Potato, Po-tah-to

I was staring at a four-ton Idaho potato. The large spud sat on a tractor trailer parked near Mooyah Burgers in Hoover, Alabama. It was an overcast day. The potato was roughly the size of the Jefferson Memorial.

Beside me was a boy named Lonnie who was taking a picture of this titanic tuber with his phone. Lonnie was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and a cowboy hat. He was maybe 9 years old.

He wore thick plastic eyeglasses that reminded me of drugstore glasses from the early ‘60s. He kept pushing his glasses upward on his nose, spouting off random facts about the world-famous potato.

“It’s over thirteen feet high,” said Lonnie.

“Really?” I said.

“And ten feet wide.”


“The truck is seventy-two feet long.”

“How about that.”

Lonnie also informed me that this potato would be capable of making 20,217 servings of mashed potatoes, or around 3 million potato chips. It would take two years to bake.

“I wonder how many French fries it would make,” I said to Lonnie.

Lonnie pressed his glasses upward and fell silent. He blinked a few times.

I had stumped the whiz-kid.

His grandmother was behind him, admiring the prodigious potato. She was wearing a portable oxygen tank, seated on her bumper, eating an Almond Joy. Her hair was blazing white, her skin was parchment.

“We need to hurry, Lonnie,” she said. “You said this wouldn’t take long.”

“French fries…” Lonnie whispered privately, thumb-typing something on his phone. “How many French fries…”

The behemoth potato is currently on its tenth cross-country tour. Last week, the potato visited Hot Springs, Baton Rouge, and Mobile. And as soon as the potato left us, it would be visiting the Piggly Wiggly in Sneads, Florida. After that: Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic, and the Eastern Seaboard. This potato gets around.

Since its creation in 2012, the meteoric spud has covered over 100,000 American miles, visited every state in the Lower Forty-Eight, and has helped countless kids like Lonnie experience the unbridled wonder of tuber root vegetables.

The potato isn’t real, of course. It’s made of an iron frame and fiberglass shell. The thing took a full year to design and construct, and was was built by Chris and Sharolyn Schofield of Weiser, Idaho. The potato was made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commision, a state agency which fights for truth, justice, and the Idahoan way.

“One-point-four million French fries,” Lonnie suddenly blurts out with a smile.

“Huh?” I said.

“The potato would make one-point-four million fries,” he said.

The little cowpoke showed me his phone to prove it. Then Lonnie adds that he loves potatoes and eats mashed potatoes every night for supper.

“Every night?” I said.

He nodded. “Every night.”

I figured the kid was exaggerating, but his grandmother certified that, yes, Lonnie eats potatoes every night.

“It’s true,” said the old woman. “I make mashed potatoes for every dinner. He don’t want nothing else with his chicken.”

I asked whether she prepares these potatoes fresh, or if she uses instant potato flakes. The old woman furrowed her brow as though I had just played the national anthem on my armpit.

“Fresh,” she said.

We made room for more potato visitors bearing iPhones, posing for selfies, and Granny and I watched as Lonnie wowed them all with his potato factoids.

Granny told me she has been raising Lonnie since he was a 1-year-old, when his mother died. She doesn’t say how his mother died, and it’s none of my business. But I get the impression through Granny’s comments that the boy’s mother met her end through hard living.

The old woman also tells me that she has raised six kids in her life. Lonnie will make seven.

“You’ve had a busy life,” I said.

She laughed. “You don’t know the half of it.”

Meanwhile, we watched America’s shortest cowboy tell a few roadside visitors about the formidable potato, he was wearing the same happy face often associated with powerball jackpots. He was in his element.

“He’s a smart kid,” Granny said. “He’s good with numbers, he can read grown-up books, he’s going places.”

And I had the feeling that I wasn’t looking at an ordinary elderly woman, but a survivor. There is a difference. And when she told me about her lung condition, I knew I was right.

After our brief exchange, she stood onto wobbly legs, using a four-pronged cane for support. This signaled to Lonnie that his time here was finished.

Lonnie ran to his grandmother, and the old woman gave him an Oscar-winning hug. I saw her eyes close beneath their embrace. I saw them pile into their beat up Ford Focus. I heard the engine cough itself to life, and watched them drive away, leaving me in shadow of the world’s largest potato.

