Finally, I have faced one of the grave dangers and extreme emergencies my mother has always warned me about.
Faced, overcame and survived.
It was a potato explosion.
After half a century of potato-explosion speculation, it was rather anti-climactic, but still satisfying to experience.
In the morning before work, I was baking potatoes in the toaster-oven as a step toward making that evening’s supper preparation faster. About half an hour in, I heard a sound as if something had fallen out of a cabinet.
I looked over, and saw that one of the potatoes had its skin burst, and its white insides were sitting to the side of it.
The core of the white was still solid and uncooked; only the edges of the white had become somewhat mushy. I put the white back into the skin as much as possible, wrapped it in tin foil and put it back in the oven to continue baking, and thought of my mother and her warnings.
The mythical exploding potato paled in comparison to the dangers of an exploding pressure cooker. According to legend, an exploding potato could destroy the entire oven and could hurt you, if you had been standing beside it at the time of explosion, but an exploding pressure cooker could blow up the whole house plus kill you if you were in the kitchen when it happened.
Whenever Mom would use the pressure cooker, she would first call my sister and me into the kitchen and talk about pressure cookers in an impressive lecture which seamlessly combined science and old wives’ tales. We were shown our potential impending cause of death and warned to remain at the extremes of the other end of the house, or to play outside, until supper was ready.
It just did not seem logical to me: Sure, the roasts she cooked in the pressure cooker were delicious, but not worth risking our lives and home for.
She warned of other frightening dangers, too. There was the man in the van who would pull over and offer us candy. We must never, ever accept candy from that man, because he would use it as an opportunity to snatch us up. I spent my early years vigilantly watching traffic, looking for a man I imagined being in his 40s, with scruffy brown hair, wearing a checked shirt, and driving a white van; sometimes I imagined the van with some lettering, sometimes it was plain.
Then there was the dirty old man on the street who would pinch our butts if we got too close. I was ever on the lookout for what I imagined as a man with scruffy grey hair, wearing tweed pants, a button-up shirt and a vest, shuffling with a limp, and of course, he had smudges of dirt his clothing and skin.
Falling into swimming pools or other bodies of water would cause us to die or to become brain damaged. Taking a shower or bath when it was raining would get us electrocuted.
Then, added to my mother’s list of dangers, were other terrors we learned about through pop culture and society. Top on that list was quicksand. In the children’s television shows of the 1970s, characters were always sinking deep in quicksand to their possible demise. I always imagined a bottomless suctioning quicksand pit waiting around the corner of any woodland trail, which was terrifying, considering how much time we spent playing in the woods.
Of all the fabled dangers to have faced and survived, I’m glad it was the exploding potato. It wasn’t as bad as it had been made out to be.
And I’m still scared of pressure cookers, dirty old men and showers during a storm.