Potato Salad, Palmolive and the Way Memories Slide Around Us

July 31, 2014 | 16 comments

Dad was waiting for us on the back step when we pulled into the driveway, like his own father always did.

We open the doors of the Acadia, swollen with fast-food sacks and flip-flops — all of it a grand accumulation that comes with six hours in the car.

The girls skip toward their “Bop,” four arms tangling around his waist. Dad plops a kiss on my cheek, and I drag a suitcase across the threshold. The screen door bangs against the door frame behind me. Mom is standing at her post by the kitchen sink, with a phone to her ear, talking to a nephew.

The kitchen sink –

It’s always been half full of warm sudsy water; she’s never had a dishwasher. And the whole kitchen smells like Palmolive.

This isn’t the home where I grew up, but it’s home now, this little cabin on a serene lake in Minnesota, where blue gill are bold enough to bite bare hooks.

I put an arm around Mom’s shoulder, and give her a squeeze. I can already taste her homemade potato salad, and hope secretly that she made it again.

She pulls the lid off the Tupperware for lunch, and behold: Potato salad.

Fork raised, she tells us that someone suggested she use Miracle Whip instead of regular Mayo in the potato-salad dressing, but I interrupt her mid-sentence, my taste-buds already protesting. “Don’t change a thing. Yours is the best potato salad ever, Mom.”

We pile ham-salad onto whole wheat — Granny T’s recipe. Our sun-tea glasses sweat on that one oval pine. The girls eat outside, in swim suits. And after lunch, Mom and I stand hip-to-hip at the sink, washing and drying and catching up. And we’ve done this so many times, that it’s all running together, memories fluid and sliding on top of one another.

I look at our hands in the sink, how they’re alike. And I think it then: how blessed we are to have this one simple moment by an open kitchen window. I think of Mom’s fight with cancer, and Dad’s heart bypass surgery. I think of all those fluid memories that have slid around and over the years since radiation and ICU. And how scared we all were.

This is a gift, this day that begins here in a place with no dishwasher, where children stuff buttery blooms into tiny vases, and where Mom plays Gaither on the keyboard. And at night, we’ll get drowsy by the glow of the TV, watching old movies. My youngest daughter will bridge across my lap, wanting me to scratch her back. I remember how I did the same thing with Dad while watching Happy Days or Lawrence Welk as a kid. We watched shows on a Zenith console back then, and you had to stand up and move if you wanted to change the channel — of which we had a total of three.

So much has changed, but I listen now at the comforting sameness of this life. The phone rings. It’s a wrong number, but before five minutes is up, Mom has gathered up all bits of information about the caller. Her name is Maria, and Mom sings to her. I hear them laughing. And this has been the soundtrack of my life — phones ringing, exaggerated vibrato, the sound of glasses and silverware clinking in the sink.

We’ll sleep here again tonight, where loons cry out in the pitch, and yes, things have changed. That’s not all bad, I tell you. But I’ll thank the Good Lord for the sameness of life, too –

like soap suds in a sink,
a woman who calls herself Mama D,
the smell of bacon frying in the morning,
and the same potato salad on my plate.

by | July 31, 2014 | 16 comments


  1. marthaorlando

    Beautiful descriptions of special times with your family. I love my mom’s potato salad, too, and wouldn’t change a thing! 🙂 Blessings, Jennifer!

  2. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Love this, Jennifer, and honestly, I think automatic dishwashers have diminished communication. You’ve reminded me of doing dishes with my mother, or with my cousins and great aunts after a Thanksgiving feast, when the men rested, full-bellied, in the living room. Funny how it’s always teh women who do the dishes. But I think that the men missed out on something. “Doing” in community really wasn’t a chore. It was a blessing. And when Michael and I moved into the old Arts-and-Crafts bungalow that we called home for twenty-four years, we just had a kitchen sink–no dishwasher….unless you considered that the dishwasher was I! =] But I didn’t mind. After I left my career, and while baby Sheridan slept, that dish pan became an altar of sorts, where I could pray, listen to Christian radio, or just let my notes rise like soap bubbles on the air as I sang praises to Jesus. Keep meeting at the sink, Jennifer! Keep taking us with you. I love all you say here. Give your parents and the girls and Scott my love, and have a great vacation!
    PS My mother makes fantastic potato salad, too, but a unique version with beets, sweet pickles, and sauerkraut. It turns a faint pink and is delish.

  3. Sandra Heska King

    What? My moon friend sings to strangers? Oh wait. I was once a stranger, too. 🙂

  4. Janet

    Family time equals special time, for sure. I remember our Zenith TV as well – and I remember we used to sit together, the six of us, and watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and then The Walt Disney Show (with Tinkerbell sprinkling pixie dust all over the magic castle…). I hope you have a pixie-dust sprinkled time with your family.

  5. Constance Ann Morrison

    What a treat for the senses and balm for the heart! Thanks for sharing your journey.

  6. Loved As If

    How very lovely. I love knowing that intact families exist. Somehow the knowledge heals my heart. Thank you so much. Drusilla Barron (http://lovedasif.com)

  7. Lynn Mosher

    {sigh} So wish my mom and dad were still around. But memories of family, of sweet conversations and moments together, never fade or change. Thank God for those times. Always a touching walk through the heart with you, Jennifer. Bless you for sharing yourself.

  8. Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Thanks for bringing us along, into your world of sweet memories Jennifer. What a delectable taste of summer. P.S. {I’m with you on the real mayo!}

  9. Elizabeth Stewart

    These are my favorite posts to read, stories of home and family and love and memories.

  10. Leah Adams

    Jennifer, what a beautiful post. Enjoy fully these moments of same-ness with your parents. One day it will change, never to be the same again. I miss my Daddy something terrible. He’s with Jesus since 2004. Now, this year my Mother has taken a nose-dive into dementia, and it is the hardest thing. My heart aches for the ‘way it used to be”, but my head knows that is gone until we stand in eternity. One day, though, because of Jesus, I will see my Daddy again, and my Mom will not have her brain ‘all in a wad’ as she describes it. One day!

  11. Jillie

    I think this may be one of my favourite posts, Jennifer. So beautifully expressed. I was there with you. Many of us do not have these kinds of memories, but find our blessings in other ways. Yet the heart always longs for Home, Mum and Dad, potato salad, kitchen sinks under windows, and peace. Have to be honest–I envy you.

  12. Michelle DeRusha

    Beautiful reflection, Jennifer – so much sensory detail. Standing right there in the kitchen with you.

  13. Nancy Ruegg

    Such a heart-warming post, Jennifer. I loved every word of your Sameness Celebration! Adventures and explorations may be exciting, but nothing satisfies the heart like traditions shared with family and old friends. I’m with you: Thank you, God, for the treasures in the sameness of life!

  14. Michelle

    This touched my heart, making me think of my own mother.

    We lost Dad in 2010 and mom went to live in assisted living housing.

    She has dementia and is now in a nursing home.

    I only get to see her once a year, although they say she is declining even more.

    No more phone calls to her asking for tips, encouragement or help.

    No more late nights watching Little House on the Prairie.

    Telling her I’ll never leave her side.

    Yet, of all the children, I’m the one who moved the furtherest.

    I’m the one who moved out-of-state.

    I know the day is coming, perhaps soon, when she’ll leave this land for a better home.


  15. pastordt

    This is gorgeous, Jen. Thanks so much.

  16. Rachael

    So very thankful for memories like these. I just went to visit my mom in a house that is not where I grew up but some things never change. It made it quite hard to leave.


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