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The Great Potato War of 1947

The last thing Merrill remembered was the panicked voice of a medic. “He’s lost so much blood, I don’t think he’s going to make it,” the young man said. It was these words that moved Merrill into a place of stubbornness. He was going to make it and no soft handed little wannabe doctor was going to say otherwise. Everything faded to black at that point and the darkness never seemed to end.

When he finally opened his eyes, he would have bet money that he was in heaven. Standing at the side of his bed was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Long dark hair, almond shaped eyes, and a very large smile. “She’s an angel, she has to be,” he thought to himself. “I guess I didn’t make it after all. But if this is the ever after, I’ll take it. Wow.”

The girl, noticing the movement of his eyes across her body, suddenly turned and called out. “Dr. Morris, our young patient is awake,” she said. Reaching down and squeezing his hand, she smiled at him again. “The doctor will be here in a second. I am so happy that you pulled through. We were all quite worried about you.”

The girl moved outside of his range of vision to be replaced by a grizzled and much older man. “Well, young man, you really gave us a scare,” the old man, presumably ‘the doctor’ the nurse spoke of. “I don’t know if I have every seen someone lose that much blood but somehow you held on. It must be that robust Russian stock.”

“How long?” Merrill managed to croak out.

“You were shot on a field in northern France,” the doctor said, “and lucky for you a medic happened to be very close by. The quick thinking of that young man saved your life. You should be thankful. You’ve been in a coma for three days since you came off the operating table.”

“Go home?” Merrill asked.

“Yes, for sure, you’ll go home,” the doctor answered, “but it won’t be for a while yet. You’ve got a lot of healing to do, and Nurse Whitley will be at your side the entire time. You are lucky to have her. Not only is she a wonderful nurse, but she is also extremely nice, which is a rare combination with this war going on and all. Well, get your rest young man. I’ll check in on you from time to time.”

Slipping back to sleep, Merrill dreamt of both home and the war. The dreams were so real, he could hear the gunfire, smell the smoke, and almost taste the metallic hint of blood in his mouth. But then his dreams would change, and he would be walking in the potato fields back home with Nurse Whitley on his arm. The dream then transitioned but only a little. The potato fields were gone but Nurse Whitley was holding onto his arm and smiling at him. She stood at his bedside and caressed his arm as she woke him up.

“Merrill,” she called out. “Today is a big day. We begin your therapy. The doctor thinks your wounds are healed up enough to get you back on your feet.”

“Nurse Whitley,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Oh, please call me Anna,” she said. “Here, let me help you sit up.” Leaning in close to him and sliding both arms around his back like a beautiful hug, she pulled him up to a sitting position. Merrill could smell her hair and a very light scent of lavender. His heart began beating faster as she embraced him. “There, are you okay? Does anything hurt?” she asked.

“No, nothing too bad,” he answered. “That was good. It feels nice to sit up.” It was then that he noticed that both of her arms were still around his waist, having slid down from his back. They sat, no more than nine inches apart, and he could feel her breath upon him.

Quickly standing up, she helped him swing his legs out from under the sheets. Slipping his feet into slippers, she gently pulled him to his feet, again embracing him with both arms. “There, are you okay? Do you feel stable?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said with a small smile. “I think you better stay close and ahold of me. I wouldn’t want to fall.” With a slight blush, she turned and grabbed his robe from a hook by the bed. “Here, you better put this on. We don’t want you getting cold,” she said.

This small dance went on for six weeks and Merrill slowly regained his health, his strength, and his passion for life, especially with the fantasy of spending the rest of his days with Nurse Whitley on his arm.

Rising earlier than normal one morning, he slipped on his robe and went for a walk through the flower garden behind the hospital. He had completed his first round when he paused at a window on the first floor. Looking in, he saw Nurse Whitley in a full embrace with another patient. As the window was slightly open, he crouched at the small opening and listened.

“Paul, you’re embarrassing me,” she said with a giggle, “but I kind of like it. Do you really think we’ll be able to finally be together?”

Merrill turned around and sat on the wet grass, his heart in his throat and the overwhelming urge to vomit violently circling in his stomach. Returning to his room, he hung up his robe and slid back under his covers.

