MY FATHER WOULD NOT EAT SWEET POTATOES



My father was a World War II baby. As the last child in his family of 7 children, he knew no hardship. He never went hungry. Then war broke out. His family and the rest of the people in their indigenous community had to flee from their homes to save their lives. Life became hard and harsh. Rice was scarce. But camote (sweet potato) was easy to cultivate. And so they spent a few years as virtual war refugees in a place called Ogawi (in Besao, Mt. Province)  eating camote to survive.

I never saw my father eat the rootcrop. When I was in high school, he told me stories of the horrors of war he experienced as a child. To his young mind, the greatest horror next to the bombs exploding was eating camote all the time. "I have eaten more camote than an average man can eat for his lifetime," he said. I understood then why he would not eat it regardless of how it was prepared.  

Camote is on my list of "yummy"  foods. I was pleasantly surprised to discover  sweet potatoes being sold in the Rainbow Supermart in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I am living right now. Today I had two of them for breakfast. I boiled  and  put a lot of melted cheese over them. They  go great with hot chocolate drink (with  milk). Two days ago, I excitedly told my sister about my food find and we talked about how Dad would not eat sweet potatoes. I suggested sheepishly that   Dad, who now has Alzheimer's and has forgotten a lot of things  including his children's names,  be fed the rootcrop. If he eats it, that is a good thing; if he does not because he will remember World War II as he witnessed it during his tender years, it will be even better. It means he will have recovered his memory.

I still have to hear from Dinah. Meantime, let me share a poem I wrote years ago about Dad's aversion to camote.

Why My Father Does Not Eat Camote

Like clockwork, the green  fields transmogrified
Into harvest shining like gold  same time each year
Bowls were filled to need  (Greed was unthinkable) 
Then came trespassers  whose ways were strange
Bombs scattered terror; freedom ran to the fringes
Rice  fields primed for plenitude became fallows

Routine was shattered; hunger, once a myth, reigned
But  resilience  can perforate the most solid rock
Inside the parched earth too petrified to nourish life
Camote flourished, a rush of flood drowning despair  
They who were listlessly drifting  to the end of  days
Retraced their gaits, eager to live, to look ahead.

They ate camote
for breakfast
for lunch
for supper
Until the bombs stopped

Out of the caves, an uncircumcised lad emerged  a man
Desperate to forget the horrors dripping from war’s  fangs
But they are always, always  playing even in his aged mind.
 /September 2000
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