Tuna is more than a fish; it's a childhood memory

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

Tuna is a fish. I know it’s accurate to say tuna sandwich but when you grow up saying tuna-fish sandwich, that’s a hard habit to shake.

Some folks say tuna salad sandwich. Back in my youth when pharmacies all feature lunch counters with bar stools, I ordered a tuna salad sandwich at Wooldridge Drugs in Vine Grove.

It came with a piece of lettuce under the bread. That’s not how Mom made a tuna-fish sandwich, so my preteen brain equated tuna salad with the piece of lettuce. After all, the main element of a salad is lettuce. Get it?

Despite that little bit of linguistic confusion, a tuna sandwich qualifies as comfort food. Enjoying it can be a lunch-time treat that calms the nerves and makes me smile.

Growing up, lunch typically featured some kind of sandwich. Usually, that meant a piece of sandwich meat placed between two slices of store-bought white bread. Maybe a little mustard if you were so inclined.

Grab a cookie or a few chips and a sandwich was the ideal midday meal. It required very little effort or thought and did the trick.

We could storm in from playing outside, describe the hunger that developed in the four hours since breakfast, grab something to eat and be back outside and out of Mom’s hair in minutes.

Peanut butter and jelly was about as complicated as lunch ever became.

But on some rare days, Mom went all out and made tuna-fish sandwiches.

By the time I was 10, I could make most any lunchtime sandwich. But these tuna creations were far beyond my abilities.

First, you have to manage a can opener. Tuna comes in little tins that require a tool to penetrate.

The meat inside requires additional preparation. Although I watched her dozens of times, I never figured out how she knew just how much mayo (or more likely Miracle Whip) to add. But it always seemed perfect, which in my estimation means it has a smooth, easily spreadable consistence but no hint of the white dressing visible.

She also would slice up a sweet pickle or two. No relish here. I know that’s an acceptable short cut but I still prefer finding tiny chunks of pickle in the midst.

Now some folks go even further. Their tuna-fish sandwiches may feature slivers of boiled egg whites (which I love) or minute slices of carrot (which I can do without.)

But the point is, tuna-fish sandwiches are much more labor intensive than bologna.

And somehow in my mind that extra labor equates to love.

Over the years, I had come to believe that tuna-fish sandwiches were a reward. Somehow, Mom went to extra effort because she wanted us to know she loved us. We didn’t even have to be extra good. It was an unmerited reward.

So you see, a tuna-fish sandwich makes me feel loved.

Late in her life during a family discussion of childhood memories, I shared this observation with Mom.

That was a mistake.

Apparently, the reason tuna was rare had nothing to do with maternal affection. Also, there was no connection between good behavior and this lunchtime treat.

Tuna was a rare choice for a simple reason, she explained. “Your Dad didn’t like fish.”

She only served it when he wasn’t home. I never had noticed that connection.

Suddenly, a childhood legend was destroyed. A memory bubble burst. My reality skewed.

The moral to this story: Things are not always what they seem.

But if you spot me at Subway with a silly smile and look of contentment, you can bet that I’m not eating roast beef.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.