Sean of the South: 4th of July


Sean DietrichBy Sean Dietrich

We had a major potato salad crisis at our Fourth-of-July barbecue. Someone forgot to designate a family member to be the official “bringer of potato salad.” So everyone took it upon themselves to bring potato salad. We had 2,927 varieties.

There are few things more American than a full-scale potato salad war. When I saw all that Corningware and outdated olive drab Tupperware lined up on the buffet, all filled with concoctions of boiled potatoes and mayonnaise, it made me feel warm and patriotic inside.
I don’t have to remind you that it’s been a long year. A really long one. This backyard barbecue was long overdue.

Last year my family didn’t even do a Fourth-of-July cookout. There was a pandemic going on. Instead, my wife and I sat at home and played dominoes. We had no covered dishes. No potato salad. I think we ate cold leftover Chinese takeout and watched a “Laverne and Shirley” marathon. And I hate dominoes.

Thankfully, that sad year is miles behind us now.

Today, the aunts and uncles arrived by the dozens, all carrying 30-pound jugs of potato salad. My mother-in-law made several kilos of her special celery-pimento potato salad. Even a few of the little kids had prepared some potato salad, which tasted pretty good once you picked out the Lego pieces.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was manning the charcoals, flipping hamburgers, trying to remember everyone’s picky food orders. No two burgers at our get-together were the same. In this modern age everyone is on some kind of special diet.

We had the beautiful people who only wanted 99-percent lean hamburgers. We had “keto” and “paleo” people who wanted high cholesterol beef. And lastly, we had those who chose to eat tofu and grain burgers. “The tofu is colored with delicious beet juice,” reported one vegetarian.

Me? I went straight for the potato salad. My wife had prepared enough potato salad to ruin the rear suspension of our SUV. We transported her fare in five-gallon plastic buckets that required two able bodied men to lift each heavy container.

As I write this, Uncle Herschel is still lying flat on his sofa, icing his back, popping anti-inflammatory meds like peanut M&Ms.

But anyway, all the coolers were stocked with plenty of cold stuff. And our buffet table was adorned with all the traditional finery.

We had sliced heirloom tomatoes, backyard cucumbers, pantry pickles, peeled Chilton County peaches, fresh corn on the cob, Methodist deviled eggs, Baptist deviled eggs, and Church of God eggs—which are just deviled eggs with the Devil cast out of them.

There was homemade ice cream, and cheese casseroles galore, fresh brewed iced tea, homemade lemonade, blueberry cobbler, pound cake, and many other items that cause your cardiologist to disown you.

We sat at splintery wooden picnic tables with our full plates and bowed our heads for the blessing. And when someone asked the Lord to make us truly grateful for all the wonderful things we have all taken for granted in years past, I nearly cried.

Because I was realizing that this holiday felt so incredibly normal. So marvelously run-of-the-mill. So much like olden times. Today was the kind of laid back affair that wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal to me before the pandemic came along. But it is a big deal. In fact it’s the biggest of deals.

Last year was a bummer. There were few festivities, people were losing their jobs, Major League Baseball had been cancelled, and birthdays were celebrated in drive-by fashion. It seemed like everyone was arguing about something trivial, and most of my friends were communicating exclusively with memes.

But today, the heaviness of the previous year is becoming a memory, and life holds something new again. I can’t believe we’ve come this far.

Today we had a barbecue. Today we had each other. Today I listened to elderly people tell stories, and I watched humans do what they were designed to do. Be together.

I will likely be eating leftover potato salad until they write my obituary. But after the kind of great day I’ve had, my request is that they bury me with a bowl of the stuff.

I hope you have a happy Fourth.