Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is that tater real?

    Happy Valentine's Day! Not only is today the day of love, it is also my mother's birthday!  She was an only child, born late in life to her parents, and made her arrival on the most romantic day of the year.  I always thought that was appropriate. We had a  big family supper last night to celebrate-- grilled thick ribeye steaks and baked some giant potatoes we had picked up at Costco. Those potatoes were huge, each one the size of a small loaf of bread, and as we pulled them from the oven, I heard someone ask "Is that tater real?" We all started to laugh as we recalled the day we discovered the biggest potato on earth, a spud we spotted last summer while on a family vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
     The historic viewing occurred last July when Pop and Gans had taken the whole family out west for a week of fly-fishing and wildlife viewing. We were staying in Alta, Wyoming in a house that was nestled at the base of  Grand Teton.  Each morning we woke up to views of snowcapped mountains and those big blue skies you can only find out west. The  men would sneak off early each day to go fly fishing and the gals would enjoy coffee on the deck under the shadow of the Tetons,  leaving later  for our own explorations.
     As we headed into the Tetons each morning, we would drive through the little town of Driggs which was located on the Idaho border where potatoes were a big deal. This was a one road kind of town, with one stop light and a real old-fashioned drive-in theater. The drive-in was a novelty to all the grandkids, they being of the generation of multi-plex cinemas with high-definition surround sound screens and padded reclining chairs. The one in Driggs was the kind of theater that you drove up to, claimed a parking spot, and watched the movie on a giant screen planted in the middle of a field. In this case, it was, naturally, an old potato field. The only consession to modern technology was that you no longer had to hook a receiver on the edge of the window to hear the movie. Instead, you tuned the radio to a pre-selected channel and listened to the movie through the car stereo system. Of course, we had to take them.
     We had selected this particular drive-in for two reasons. One, it was the only drive-in we had seen in the states of Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho. Two, it had a giant potato perched on a flatbread truck parked in front of the marquis. The potato was the size of a small car, something like a Volkswagon beetle. It was constructed out of fiberglass and painted so realistically that it could pass for an actual spud, if in fact they grew to be the size of small cars.  Most people would assume the potato was not real. My mother was not most people. The first day that we drove by, Gans pointed at the giant potato and with a dead-serious expression on her face, asked "Is that potato real?"  It took less than a milli-second for every one in the car to start yelling "Yes, yes!" and to tell her that of course it was a real potato, that's how they grew'em out west. So of course, nothing would do but to pile everyone in a couple of cars that evening and head to the drive-in with the giant tater. It was on the must-do list of things to see in Driggs.
    The next morning after our potato drive-in venture, we were back on the road, starting our daily routine of searching for moose, bear, buffalo, and other wildlife.  As we drove down the highway, we passed a construction site filled with heavy excavating equipment.  Some serious earth moving was taking place and a tremendous hole was in the middle of the construction site.  As we passed the gaping hole, my sister-in-law Sheryl  nudged Gans and in her most serious voice said, "Gans, I'm fairly certain that is the spot where they dug up that giant tater."
    From that day on, each time we drove by that giant potato, someone in the car would shout, "Is that tater real?" We had to go by several more times to take pictures and pose by the giant tater, not willing to miss a single opportunity to capture the site of the world's largest spud.  Forget the giant antlered elk, the moose and her calf, the grizzly bear or the wolves.  It was the giant tater that we remembered best of all.
     So as we celebrated Gans birthday last night, it was only fitting that the giant tater should be the centerpiece of her celebration.  She had, after all,  actually been the first to spot the site of the world's largest spud. We had, as a family, been to the excavation site of the giant tater and experienced that historic event together. Somehow, the giant tater had woven itself into our family history and had reappeared at Gan's birthday dinner, a most fitting occasion, because she was, after all, the one who knew that tater was real.

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