Homesick, and My Mom’s Potato Salad

Dear Joey,

When I was a kid I suffered from severe homesickness: the kind that rendered me very poor company indeed. Tears and sleepless nights were my companions at sleepovers, and I vividly recall instance upon instance of begging my parents to let me go to a sleepover, only to call them in tears near midnight, begging to go home. More often than not, my dad lumbered his way to the car and drove to pick me up and waving his thanks to my hosts for their hospitality as he ducked back into the car to go home.


Neither of my parents seemed to mind; if they were angry or inconvenienced, neither of them showed it. Big smiles and bigger hugs welcomed me home no matter how long the drive to pick me up (and sometimes, the drive was long.) In retrospect, they must have been peeved that their little girl couldn’t buck up and be brave and just go to sleep already. I know, because I feel this way about Addie sometimes when she tells me she doesn’t want to go to school for this one reason alone: she’s going to miss me.


It happens like this: I hug her goodbye when I drop her off at school, but she runs back to give me a second, third, fourth hug before finally letting go of my hand to walk to the playground. I squeeze her hard and shoo her off to class, wondering why she doesn’t skip toward school like her sister who often runs to join friends without so much as a wave goodbye. I’m tempted to just walk away and let the kid deal with it already, but then I chide myself and give her grace every time because Addie is just like me. So I stand and watch her as she makes the long walk to line up, and I wave the whole time, watching as she flashes her sweet a smile and waves our sign for “I love you,” until finally we are out of each other’s sight.


Fast forward thirty years later and I moved halfway across the country and find myself sleeping in a different time zone than my own parents, a feat neither they nor myself could imagine during those groggy midnight drives home. I probably cried the whole way, disappointed in myself for being different than the other kids, embarrassed that I cried about missing my mom and made a scene and forced my friends to wake up their sleeping parents so I could call my own.


When my mom and dad flew me and the Goobies out to KC to meet you, I counted on the fact that I had long-since grown out of that homesick mess of a little girl I used to be. It didn’t occur to me that I might cry when I missed my mom in the middle of the night (I am a grown woman, after all), and thankfully being away from them isn’t as tough as it would have been years ago in my younger days. Still, saying goodbye was hard. I hugged my mom and dad casually, convincing myself it wouldn’t be long until they would be back to visit, but in all honesty if I had squeezed them tight I would have cried big, hot tears that would have made them want to whisk me home with them. Instead, I said, “See you later!” and smiled as they went, but as soon as the door closed, the tears started to fall. Sarah caught me up in a hug and soothed me with confessions that if were her saying goodbye to her mom, she would be crying too. (In fact, she did cry a little for me.)

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FaceTime and airplanes make the sting of separation more tolerable than my seven year old self would ever believe possible, but it’s still there, new and nagging like shoes that don’t feel like my own quite yet. This new life will break itself in soon, I know–but for now, admittedly, I’m feeling a little homesick. Eating lots of my mom’s potato salad helps because it transports me to her kitchen, and I can almost feel her give me a squeeze hello when I walk inside.



My Mom’s Potato Salad (for a Crowd)


I know there are as many ways to make potato salad as their are mothers out there (read: zillions), but this is my favorite because it’s familiar (and both my Goobie girls enjoy it!). My mom has been making this for years and years–always by memory, and never from a written recipe. Somehow it always tastes the same, and when I attempted to make a batch last weekend to take to a family BBQ, I nailed it. One scoop and I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, but instead was in the backyard in the house on Los Arboles Place watching my mom flit around the kitchen in her pink apron with the white polka dots, smushing the potatoes with her expert hands, whisking together the dressing and hollering for my dad to come take a taste. I’m pretty sure my mom’s version is a little bit sweeter than mine, but marginally so. If you like your potato salad sweeter, then by all means: add more sugar. (Also, you’ll notice hard boiled eggs are no where to be found in this recipe: that is because my mother detests them. I, however, think they would make a lovely addition. Use your own discretion.) It’s naturally gluten free, dairy free, peanut/tree nut free, and sunflower seed free, so this is an easy addition to our arsenal of awesome picnic food.


For the dressing–

  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup bread and butter pickle juice (or regular sweet pickle juice)
  • 6 Tablespoons sugar (or more, to taste)

For the salad–

  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, boiled with skin on, then cooled and peeled
  • 2 cups diced celery (about five large stalks)
  • 1/2 cup diced white onion (or red onion, or whatever kind you prefer)
  • 1 cup diced dill pickles (or, if you prefer a sweeter salad, use sweet pickles instead

First, prep the potatoes: wash them thoroughly and plunk them into a large pot, then fill the pot with water. Add salt, about a tablespoon or so, and set the pot to boil. Check for doneness occasionally, but it took mine about an hour to cook through.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together all the mayonnaise, mustard, apple cider vinegar, pickle juice and sugar. This makes a lot of dressing, true: but you’ll need it. Put the dressing in the refrigerator until it’s time to toss with the salad.

Once the potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart, remove them from the water and let them cool completely (to room temperature). While the potatoes are cooling, go ahead and do all your chopping so the veggies are ready to go.

Next, when the potatoes are room temperature, scrape the peels off and pile the cooked potatoes in a big bowl. Then, using both hands, squish the potatoes — and show no mercy!–in so that some turn to mush, and some just look like rough chunks. (You’ll just need to trust me on this one–keep at it and you’ll get the texture just right.) Add the diced celery, onions and pickles, then pour about 2 1/2-3 cups of the dressing on top and mix. Refrigerate overnight, if possible, then pour the remaining dressing on top and mix again just before serving.

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