us. Whether Thanksgiving 2013 finds us safely at home or in some kind of exile; whether we’re in the midst of laughter or filled with tears, may this time be for each one of us one of true celebration, a day – indeed, a season – of being truly thankful in all circumstances; lifting up praises to the God who leads us amidst all the sowing of tears; so that, in time, we can return home with shouts of joy.

c. 2013  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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