I sat in the third row of a foreign pew staring forward at the big screen in the front of the church that was playing my potato digging video that I recorded and edited from the previous summer. The footage was shaky and in places, blurry. The jump cuts were hard and unnatural, with a stray misspelled word here or there, some places even a lag. In all honesty, my video editing skills are not up to par, but the video did capture an unforgettable moment and that in itself was worth everything.
It was the summer of 2014 and I just turned 18. My family calls one of our back fields, “The Joe Place” and I don’t really know why, but it has always been called that. In the Joe Place sits one of the largest, and steepest hills on the farm. On a clear day, one can faintly see the old fire tower on top of Monadnock Mountain in the distance to the west. The new tower that sits on top of Mudget Mountain can be seen directly to the east. The hill also looks over to North Hill and has a great view of the surrounding valleys that dip in and out of the horizon.
For the past couple of years, my family has planted a large potato garden on the hill in the Joe Place, we call it the potato patch. That summer it was the biggest it has ever been and it wasn’t only potatoes this year, but the name did stick. In long, straight rows the potatoes grew, on the other side of the patch, a large cluster of beans flourished in one corner and a block of corn in another. Beets grew next to the long fingers of the summer squash and pumpkin plants that reached out like they were trying to touch each corner of the garden. In the center, a row of sunflowers grew, adding some color and diversity to our hill.
In years before the summer of 2014, when Fall knocked at our doors and the first frost kissed the ground, my entire family would head up to The Joe Place after Sunday breakfast. We would load the trucks up with all the tools required to dig the potatoes and big crates to hold our harvest. My Grandfather and Grandmother would lead our convoy up the dirt road with my Uncle following close behind with the tractor. My other Uncle and Aunt followed in their truck and my own family in ours.
When we arrived at the top of our hill we would bail out of our trucks, grab our tools, and get to work. It was hard work, it was honest work, the kind that is good for the soul. By the time we finished our harvest we would all have dirty hands and sweaty faces, but most of all, huge smiles as we looked at all the potatoes we gathered.
Though this year was different. My Grandfather had his heart set on buying an antique potato digger. With the help of Craigslist, he found a digger in Massachusetts, five hours away. Despite the distance, he made up his mind that he had to have it and when my grandfather decided to do something; it would be done.
By this point, he was no longer driving so my Uncle volunteered to make the trip south with him. At the crack of dawn, the best hour, according to my Grandfather, they hooked on the trailer and headed south. Ten hours later they returned with a hundred-year-old potato digger that wouldn’t even turn. It was going to require some old fashioned tinkering before it was ready to hit the potato patch.
This was one of the last projects my Grandfather ever oversaw. As my Uncles worked away, replacing parts here or applying oil over there my Grandfather would sit in a plastic lawn chair in the garage sharing his wisdom whenever needed. After many hours of hard work, the gears of the archaic machine were finally turning. Even though the kiss of the first frost had yet hit our hill, we still headed to the patch. If that summer taught us anything, it was we had no time to waste.
The digger was hooked to the tractor with precision and slowly we moved up the hill where the potatoes grew, praying the digger would work. They don’t make things like our digger anymore, despite its frail looking mechanics it stayed steady all the way to the patch. As soon as we arrived we started to pull tops to make way for the tractor and digger to get to work. My Grandfather sat in the truck watching with content, waiting for the moment of truth.
Slowly the tractor eased into the garden with the digger following. One of my Uncles drove the tractor, while the other made slight adjustments to the digger as it rolled and I took a video. The video captured the first attempt of the metal teeth dragging into the soil. The second go around saw more adjustments and yet still no potatoes. With the third attempt, the potatoes finally boiled to the top like we’d struck oil.
So I continued to record the scene with shaky hands as it played out. I recorded my Uncles as they worked, my family as they gathered up the potatoes, my Grandmother as she too recorded, and my Grandfather, as he looked on with a gleeful smile. Above all, I recorded a moment that was more than just potatoes and old diggers. It was a moment of family and our limited forevers.
Four months later when snow covered our hill and the potatoes stopped growing I found myself exchanging my jeans stained with dirt from our patch, for a suit. I sat in a foreign pew watching a video made with shaky hands slowly fading away and then said a final goodbye.