The whole time I was thinking about what it means to be so incredibly loved that an old woman would put her entire life on hold. And I was wishing that all people on earth had a grandmother to love them so thoroughly.

So anyway, I know what one lucky kid is having for dinner tonight.


  1. Naomi Smith - March 28, 2022 6:31 am

    Thank you for yet another snapshot of life. Lonnie is fortunate to have a grandmother to go the extra gazillion miles to raise him, when her health tells me that it is a personal sacrifice. Yet, she took the time and effort for Lonnie to be able to experience his favorite veggie on a truck. It makes you wonder how many times other grandparents have to take on a role that was not meant for them, but they give it their all.
    Thanks for the look at an American hero!

  2. Debbie - March 28, 2022 7:25 am

    Sean, I love the sweet story. Thank you.

  3. Miz Liz - March 28, 2022 7:31 am

    Just plain ole love to Lonnie, Granny, AND to you, dear Sean. I am sure you, Sean, will always know what is going on in Lonnie’s life…and Granny’s. No, you can’t ‘adopt’ all the folks who appear in your stories, but I have the feeling Lonnie and his books and intense needs to know the whys, whens, and wheres will be hooked to you and Jamie. I am an ole granny who has raised a few, so I know these things. Be strong and God help you. 😌🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻💕💕💕💕

    • Debbie - March 28, 2022 10:36 am


  4. Connie - March 28, 2022 10:58 am

    In Alabama…potato. ❤️
    Loved learning about Lonnie and his Grandmother.

  5. Steve Baccus - March 28, 2022 12:16 pm

    Love, Taters (and Jesus) …doesn’t he much better! 😉

  6. Jan - March 28, 2022 12:57 pm

    Great story!

  7. Helen De Prima - March 28, 2022 1:24 pm

    My grandmother raised me after my mother died. She wasn’t much for cooking, but she taught me to read by the time I was five and okayed me adult-privileges at the public library. Mashed potatoes come in many forms.

    • Anne Godwin - March 28, 2022 1:44 pm

      Love is always the best answer.

      I missed seeing that spud in Mobile!

      Blessings on getting settled in. You’ll be fine wherever you are.

  8. Shelton A. - March 28, 2022 1:34 pm

    Well, now you know more about potatoes than you ever thought you would. God bless Lonnie’s grandma and Lonnie, too. Thanks for sharing all that love….

  9. Connie G Thomas - March 28, 2022 1:45 pm

    TU for finding the POSITIVE beauty in this encounter

  10. Allison Cobb Gilmore - March 28, 2022 2:35 pm

    Nobody but Sean could make me cry by writing a story about a giant fake potato.

  11. Steve McCaleb - March 28, 2022 2:45 pm

    Well, at least the kid used the proper term for the last meal of the day….SUPPER. Granny apparently has fallen victim to the pinheaded “Renamer Police”. When DaVinci’s famous painting of our Lord and the Twelve sitting at their last meal together becomes “The Last Dinner” is when I’ll change (NEVER). Jeeze can these goobers not leave anything alone ? And by the way…I’ll be praying for the people in Kee-ev tonight. Not the people of Keeve.

    • Nancy C - March 28, 2022 8:41 pm

      Hey Steve, I’ve got your back on all you said!! Thanks.

    • DC - March 30, 2022 5:08 pm

      Wow. That’s a lot, Steve. That you could read a sweet story like this and come away pissed is simply sad.

    • Ruth Winter - April 2, 2022 8:52 am

      I do my best to keep the word supper alive here in Michigan. It seems like an endangered word.

  12. Ellen - March 28, 2022 2:52 pm

    For your further education concerning giant potatoes, Sean…. A few miles outside Boise is the Big Idaho Potato Hotel. It’s the original potato that used to tour the country; and after its retirement, a young woman who was part of the tour team was gifted the potato. She made it into a spa retreat, with beautiful sleeping quarters in the potato. It has a grain bin bathroom and a friendly cow as a neighbor.

