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My bias on this matter is utter as it is cruel. I am a self-professed unrelenting, self-satisfied bigot. The subject? Potato salad.
Why so unashamed? So conceited? Fellow pilgrims, because I am of the true faith. I have been to the promised land of potato salad. I have seen the light and known its heaven. I was there in the time and ancient age when potato salad was holy.
The time was mid-50s, about the epoch when Chevrolets became Chevies, when all barns were red, when television was still precarious. When haying meant 10,000 bales and then Round 2 began. When potato salad was more than a dish at the picnic table.
I remember when potato salad meant salvation. Potato salad was the resurrection that mattered. Potato salad was the Jesus Christ in a cellar-cold bowl in the middle of the table. I’m talking hay time. Ruthless hay time. Endless hay time. Hay as harvested by crude devices in combination with human back bones. Haying done by mowers, rakes and balers to the gain of thousands and thousands, then more thousands.
The twine used was in light-year lengths, and God bless Saint John Appleby who reportedly invented the twine knotter, as made the baler possible; the only true miracle invention from the township perspective, with apologies to Drs. Salk and Jenner and Professor Einstein.
There's nothing more magical than a machine that can take two pieces of twine to make the knot that holds a bale together. That baler was the ascension to heaven of a world otherwise devoted to a long handled fork.
Haying – the chore – affected the speed of light. Physics as might be recalled, states as we approach light speed time slows. We learned too late, not to be attempted on a bicycle.
Hay time approached light speed, because when haying began in June and ended sometime in August is but three months. But when hay time reaches terminal velocity, relativistic physics takes over.
Those same three months of thousands and thousands of bales is multiple years long, decades long. The universe is hay-warped, a cosmos composed of hay and hay-making and nothing else. Phantom barns rose on the horizon to be filled to their rafters, and the air in those mows was rare as Everest.
Haying was lethal, absolutely lethal. Haying was wholly toxic. Haying killed the innocent, killed the unhardened. Few survive. But some rare gods took pity and sent their deliverance to the loyal servants of hay, that they might possibly survive.
This resurrection came in the form of an honest, genuine frontier kind of salad made of last-cellar potatoes, tentatively peeled, soaked in cold water, earnestly boiled. There was a smell to the last of the bin, but it didn’t matter as they were glorified by mayonnaise.
That salad came to the supper and a day haying dissolved. By that crude salad were souls restored. No mead hall ever offered the equal salvation than a farm table equipped with potato salad, ample potato salad.
The true potato salad was stinkingly rich with mayo, those last of the bin potatoes, add eggs in generous amounts, add celery, add olives, pickles, olive juice, holy unyawn, holy garlic. Served in a heaping cubic-yard quantity, cellar-cold, pepper in unashamed amounts, salt likewise. All this ordained by the gospel of the July haymow.
Haying wasn’t merely lethal, it was consummately lethal. Haying killed all who attempted, same as Everest without oxygen. Township cemeteries might have filled with the fallen were it not for the immaculate deliverance of that voluminous bowl of cold potato salad.
By that salad, applied in its unabashed volume, the hay folk survived the hay wars. The downside of survival meant another day, week or month of haying. A rare thing when country kids rejoice at hearing the school bell ring, but we did. Thank God for algebra.
Justin Isherwood of Plover is a fifth-generation farmer and the author of Book of Plough,Christmas Stones & The Story Chair, and Farm Kid: Tales of Growing Up in Rural America.
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