The Army Private and the Potato
I’m not a cook. I don’t really even like to do it. I watch these chef shows and I hear how these women and men had families that revolved around the kitchen and cooking. That never happened in my family. The kitchen was pretty ugly, and I’m not entirely sure my mother liked to cook.
So when I joined the military, I had a distinct lack of any cooking skills. KP — Kitchen Patrol (or as I heard when I was a kid, Karve Potatoes), was largely in the past. Soldiers trained in cooking did the meals and contractors cleaned the dishes. Plus, since I was a barracks soldier, I ate in the mess hall, so my meals were made for me.
Then, one day, our female first sergeant decided to have a unit organizational day. An organizational day is an event that usually occurs on the weekend and the soldiers are ordered to come so they can have fun. (You did catch the problem with that sentence, right?) It’s usually a meal, some music, some dancing.
“I need a person from each platoon to make potato salad,” she said. I was one of the few lower enlisted in my platoon so guess who got stuck on this work detail?
I had to show up at oh-dark thirty on Saturday morning with about five other people. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how to cook anything. Then First Sergeant told us we were going to peel potatoes. Sigh of relief. Okay, sure I could do that. Just give me a potato peeler.
The first sergeant handed me a big chef’s knife.
“I don’t know how to cook, First Sergeant,” I said. “I’ve never peeled anything with a knife.” In fact, when I watched my mother peel the skin off apples, it had scared me to death. It was entirely too close to important things like fingers!
“Of course you can,” the first sergeant said. She sounded like I was making stuff up because, well, all women know how to cook.
Being the good army private, I still had to follow the orders. Usually the leadership doesn’t care how you do it, only that it gets done. The other soldiers — all male — got started peeling potatoes.
I studied the knife. I studied the potato. My stomach was all queasy at the thought of trying to pare them like my mother had. I really liked all my fingers. Hmm. An idea occurred to me. Might work.
I chopped off the ends of the potato. Ta-dah! No more skin. This was so going to work. I rotated the potato and whack! Sides are gone. I kept turning the potato and cutting off anything that looked like potato skin.
I got about two potatoes done before the first sergeant realized that, yes, I had been telling the truth. She was horrified because I was cutting off huge chunks of potato. I was quickly put on something else that didn’t require the use of sharp implements and vegetables.
The bad part is that we didn’t even use the potato salad.