  13. Deb - March 28, 2022 2:53 pm

    Sending more LUV from the great potato state… where we have lots of grannies caring for their loved ones! 👵 When you finally decide to visit the Gem State, you can even stay at the Big Idaho Potato Hotel on the outskirts of Boise. No kiddin’… it’s a real thing! 😀

  14. ceh - March 28, 2022 4:47 pm


  15. Patricia Gibson - March 28, 2022 4:55 pm

    This made me cry. Wouldn’t it be lovely if every child was loved and safe🙏❤️

  16. ben womack - March 28, 2022 5:03 pm

    see if you can find a way to send this lady some money

  17. Donna Willey - March 28, 2022 5:14 pm

    Beautiful story

  18. Susan - March 28, 2022 5:21 pm

    Bless Lonnie’s grandmother and Lonnie—thank you for sharing this beautiful story❤️

  19. pattymack43 - March 28, 2022 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your tribute to Grandmas who love! Grandchildren are a very special blessing from our Lord, no matter the circumstances of our time with them.

  20. Linda Moon - March 28, 2022 6:04 pm

    Yes, Granny, Lonnie’s a smart kid. I could eat mashed potatoes every night, too…but I don’t. I do love on my grandkids a lot though, and lots of love was shared with them last night. I wish Lonnie and his grandmother had been with us there us at the family pit. Oh, and I hope to see that four-ton potato soon!

  21. Pat - March 28, 2022 6:27 pm

    I enjoyed your po-tah-to story!
    But I missed the story of why you moved from Florida to Alabama.
    Could you catch me up?

  22. Cathy M - March 28, 2022 9:48 pm

    I had four wonderful grandparents. Both lived in a small Mississippi cotton farming town . Both my grandfathers farmed. I spent alot of time with each set. From one house in the country to the other on Main Street. Though they never had to raise me full time they loved me, made me mind them and took me to church every Sunday. It was not exciting but it was the best part of my summers. Swinging on the porch, fireflies, Lawrence Welk on Saturday night, ice cream and more love than I will ever know again until I see them in heaven. Now I am blessed with eight grandchildren of my own and will be a great grandmother this July. I thank God all the time for the privilege of being a part of their lives. There is a special place in heaven for Lonnie’s grandmother and all the others like her who have stepped up and raised grandchildren. God bless each and every one of them. Great story but that is what you give us every day. ❤️🙏🏻

  23. Joe - March 29, 2022 12:59 am

    Sean , you find the best stories in the strangest places. Who else would look under a 8000 lb tater.

  24. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 29, 2022 1:16 am

    God bless the Grandmas that never stop raising them babies. God bless all the women (and men) who step up in what ever shape or form to help out and love those who don’t have anyone one else to be there for them. God bless this little boy who I believe too is going some where and of course God bless my favorite red headed writer who SEEs them and shares them with us so we never forget that Good people are still out there every day.

  25. Slimpicker - March 29, 2022 3:55 am

    Sean, I think you have it a bit backwards about Granny. She has put her death on hold to raise a grandchild that needs her more than he will understand for many years. That is what grandparents do. Great story. By the way, the Idaho Potato museum is in Blackfoot Idaho, with it’s own big potato out front.

  26. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 29, 2022 4:41 am

  27. Sandra Nelsen - March 29, 2022 5:36 am

    I’m from Idaho originally. You had me at potato po tah to. One year we had a potato drop in Boise, like the deal in Time square for New Years. Maybe it was this Weiser potato, I don’t know. Love your columns.

  28. Berryman Mary M - March 29, 2022 8:03 pm

    Some friends of mine actually stayed at the Big Idaho Potato Hotel last summer! I saw their pictures!

  29. Sharolyn Schofield - April 4, 2022 4:52 pm

    Thank you SO much for sharing this! My husband and I built this potato and the first one (now an Airbnb) and also the glowing New Years potato. This adventurous potato has so many stories that come from its travels, which we don’t always get to hear since we don’t travel with it. You’ve told an inspiring story about Lonnie and his Grandma, alongside our beloved potato. Thank you! -Sharolyn Schofield

    • Pam Russell - May 27, 2022 12:21 pm

      Sharolyn-thank you to you and your husband for creating this unusual, but incredibly creative Idaho representative. I live in the Treasure Valley and have seen it twice. It brings a smile to my day. Love our state and, of course, po tah to s ! Thanks Sean for the story! LOVE my grandson and spend my days with him. 💙


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