My parents got divorced when I was 4, sparking both chapters of my childhood at the same time.
Although my parents were married for a handful of years, they are polar opposites. Everything about my dad’s house was completely different from my mom’s. There were different rules, different decorations, different personalities, different sets of clothes and, most of all, different meals for dinner.
I swear there’s nothing my mom can’t create in a kitchen. We ate chicken alfredo, tuna casserole, chicken cordon bleu, taco soup, scalloped potatoes, roast beef. At her house I ate every meat, vegetable and carb-loaded side dish combination known to man. My dad had a different palate, fixated on anything seafood. Red snapper, squid stir-fry, halibut, salmon, seaweed and rice, pounds and pounds of jasmine rice with Kikkoman brand soy sauce.
Despite all the differences, one particular recipe was made in both kitchens: cucumber-tomato salad.
Cucumber-tomato salad was a staple at any barbecue or family event where the paternal and maternal sides of my family would be together. It was the one thing in the room that everyone was comfortable with. This beloved side dish was there at my high school graduation party, my brother’s 18th birthday and the family reunion where my Uncle Scott flew in from Texas and caught everyone by surprise.
Cucumber-tomato salad was always served cold (as if the idea of hot mayonnaise isn’t enough of a giveaway). In my mom’s kitchen, it was always made in “the green bowl.” The pistachio-colored bowl came from an old Fiestaware set owned by my mother’s grandmother, the one great-grandmother I never got to meet. It was the most prized possession in our house. My brother and I were to protect the bowl at all costs, and we did. I could only imagine treating my first-born child with so much caution.
I remember stirring all the ingredients together in the green bowl with a chipped wooden spoon, then struggling to place an airtight layer of Saran wrap over top on more than one occasion.
Cucumber-tomato salad at my dad’s wasn’t a ritual. There wasn’t much of a protocol, and I took more part in assembly. I was to grab whatever bowl I could find, and sometimes it ended up being way too big. My dad trusted us with knives from an early age, a reckless trust considering I watched him slice off his fingertip more than once. He would ask me to make the whole cucumber-tomato salad by myself, from slice to stir. I would wash the produce, cut the quarters and sprinkle the dill like Emeril Lagasse.
No matter what, cucumber-tomato salad always turned out the same.
And I needed that.
Cucumber-tomato salad wasn’t exclusive to my parents. My grandparents made it, too. It was there for dinner at Mutti and Papa’s when I drove across town just to catch up. It was there on nights we needed something to go with our cheeseburgers. It was even there for Thanksgiving dinner, on both tables, at both of my houses.
Cucumber-tomato salad is there for me even now, especially on my toughest adult days. A few weeks ago, I received a devastating test grade in chemistry. I felt like a little girl. I just wanted my mom. I pondered giving up on my degree, like I tend to do with any small defeat. Walking to my car in the biting cold, I called my mom for the recipe.
I cried through Rosauers on my hunt for the vegetables and mayonnaise. Best Foods mayonnaise. The only brand worthy enough. After avoiding eye contact with the checker and climbing up to my third-floor apartment, I made it. Slice and stir. With a smile in my stomach, I started on the next chemistry lesson. Confused but comforted, I ate the entirety of the cucumber-tomato salad. I made it in an orange bowl, but it tasted just the same.
And I needed that.
Madison Sand is a student at Spokane Falls Community College.
Cucumber Tomato Salad
3 large cucumbers
3 to 4 Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons dill (fresh, if possible)
Peel cucumbers and cut them into fourths lengthwise. Cut out the strips of seeds and throw those away. Cut each seedless cucumber section into pieces about 1/4-inch thick. Throw in a medium-size bowl. Cut up each Roma tomato into fourths lengthwise, like the cucumbers. Cut up the tomato fourths into 1/4-inch slices. Add all tomatoes into the bowl. Add the salt, pepper, mayonnaise, and dill to the bowl and stir well. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. Best if served as cold as possible.