“Time to get up and exercise those big muscles,” he heard Nurse Whitley say, with the customary kindness and slight flirtiness in her voice. Without turning to face her, he muttered his response. “I’m not feeling too well. I think I need to stay in bed today.” Listening to her footsteps as she walked away, he rolled to his back, trying to drive the previous scene from his mind.

As he sat thinking, a wave of despair crawled over him and he began to wish that he had died on that battlefield. As he stared at the floor, a pair of polished, black leather shoes came into view.

“So, Nurse Whitley tells me that you’re not feeling too well,” the doctor said. “That is really too bad. I was ready to release you today, as you have shown yourself to be fully recovered. Do I need to extend your stay another week or so?”

“Uh, oh, no, it’s not that at all,” he answered. “I’ve never felt physically better and I am completely well. My ill feeling is something else. I’d be happy to take any test you’d like. I am ready to go home.”

“Very well then, Merrill,” the doctor said. “I’ll take your word for it. You are free to go with a clean bill of health. You can have the front desk set up a bus ride, if you need. It’s been a pleasure knowing you.” Shaking his hand, the doctor left the room.

“I can go home, huh, how about that,” Merrill thought. “I was beginning to think that I’d never see New Jersey again.” Looking at the calendar that hung over the small table next to his bed, he made a mental note of the date, “July 23, 1947”, he said.

Waking from a nap, his head against the glass, Merril sat up as the bus stopped. Looking out the window, he saw the familiar, ‘Welcome to Monroe, NJ – population 4500’ sign. “Well would you look at that,” he thought. “I took a short nap and here I am.” Grabbing his bag, he hurried down the aisle and stepped out in the sunshine. Having told no one of his arrival, he was not surprised to find the bus stop empty. As the bus pulled away, Merrill stood in the silence of the afternoon.

“Man, it is really quiet. Kind of weird actually,” he thought. Flipping his pack over his shoulder, he started the short walk into town. After two blocks, he still saw no one. Stopping in front of Heritage’s Grocery, he still saw nor heard anyone.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure. “Oh, hey, there’s someone,” he said. Giving a quick friendly wave, he moved toward the figure only to realize that it was a giant potato wearing a mask and a cape. “What the…?” he thought. “Potato Man?” he read from the sign hanging around the mannequin’s neck.

Scratching the back of his head, he was completely baffled. Catching sight of a small child at the end of the block, he quickly waved to try to catch his attention. The child paused but then started running in the opposite direction. Breaking into a full sprint, Merrill almost caught up to the child when he saw two large groups of people in the Rand family field. Ceasing his pursuit, he watched as each group, in turn, let out a war cry and began hurling something at each other. Most of the projectiles missed their target but he saw one man receive a blow to the head that dropped him to the ground. Wincing at how that must have felt, Merrill felt even more confused.

“Merrill, is that you?” he heard a elderly gentleman call out. Jumping at the sound of someone speaking his name, he looked behind him and found the sound of the voice. An old man with a clipboard approached with his hand extended.

“Yes, I’m Merrill,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “Oh, Mr. Ivanovich, I didn’t recognize you at first. Yes, I’m back from the war. It’s good to see you. Just what the heck is going on here?”

“Well, ever since the war started over in Europe, we decided to do a little war of our own, to try to remind ourselves, just a little, of how our loved ones may be suffering over there. This, young man, is the ‘Great Potato War of 1947’.”

“Wait a minute,” Merrill said. “Are you telling me that the whole town is out in that field throwing potatoes at one another?”

“Yep, that’s right, Merrill,” he answered. “I would invite you to join in but I completely understand if you’re all filled up with fighting and such. But it sure is fun to watch. I’m keeping track of who gets hit. I’m keeping score, you could say.”

“So, which team is behind,” Merrill asked.

“Uh… that would be the red team,” Mr. Johnson answered. “Do you want to join in? Grab a red shirt and get in there if you want.”

Dropping his bag, Merrill slipped on the shirt and ran at full speed into the fray, striking three people with his first three potatoes.

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