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Surprise in the form of potato salad

By Staff | Jun 1, 2012

There is a moment of balance that occurs at some point in raising a child, when he is immature and snotty, and adult and thoughtful in equal measure. With as much aggravation as I have experienced during episodes of the former, I found pleasure in the latter recently, which included Mother’s Day.

Just a week earlier, my nearly 20-year-old son had frustrated his father and me with his lack of consideration of the feelings of parents. We smacked our respective foreheads in exasperation and wondered if we would ever see a young man emerge from our grown boy.

The newborn baby considers his mother an actual extension of himself, the embodiment of satisfaction for his hunger and physical comfort. Separation occupies a long arc. First come playmates and nursery school. Then maybe a bicycle and privileges to stay out ’till suppertime. And before they fledge entirely, there may be the keys to mom’s automobile offered on occasion.

But that stuff comes far earlier than actual adult behavior. To my still-teen son, I’m usually just mom, that comfortable old bag, who offers love and college tuition no matter how grouchy and hormonal he is.

But in one recent episode, no. He decided to forego a social engagement to get home early enough to begin a Mother’s Day feast that took two days to assemble. He planned a menu and, with Dad’s credit card, went shopping. He called his grandmother for instructions on how to make the potato salad that has centered our family feast tables for decades of summer events.

That potato salad, the best I’ve ever had, involves peeling and boiling russet potatoes, then cubing them and setting them in the fridge overnight in a bath of cider vinegar, celery seed, salt and pepper. Only then are they ready to be fully dressed with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. It’s a simple enough recipe, without the frills of sliced celery or hard-cooked eggs, but it is just so good.

I made myself stay away from the kitchen. This meal was to be my son’s and his father’s to prepare, and besides, I might have overreacted to the filled sink and dishevelment of pots, spoons and bowls. The mysteriously madonna-like serenity of motherhood is, in fact, a learned skill, acquired through years of practiced patience. By the time they were done, my son and husband had restored enough order to the kitchen to permit the next day’s event.

There are few kitchen amenities at the fraternity house where my son lives. I’ve seen its kitchen; it’s horrific. There’s a working microwave oven, and perhaps a stove (I’ve tried to block it out), but it is not a kitchen equipped for cuisine. So, they improvise. To cook corn on the cob, my son shucked fresh corn, then wrapped it in buttered aluminum foil and set it at the edges of a hot charcoal grill, where it remained for a good ten minutes or more.

The result was corn kernels roasted to a caramelized brown, with their sugars developed to complex, nutty sweetness. I will never steam or boil fresh corn again. The frat-house corn is the best corn I ever had.

Perhaps the sweetest dividend of the day was learning something new from my nearly adult child. After spending years correcting, instructing, disciplining and guiding him, I was introduced by him to a new way of doing something that is better than my old way. I look forward to getting to know more from this young man, who is turning into an independent adult, but will always be my baby.