Full Circle: The Tuna Tragedy
The story of the dinner that died
By Maury Z. Levy

My mother was a martyr. Her job, or so she thought, was to make everyone else’s life easier but hers. As far as we knew, she never ate and she never slept.

Preparing dinner was a big part of her day. Even when she wasn’t cooking it, she made a show of it.

On tuna night (only Chicken of the Sea solid white albacore), it was always about the tiny touches. My father’s tuna was set in the hollow of a very large tomato with scalloped edges that only a career caterer could do. Sculptured radishes would encircle it like British bobbies standing at full attention. The single radish atop the tuna was the candle on the cake.

It took her almost an hour to make it perfect. That’s what she did. That was her job. She never worked outside of the house. Back then, doing housework and raising kids was her fulltime job.

At 5:55, when she reached into the fridge to put her finished work on the dinner table because my hungry father would be home any minute now, the plate hit a Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda bottle and her creation went splat, all over the floor. Not unlike the Hindenburg.

“Dammit,” she said.

I remember that moment all these years later. I don’t think I ever felt more sorry for her.

She looked like she wanted to cry. But she swept the tuna and tomato off the floor and quickly reached into the fridge to get some cold chicken. She chopped it up quickly, added some pieces of celery, three radishes and a lot of Hellman’s and mixed it all quickly to make chicken salad. It wasn’t his favorite, but it would have to do.

She took so much pride in everything she did, my mother. She had no shortcuts. There was no clothes dryer. Only rich people had those. The wet clothes were hung, one wooden clothespin at a time on the ragged rope that stretched through the tiny green patch of a yard outback.

There was no dishwasher. That job was done with the help of towels and rags and strong, weathered hands.

She baked cakes and cookies and pies. Cooked dinner every night. No microwave, just a beat-up old stove that came with the house. We had no upgrades. We could barely afford the house as is.

Of course, ours was 1 or two levels above the house she grew up in – a house without indoor plumbing, just a well-worn outhouse. Clothes washing was done on a scrub board. And baths were taken on Saturday nights with buckets and buckets of water that filled a tiny tub.

At our new home, in the ’50s, my mother had different chores every day: Sunday was laundry day. At one time there were 6 of us in that house. She would buy the biggest box of Tide the detergent aisle could handle. Monday was ironing. Why she ironed my father’s boxer shorts, I’ll never know. Tuesday she cleaned the upstairs – 3 bedrooms and a bath. Wednesday the downstairs. Thursday she swept the rugs and suctioned the drapes. She got her hair done on Friday. And on Saturday, she prepared a family feast for visiting relatives who always seemed to stop by.

She had a similar schedule for dinner preparation. Monday was tuna. Tuesday was boiled chicken and soup. Wednesday, spaghetti and meatballs. Thursday, liver. I hated liver. Friday was brisket, straight from Moe the butcher. Saturday was deli, and Sunday was rib steak.

But this Monday of all Mondays was tuna on the floor day. But it was her last tomato, having died a hero’s death, so she would have to go with impromptu chicken salad. She put it down in front of my father and waited for the explosion.

“Rosie,” my father said, “this chicken salad is really good. We should have it more often.”

She was not a religious woman, my mother, but on this loathsome night, she just looked toward the heavens and whispered, “Thank you.”

August 2022
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