Best Potato Salad

A secret writer from a pragmatic blue-collar neighborhood, Marie White Small brings her skills as a florist, waitress, antiquarian bookseller, bookbinder, cook, and pie-baker to the page.


In high school, looking good and dressing to fit in consumed my friends and me in ways shutterstock_389592541we could only understand with the passage of time. Conformity, and being part of the right group was foolishly important to us. Along with that came beauty products: Dippity-do hair gel, fat hair curlers, bonnet-style hair dryers, along with teased and lacquer-sprayed do’s. I was obsessed with my hair—that, and finally getting an all-over bronze summertime tan.

My friends and I didn’t worry much about overexposure to the sun, although my mother was nearly obsessive about slathering suntan lotion on her four fair-skinned children during hot summer days. She coated our noses, foreheads, and arms. On lazy days at the lake, if she could have found a way to dip us in a vat of lotion, she would have. But, my mother’s lotion choices seemed to thwart my objective; I remained pasty white.

With my babysitting money I began buying my own tanning products—Bain de Soleil was my favorite, though expensive, it at least it helped redden my skin, which hopefully would become the tanned skin I desired.

The crowd I hung out with was into alternative solutions early on. We discovered, or so mayo-jarwe thought, mayonnaise—emulsified egg yolk, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, vinegar, and salt. No, not for potato salad—but for both a tanning lotion, and a hair conditioner.

Imagine, if you can, all of us back then on the deck—teenagers lying about in bathing suits, our hair gilded in mayonnaise, and then wrapped in aluminum foil—our skin gobbed with more mayonnaise, smeared on our arms and legs, backs and chests. Our reward was eye-rolling from our parents and fighting off flies and ants that drove us inside for showers and clean clothes. We learned quickly that mayonnaise should