When I Was Very Young
How to cook potatoes
By Lynn H. Nelson
I would take down the telephone receiver, jiggle on the hook and
a voice would say, very official-like,
and I would say
"four-two-four ring two."
Then the voice would say
"You've got it wrong again, Lynn. Your number is
two-four-two ring three. You best learn to pay attention to these
things. Pay attention to the pennies and the pounds will take care of
"I really do pay attention, Mrs. Brokaw, and I really do
want four-two-four ring two 'cause Mommie is over at Grannie's
"Everything is all right, isn't it? Your grannie's not sick or
"No, Ma'am. She says that she's going to chase me around
the house and whip the tar out of me if I step on her cat again."
"And well she should. Cats weren't made to be walked on
like throw rugs, you know."
"Yes, Ma'am and no Ma'am they weren't,"
"Now you're not going go and disturb their nice visit by
telling your mother that you've gotten into trouble again, are you?"
"The last time you went and threw a bag of moldy flour
into the trash barrel and then set a match to it, are you?"
"No. Ma'am. I'm not in any trouble again."
"I should think not. You looked a sight without any
eyebrows. It took weeks for them to grow back in didn't it."
"And it did no good for you to paint some eyebrows in
with shoe polish. I declare. You looked like Groucho Marx, didn't
"Well then, if you haven't gotten into trouble again, why
do you have to call your mother and interrupt her visiting with your
"She told me to call her when I finished peeling the
"You remembered to be careful to take out all of the black
where the eyes were, didn't your?"
"Because if you're not careful to clean then real good, it
makes the potatoes taste musty."
"Well, what have you done with your potatoes? If you
just left them there on the sink, they'll turn black and your mother
will have to throw them out. That would be a terrible waste. Children
can be so feckless, what's a mother to do?"
"No, Ma'am. I put them on to boil."
"Did you remember to put plenty of salt in the water?"
"But not too much salt. You can always wash out
over-salted potatoes, but, even so, you pretty well have to marsh them,
add plenty of milk and whip them real good to take out the salty
"Yes, Ma'am. I was careful and tasted the water before I
put the potatoes in."
"Did you remember to rub some butter around the rim
of the pot so that it wouldn't boil over?"
"I hope that you were sure to set the gas low enough so
that the potatoes will simmer and not boil hard. Young folks are in
such a hurry today that they don't know how to cook things slowly. If
you boil your potatoes hard, they get soft and sticky."
"Yes, Ma'am. I set gas low."
"Not too low, I hope. When the gas is set too low, there's
always the chance that the flame will go out and the gas will fill up
the house and explode."
"No, Ma'am. Mommie told me to read a book until the
potatoes were done. I can smell the gas if the burner goes out."
"You're reading a comic book, aren't you/"
"I thought so. Wasting precious hours reading trash. It
isn't one of those terrible horror books, is it?"
"No, Ma'am. It's Classics Illustrated Moby Dick."
"Oh well, that's a different matter. Do you also have a
real book to read?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I got Davy Crockett for my birthday."
"That's good, but you shouldn't depend on your folks to
buy you books. There's more books in the world than a body
could ever afford to buy. You should get books from the
"Yes, Ma'am, but they won't let me borrow any books. They say I'm too young."
"I could talk to them about that. Would you like that?"
"How will you know when your potatoes are done?"
"I'll stick a fork in one and if it goes in easy but doesn't
make the potato came apart, they'll be done just right, My
"And your mommie is quite right. Four-two-four ring
two and remind your grannie that she promised to give me
her recipe for her Golden Preserved Peaches, the kind with
the cloves but no brandy."
RING-RING RING-RING RING-RING