I observe my hands, chapped from playing in the water puddles a few days ago when it rained. "It's too cold to play in the water, your hands will get chapped." And at night, before I go to sleep and the chubby skin between my thumb and fingers is red and scaly, ('tomorrow it will bleed' she says) she is shaking her marama covered head in frustration while smearing thick petroleum jelly mom bought in the commissary on my hands. After this, old socks with holes cut in them 'for the fingers to breathe' get pulled over the wounds. Clucking and wrestling the sock onto my greasy paw hand with her forever cold fingers, she makes me cry. She was not a gentle woman. Later, in the dark, I lie in my little bed translating her loud whisper as she moves around empty dishes while recounting my digressions to my grandfather, who's skin smell I love.
The sun creeps closer to the steps as the window panes get fogged up in the kitchen. I watch the ants on the ground, magically appear and disappear underneath the gravel as they march straight for the house. Good German ants. My stomach grumbles. I am waiting for my treat. Baka will bring me a boiled potato because today she is making potato salad. It's a recipe that uses vinegar, one that she learned since coming here from Yugoland, via the camps in Poland. But that was many years before I was born.
Never allowed to be outside by myself except very early when every one has gone off to work or is in the fields with the animals, she sits me here 'to keep out of trouble'. I am her favorite and I know this because I am the only one here, my cousins and brother wailing in the background. I peek at my raw, reddish hands. The potato will burn my fingers a little bit and I will have to blow hard hard to cool it down. She will bring it to me with a flower bud opening on the top that she makes with a swift knife trick which releases the heat. Once in my hand the steam dances into my nostrils as I peel away the thin, brown skin, which falls to the concrete under my feet like soft butterfly wings. She comes back out and drops a piece of sweet butter onto the yellow mound in my hands. My grandmother and her flowered apron watch me eat. We are both happiest at this moment.
Baka's German Potato Salad
8-10 small yellow-fleshed potatoes, washed well
diced slab bacon
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon mild vinegar
some vegetable oil
fresh parsley leaves chopped
In a large saucepan combine potatoes with salted water to cover by 1 inch and simmer until just tender, a (20 minutes)
While potatoes are cooking, in a medium heavy skillet sauté bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until browned and crisp.
Take out the bacon and keep the drippings for the onions.
Saute the onions in bacon drippings till translucent
Add sugar, vinegar and oil and mix together in bowl
Drain potatoes. Put a fork into potato or take into hand and peel while still warm.
Add sauteed onions and bacon with drippings to warm potatoes and then pour the oil/vinegar/sugar mixture over that.
Season with salt and pepper.
Serve potato salad warm or at room temperature, garnished with parsley and sliced boiled egg.
There are variations, of course. More sugar, some people like that. I once had a husband who put thinly sliced cucumbers into the mixture to make the salad more crunchy and sometimes, mustard or beef broth is added for flavor. Experiment. It's much more fun that way.