ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By
Joseph Walker

LOVE: THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS

Our youngest son Jon has this thing for potatoes.  It isn’t a good thing.  It’s a bad thing.

It happens whenever we cook potatoes – especially if we boil them.  There’s something in the steam from cooking potatoes that closes up Jon’s throat like a pair of vice-grips chomping down on a garden hose.  He starts wheezing and coughing and struggling to breathe.  And there’s nothing quite so frightening to a parent as watching your child struggle to breathe.

The same thing used to happen when Jon ate fries or chips or anything made from potatoes.  It was like he was allergic to them, only the doctors we spoke to said they didn’t think he could be allergic to potatoes.  The symptoms were like croup, and he usually got some relief when we bundled him up and took him out in the cool night air, sort of like you’d do with a croupy baby.  But he was too old to be getting croup.  And besides, nobody ever heard of croup being triggered by spuds.

So even though the doctors said it couldn’t be the potatoes, Jon quit eating them.  And since even now, at age 17, he still goes into his wheezing, coughing, struggling to breathe thing whenever we cook them, we rarely do – medical science notwithstanding.  For the most part, we’ve survived without them.  I mean, we like potatoes, but we get along fine without them.

Especially since Joe Jr. left home.  Jon’s big brother loves potatoes – boiled, baked, French fried, hash-browned or mashed.  Especially mashed.  And even though he loves his little brother with all his heart and soul, when Joe was in his late teens he was occasionally known to whine about the Great Potato Famine at our house.  This was always troubling to Jon, who has always worshiped the plate Joe eats off of.  So Joe tried to be careful about complaining in front of Jon, and we tried to respect Joe’s teenage sense of bereavement and loss.

Which is why Anita used to occasionally tempt the fates with a meal that included potatoes.  One day when Jon was 7 she threw a pot roast into the oven, along with the requisite potatoes and carrots.  It was a family favorite, and we all started getting mouth-wateringly hungry as soon as the cooking smells started drifting through the house.

Well, OK – not quite all.  The same air that carried delectable aromas to our noses carried vice grips to Jon’s throat.  Within a few minutes he was wheezing, coughing and struggling to breathe, and Anita and then-16-year-old Andrea were out on the porch with him trying to fight off the allergic reaction . . . er, croup . . . er, whatever it is with some fresh, cool spring air.

For a while, it appeared to be a losing battle, as Jon wheezed, coughed and struggled more severely than usual – enough that we were about to take him to the emergency room.

“This is stupid,” said Andrea, who hated watching her little brother suffer.  “Why do we even cook potatoes if we know it's going to do this to him?”

“Sometimes it doesn’t bother him much,” Anita said.  “And everyone else likes potatoes.”

“Well, it isn’t worth the risk,” Andrea said.  “We should never cook potatoes again.”

“You're probably right . . . “

”No!” Jon croaked between gasps for air.  “We . . . have to . . . cook . . . potatoes!”

Anita was puzzled by Jon’s vehement reaction.  “Sweetheart, you can’t eat potatoes,” she said.  “And look at what it does to you when we cook them.”

“But . . . Joe . . . likes . . . potatoes.”

And for Jon, that was neither a good thing nor a bad thing.  But because he loves Joe more than he loves himself, it was the only thing that mattered.

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— © Joseph Walker

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