Perched above racks of hand-sewn sweaters and silkscreened T-shirts at a clothing store in Wilmington, I recently came across the story of my life. It was the Sweet Patootie Doll , written by Mary Calhoun, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin and deconstructed in the form of a journal.
Published in 1957 by William Morrow & Co., the children's book is about a small girl named Lucy who could be almost any child from my home in Johnston County. Lucy saw much more in a sweet potato than a casserole or pie, which are pervasive this time of year.
From the shape of a dusty old vegetable, she imagined a doll, with a bump for a head, "two specks, just right for eyes, and a brown, curvy scratch, just right for a mouth" My neighbors and I used to have the same visions. In Johnston County, a place that harvested 181.6 million pounds of sweet potatoes in 2011, we are groomed from an early age to appreciate the nicks and nobs on potatoes, seeking faces and shapes in them the way most children do with clouds. The twisted tail of a yam is coveted for making a cow or hog. Prickly whiskers are cherished just the same.
*Read on in the Indy Week .