POTATO CANDY

My step-dad was a plasterer. He’d been a boiler maker for the railroad but then those pesky diesel-electric engines showed up and nobody needed boilers any more. He took a year to learn how to plaster walls, which, on the scale of that era was one fine job even if the lye in the plaster did eat his hands. (We’ll talk about what happened to plastered walls another day).
Because he made good money when he worked and none when he didn’t, the economic strata in which we lived fluctuated about as often as the stock market. When he was working, we had enough. My parents were solid, responsible people who left little to chance. In the good times, they banked half his salary so we wouldn’t starve in the bad times.
But looking back at the pictures, it’s easy to see neither of my parents bought clothing often or enjoyed luxuries.
Which brings me to the potato candy.
Because we didn’t waste in order to not want, my mom would take the final tablespoonful of mashed potatoes, pop it in a fairly large bowl and begin adding powdered sugar. Soon, the mixture was soup, but she kept adding until finally she had a sweet dough. She tossed it on the counter which she’d liberally dusted with more powdered sugar, sifted powdered sugar on top of the dough and rolled it out.
When it was relatively flat, she spread peanut butter (my fave is crunchy but she used smooth) all over the potato/sugar mixture, then rolled the thing into a long, narrow roll. She sliced across the roll, creating pin wheels, laid them out individually along a piece of waxed paper (remember waxed paper? Stuff was magic) to allow them to “set,” which was pretty much to dry.
Finally, when our little kid mouths were drooling like a baby’s, she’d holler that the candy was ready.
I’ve eaten candy made by some of the finest candy makers in the world, but to date, I have never tasted anything better than my mom’s potato candy.
Which brings me to writing (you knew we’d get there, right?)
Potato candy was made of familiar things in simplicity. Great literature is sometimes very complicated, verbose and filled with extravagant images. Great literature is also often simple, comprised of familiar things and presented in plain language.
Do I prefer one over the other? No. I’ve read both, enjoyed both, sobbed with both and been terrified with both.
But when a writer drops over that hill called genius and presents a very simple story so the presentation itself lifts it from the morass of same/same and makes it sing, that writer’s book becomes one I never forget.

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