I’m alive today because of mashed potatoes.
I was born in the late 50’s at the whopping weight of six pounds, one ounce. Not big, by any means, but not particularly small for the time. Firmly average, you might say, except for one thing. I wouldn’t eat.
My mother either did not or could not breast feed me (there’s some controversy on that topic to this day) and so she turned to baby bottles — tall, glass, sterilized in a hot water bath and topped with those ghastly rubber nipples. I don’t know if she filled them with plain cow’s milk or some sort of pre-made or home-concocted formula, the contents heated on the stove and the heat tested on the tender flesh of her inner elbow. Despite all her labor, I would not eat. Oh, I was hungry. I’d fuss, she prepare a bottle, cuddle me into the crook of her arm, and offer the nipple. I’d suckle long enough to swallow a half-ounce of milk and then promptly fall asleep. Hard as she tried, she could not get me to drink more than that at any one sitting. If something were not done, I’d wither like a young plant.
Common belief then as now was that infants should not receive solid food before the age of four-to-six months. Until then, formula or breast milk provides all the necessary nutrients. In my case, however, my disinterest in food was such that it put me at risk. What did Mom do?
Taking a page from her own mother, she fell back on that wholesome and complete food which my widowed grandmother had used to feed a houseful of hungry children during the depression.
In my case, she cooked them soft and mashed them to a soupy consistency with plenty of milk and butter. Fingers crossed, she held me on her lap at the dinner table and offered me my first spoonful. To her delight and amazement, I took to it like the proverbial fish to water, declaring myself (to her mind) as a true child of Maine.
I thrived on potatoes several times a day. Within a few weeks, Mom was able to add applesauce, and that is what I lived on for the first nine months of my life.
To this day, I turn to those wonderful foods when feeling ill or out of sorts, and seek them when my mind settles into a funk. In that way, they comfort and nurture me still.