Potatoes

by Spencer Wise Read author interview December 15, 2008

This boy I admired and pitied had the courage or stupidity I’m not sure which, to come onto our Indian Reservation, walk up to my door, and try to sell me a 70lb sack of potatoes saying he represented the Idaho Rotary Club, and right away I knew I had a problem. I don’t know how it is in your state, but when the Idaho Rotarians come to your door you have to buy their potatoes otherwise they do terrible things to your car.

What would you do with 250 potatoes? was the question I asked the young man who could barely hold or see over the top of the burlap sack.

Cook ’em, he mumbled. Home fries, tater tots, hash browns, mashed, boiled, baked or twice-baked.

That’s a lot of recipes, son.

He didn’t see anything odd about coming onto the Kootenai Indian Reservation and asking for our money. I explained to the young man that as much as I would like to help his cause, I had a combination of problems: very little money and no room to store 250 potatoes. By not budging from my porch he was trying to tell me that if I wanted my car to start tomorrow morning I should buy the potatoes now.

I live on the Kootenai Indian Reservation in Boundary County, Idaho, about 40km south of British Columbia, tucked away in a corner of the country like a dust bunny. Because he seemed like a thoughtful young man, I explained that my people had lived here for a thousand years and long before he was born, when this 12-acre reservation was established in 1974, there were 67 Kootenai Indians according to the census. Now in 2001, the same census reported there were 75 of us left. So, I said, coming to the point, if you plan on going to each of our houses selling potatoes, assuming we all want our cars to start in the morning, we’ll have 18,750 potatoes on the reservation by the time you’re done with us.

He poked the inside of his cheek with his tongue. I could tell he was thinking hard.

The potatoes won’t eat themselves, I said.

I was about to go inside and get my wallet when I stopped short, compelled to tell him that my car actually belonged to my grandfather who was one of the seven tribesmen who led the fight for our land. I wanted to say, do you really think a potato in the tailpipe would have intimidated him?

The young man’s legs were trembling from holding the sack.

Sir, I’m going to set this sack down on your porch if you don’t mind, but just so you know, I’m not leaving.

Suit yourself, I said. But neither am I.

About the Author:

Spencer Wise is from Massachusetts and now lives in Austin. He is working on a MA in creative writing at the University of Texas.

About the Artist:

Anna Kichorowsky is a mixed media artist, documentary photographer and museum educator in Austin, Texas.