Potato Salad (Lake Wobegon Tales)

Yes, it is winter in West Michigan and a big storm is bearing down on us, but shall we just forget about that for a bit and focus on celebrating the Fourth of July and enjoying a great picnic – with homemade potato salad? Our location is Lake Wobegon, the fictional town of Garrison Keillor filled with Nordic Lutherans and tales that resonate with us Hollanders, Germans, and pretty much every other kind of nationality, as long as you are Americans.

Here is part of a great story Keillor weaves involving the town’s Fourth of July celebration and the need for simple pleasures – like good potato salad, fried chicken, and sparklers. Listen on and laugh away – it’s good therapy at the end of the week.

Potato salad. Don’t get me started. People are asked to bring potato salad to the picnic and instead stop at a convenience store and get some plastic tubs full of mushy potatoes, salad dressing, and mustard to give it that eerie yellow color. Why insult us? Do you think we’ve never had real potato salad and we can’t tell the difference? Do you think we’re not Americans and don’t know potato salad? Do we look Canadian to you? Is there something Icelandic about us? Potato salad. No big mystery about it. It has hard-boiled eggs, fresh chopped celery, chives, green onions, real mayonnaise, maybe a little sour cream, plenty of dill, and on top you spread some sliced boiled eggs with a sprinkling of paprika. [that was my mom’s version!] The great potato salad makers of the world are passing from the world, and you and I should emulate their art lest this country slide into barbarism and ignorance and decay. Standards must be upheld.

…Every child has the right to real potato salad and to hold a sparkler in his or her little hand and wave it around. What magic, to trace your little arc of light against the dark. Surely there have been thousands of men and women who gave their lives to art, to music, to the gaiety of language, who felt the first stirrings of artistry when they helped Grandma make potato salad, a great potato salad that had texture, had some crunch, had the green onions working with the egg yolks and the paprika and dill and the richness of mayonnaise, which cries out for accompaniment with a fried drumstick, still warm with crackly skin and flaky meat. Oh, this is art, to take the humble potato salad and the stupid chicken and ennoble them with the craft of cooking – and is this not the meaning of our country, to take what is common and make something beautiful of it? To stand on the lawn in the twilight and wave your torch and draw big loops of light and slashes and make bold, brilliant strokes? Happy Fourth of July, everybody.

Taken from chapter 25, “Potato Salad, in Garrison Keillor’s Life Among the Lutherans, pp.156-57.

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