It’s interesting what inspires us. My friend Randy just announced on social media that he has, at somewhat past the age of thirty, learned how to drive a four wheeler without any assistance. After my initial thought that riding them with somebody else is more fun in the first place, especially if the trail is bumpy, my more worldly sensibility kicked in and I realized that in many parts of the country (unlike in Alaska) there are people over the age of five who haven’t driven a four-wheeler (Randy later shared this was also the case where he was raised in Louisiana, and he was the holdout).

Bizarrely, this reminded me of my Grandmother. Not that she herself has ever driven a four-wheeler (in my living memory she never drove at all, although I’m told she did so). However, my own learning-to-drive story is too boring, and hers is fantastic. She used to tell it over the years, and as she grew older we had to remind her of certain parts of it, and she’d remember other things she’d never revealed before (although it was of course taken with a grain of salt as she aged). I’ll try to do the original story justice.

Grandma was the third of six (or so) children born to a relatively well-to-do farmer who owned a significant amount of land between Chesterfield and Cheraw in the South Carolina Upcountry, just a few miles from the North Carolina border. One day when she was about eleven (circa 1930) her Father instructed her to drive the car up to the home of so-and-such relative (she never remembered who or where) for some sort of errand that similarly always escaped her memory. Now, she’d never driven the car (a Model T) before, and she had next to no idea how, but when Father said go, well, you went.

As an aside, it is necessary to explain the Model T. When I was a child, my Dad got a wild hair and bought a 1914 Model T which he spent time restoring and driving around Anchorage. I drove it with my learner’s permit a few times before he sold it, and I remember it being terribly fussy. I can’t imagine the cars were much easier to drive when they weren’t 70 years old, and ours was fussy to crank (that’s how you started them, with a crank on the front, and Dad always had to crank it because he claimed the crank could wind back and take my arm off) and terribly easy to flip over. But our Tin Lizzy had a certain aesthetic appeal to her. Here she is on a bright Fall day (which in Anchorage means August) in, oh, I want to say 1996:

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Anyway, back to 1930. Grandma somehow managed to crank the thing, perch herself up in the drivers’ seat, and puttered off, at about fifteen miles per hour, in the direction of who knows where to deliver who knows what. When she got there, she remembers whichever relative it was being somewhat flabbergasted that it was her who showed up in the car, and asked her if she was ok to drive back to the farm. “If I could just find out how to get the damn thing turned around I’ll be ok.” she seems to remember saying, although it’s unlikely she cursed even mildly in front of a relative (they were all Baptist and she would likely have been sent into the woods to fetch a switch).

The relative helped her turn the car around, and now thinking she was “hot shit” (her own words, for even by 1930 it was rare for area residents to own an automobile), she decided to drive faster (20 miles an hour), and instead of going home she drove to a girlfriend’s house for a visit. She stayed too long, and remembering Father had told her to be back by so-and-such time, she drove very fast (25 miles an hour) to get back to the farm.

Now this particular part of South Carolina was (in paleolithic times far more ancient than even 1930) once a coastal region, and much of the terra firma remained sandy, which she remembers made for difficult driving. The house was surrounded by a hedge, of which both her parents were very proud. So Grandma comes barreling down the road in this Model T, and she doesn’t remember exactly how or why, but she somehow managed to lose control of the car and drove it right through the hedge, getting it stuck on top of the broken, brambly ruins of her parents’ prized lawn feature. I always used to laugh and laugh at the mental picture I would get of Grandma at my age, sitting on top of the hedge in the family car, with her crimson-faced Father sputtering.

Grandma loved potato salad, and many times the story was told over a helping of the stuff, which she loved to make, and loved even more to eat. She had her quirks over the years. At Easter, when she used leftover dyed eggs, the dye invariably seeped through cracks in the shells, which resulted in rainbow potato salad. Another time she hadn’t read labels clearly enough and realized she’d not only bought but used sweet pickles in the salad (which both she and I hated) although she still demanded I eat as much as possible because she refused to waste it. Yet another time my Mother and I wondered why it had turned out so salty, and she admitted she was out of garlic powder and thought garlic salt would be an acceptable substitute in the same quantity.

The recipe was nothing special, just your typical mayonnaise-and-egg heavy church picnic potato salad that is a monstrous cholesterol overload. Although I still enjoy her recipe (my Mother does somewhat better at striking a healthy/tasty balance) I’ve always enjoyed my own provencal style recipe, which I leave you with.

Scott’s Healthier-But-Still-Tasty No Mayo Potato Salad

Roughly six each red and yellow new potatoes, scrubbed but with skin still on

Wine Vinegar (whatever you have, red, white, or champagne)

Fresh Lemon Juice (optional, see below)

Grainy Mustard

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

Fresh Dill

Fresh Parsley

Fresh grated Parmesan

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they pierce easily with a fork without splitting. With the skins on, and while still hot, slice into 1/4″ inch coins and set in a large salad bowl. Quickly make vinaigrette (your taste determines how much to make) using roughly one third oil, one third vinegar, and one third mustard whisked or shaken together. If using fresh lemon juice, substitute for vinegar so that combined lemon juice and vinegar are no more than one third of total. Season vinaigrette with salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. Pour over potato coins while still warm (the vinaigrette will soak through and flavor the potatoes much easier when they’re still warm) and add chopped parsley and dill to taste (I like a lot of dill). Stir until desired consistency is reached (just a few light tosses makes for best visual appeal). I’ve experimented with adding chopped pickles and hard boiled eggs but leaving them out doesn’t hurt, and cuts down on salt and cholesterol. Serve immediately.

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