My heart is a potato

A belligerent refusal to stand down, even when others’ well-being was at stake. She couldn’t be wrong. Everyone else was wrong —wrong! — including the experts.

Sound like my sister?

Yes, yes it does, but I’m describing Typhoid Mary aka Mary Mallon. People died because Mary Mallon couldn’t be wrong. Such a tale of misdeeds, makes me think belligerent homicide should be a thing.

I’ll be goddamned, I thought reading about her for the first time years back. We must be related.

I might be thinking about family — about our particular pathologies, the Irish quirks of mind — because of this potato. I’m not kidding.

My heart is a potato

It’s a little silly, maybe even hilarious — my heart is a potato — but it also strikes me as some of the truest words I’ve ever written.

Potato leek soup and Irish soda bread on a plate that was my mother’s

As I fling myself about in search of a new writing topic, it’s clear that this time I’d like to draw from my own history.

I know so little. I said to my cousin Ginny recently that everything I know about the Mallons could fit into two paragraphs. I’ve heard a bit more about my mother’s side, but because of one particularly unreliable aunt (talk about personality disorders!), I don’t know how much is even true.

Not that it matters for writing fiction.

My mother, on the right, was the middle of three girls.

22 thoughts on “My heart is a potato

  1. deb

    I’ve often wondered at the freedom of being a foundling. No familial freight and you could concoct whatever suited you or the moment and no one could call you a liar. It’s also interesting to come from a literal swarm. When I was growing up, I had thirteen aunts and uncles. Never tried to count the cousins. Also never dated anyone from MA or RI.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I never lived near any of my cousins. Saw grandparents once a year, if at all. And we moved. Seven times by the time I was 17. So substitute local family was tenuous as well.

  2. Ginny

    I could fill a hundred+pages on the Mallon story and all of it dicey. A millennial boyfriend of Caitlin’s said her family was like Shameless, Arg! A losing battle, that dna trail. But I can’t look away for some reason, so I just keep digging.

    Love is a potato indeed. Life is a potato. Digging for potatoes.

    Something I read and realized today in the new research on family trauma is that my being (egg) was inside my grandmother when my mother was invitro. I loved my mom’s mom. That was a happy thought. What was your mom’s mother like? The female connections were/are far better than the males, who were also floating around in their own spermy invitro ethers during bad times. No I wonder they had a tough time of it. Another arg!

    All that said It’d be a good story. And then to throw in Ms Typhoid, hot dang! A best seller. I’ve always wanted to read Bourdain’s book on her. Maybe another beach book for the summer reading pile!

    1. deemallon Post author

      I follow your research/exploration, sometimes having to look away. My mother’s mother was hard working, an amazing seamstress. I don’t know that she ever stopped working.

  3. Faith

    I love delving into family history. If I were to write my family history it would have to be mainly fiction, though. People don’t save enough of the human, personal element. Most of it was who was whose parent/child and who married whom (and sometimes divorced) and when and where they were born and died. Maybe something big or generally important would be mentioned. (Bought the farm in 1812.) The good stuff was passed on orally. Even though veracity was often compromised by personality conflicts, different POVs and sometime simple, or intentional, forgetfulness, the people in the oral stories seemed so much more real than in the “official” histories. And then there were those who had no interest in hearing or telling the stories and they became lost.

    Your mom looks like the serious sister.

    1. deemallon Post author

      My mom was the serious sister, at least until middle age when her younger sister began running a multi-million dollar business.

      I wish I’d written things down when there were more people around to talk to.

  4. Nancy

    Okay, so I read the title of this post…became so intrigued with the first two photos, so promptly forgot and thought the potato was a rock! Oy. The soup and bread look so delicious! And I love those old plates of yours.
    As for the writing…how exciting to have the world open, just waiting for an idea to spark. As far as being a foundling, like Deb said…I think we carry so much in our genes…somehow things would seep out.
    I’ve really been enjoying Finding Your Roots (PBS) recently. My own family history is filled with photographs, knick-knacks, but not too many stories. Except, I will add that my mom “interviewed” her mother (my Nana) at our kitchen table on a little macro machine and a stack of photos to talk about and label. The result was a bit hard to hear, but so fascinating to see how certain traits had been carried through the three generations!

  5. RainSluice

    What if you and Ginny collaborated? Wait maybe that would require an exorcism. OK it would involve an exorcism which would be great for you both? And so you’d find yourselves in Alice Hoffman’s world of practical magic? Enough material to kick off a great novel? Illustrated, of course!
    BTW I think it’s MSNBC that gives me the shits. Just kidding. My guts are actually better since I stopped teaching. I loved teaching but it was tremendously stressful. Magnesium helped me, but it took an intense experimental phase to figure out which Mg concoction and how much. Bottom line: I hope you are feeling better. Oh, and a Y-O-G-A instructor who understands “over 50”.

    In editing my sister’s short memoir (still working on it) I find it is a constant process of subverting my POV to honor hers. Even thought she’s wrong on some facts I’m letting it go. I’m not a writer and she was, so I’m trying to just follow her original. In the end it comes together as her story, not mine. At least, since she’s dead so we don’t argue except in my own head. I am completely in awe of anyone who succeeds in writing a novel, even a short one. I hope you write another novel because you’ve got all the gifts, strengths and now the oh so difficult editing-review experience.
    my 2 cents. You always push me to think further, thank you.

    1. deemallon Post author

      An exorcism? Ha!

      I took an Imodium and it worked like magic. Kathy recommended I do so. Who’d have thought!

      Your stance with your sister’s writing sounds very respectful. It must be a little hard to maintain?

  6. Hazel Monte

    Your potato line is fabulous, much better than my response the other day, when talking about apple or pear-shaped bodies, “Mine has become a potato.” Reading here always makes me crave writing.

  7. Hazel

    Thanks, it means a lot that you think so, but effortless…Ha! I could talk your ear off with stories but writing them down requires heavy axes and hammers. (Probably listeners would like me to pull those tools out too!)

  8. debgorr

    I sat down with my grandmother once, to ask questions. I started to take notes (regret that I didn’t bring a tape recorder-this was about 30 years ago) but she became upset and some information was lost in the comforting. Been thinking a lot about how family memories are only reliable for a few generations and I am not even sure that is true depending on perspective.

  9. Saskia van Herwaarden

    yes, so do I; our mother kept saying ‘ask, ask…’
    didn’t know what to ask at the time and as soon as our dad died shortly after our mother, we siblings realised ‘oops, can’t check this or that…..’

    using your own history for next book sounds like an excellent plan

    on the subject of spuds, I saved a heart-shaped potato as well, will post pic next post


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