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Lessons in Life From a Prolific Potato

Winter is a time for withdrawal, for reading old books, studying languages, gazing out of windows, and cleaning the refrigerator. It was while I was engaged in the latter activity that I made a discovery.

The typical refrigerator is designed to hide at least a third of its contents way in the back, out of view and comfortable reach. The need to crouch on the floor to reach the back makes one reluctant to clean a refrigerator. The result is that long-forgotten odds and ends come to light only when a serious cleanup is undertaken.

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On the bottom shelf, I discovered a potato, not particularly fat, about three by two inches. In spite of its remote location, it had put out several fair-sized shoots. It was really trying. I couldn't bring myself to toss it out into the cold. So I put it in a flowerpot about four inches in diameter, covered it with earth, gave it a drink, and tucked it between a rose geranium and an orchid in the small greenhouse in my living room.

Its pale shoots promptly turned bright green. I watered it along with the rest of my plants but didn't pay any special attention to it. Not for long....

That potato really grew. And grew. And grew! The shoots tangled up with the rose geranium. Then they reached out to the window. Day after day they climbed up the window like a vine. No longer ignored, the potato graciously produced pretty white flowers. Friends who wanted to look at the orchid were led over to see the potato in the window, the refugee from the refrigerator. It deserved a bushel basket of earth; I regretted its lack of space for expansion.

All things come to an end. Or do they? The petals dropped off, and the long shoots gradually slid down the window. Reluctantly, I untangled the potato from the rose geranium and brought it over to the kitchen sink. But I still couldn't bring myself to throw it away.

I found the tape measure and measured all four strands plus side branches: 23-1/2 feet! So much energy transformed into leaves and flowers. And, a new shoot was just poking up from the potato's wizened remains. Having come this far with it, I still could not bring myself to abandon it to the bitter cold. Once more I rescued it. For a long time it lay stretched out, less magnificent but comfortable on the table next to my computer.

We often use the lunar landing as a symbol of our potential for achievement. If we can land on the moon, surely we can make a toaster that doesn't burn the toast. I hereby suggest a better measure for achievement. If one mediocre potato has the power and know-how to produce 23-1/2 feet of very attractive green stuff and decorate it with pretty white flowers, then why can't we, with all our fingers, toes, ears, eyes, and intelligence do great things? Are we not as capable as a potato, O ye of little faith?

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