A Big Pile

My dad was a master storyteller. There are so many but some truly stand out and one of my personal favorites is big potato, little potato.

During World War Two, he served in the U.S. Army in Europe. As an enlisted man, he would be assigned to K.P. duty from time to time and this particular time the Sergeant in charge of the mess hall pulled him aside and said, “Come with me, I have a job for you over here in the warehouse.”

When they got to the warehouse, the Top Sergeant pulled the door aside to reveal a huge pile of potatoes in the middle of the floor. He turned to my dad and said, “I want you to go through this pile and sort the potatoes. I want you to put the big potatoes over here and the small potatoes over there.”

My dad in a way that was his alone, said he thought about it for a minute and then told the Mess Sergeant, “I believe I understand, you want the big potatoes over here and the small potatoes over there. Sergeant I think I can do that.”

The Sergeant then returned to the mess hall and left my dad in charge of sorting the potatoes. My dad said it went well separating the big potatoes from the small potatoes. As he got further into the project as the pile of big potatoes over here and the pile of small potatoes over there began to grow he came upon a pretty big, small potato. This one was too small for the big potato pile, but too big to be a small potato. All of a sudden he wasn’t sure what to do with a pretty big small potato. It was a “tweener”. What was he supposed to do with the “tweener”?

I like this story because most things in life are either a big deal or no big deal, and it is fairly obvious which is which, and to which pile it belongs. But more often than we like, we come upon something that is too big to be small and too small to be big. It’s all about how we sort the “tweeners”.

Even the simplest of tasks have their vagaries and nuances that make it harder than it seems at first. That is the practice of law, because the controversies are all about those “tweeners” in the pile.