(Blogger’s note: my sincerest apologies for not having written for almost two weeks. Apparently I have the weakest immune system in my family, because I’m now on day 11 of a cold that everyone else — including my son with the autoimmune disorder! — got over in three. Very aggravating. Well, I have my energy back, not to mention my breathing passages, so I’m back. And I’m renewing my resolve to write something every day for you — the few, the proud, the readers of this blog. You’re the best; I therefore owe you the best. Now, if you’ll join me in the kitchen … for part one of a 2-part reminiscence.)
Yesterday, I did something I’ve only done twice in the past year, and which I enjoyed greatly — both the process and the results (especially the results). I made a big ol’ bowl of tuna salad.
Seems a bit prosaic, you may be saying. What’s the big deal about tuna salad — that add-on to green salads, fallback protein for the diet-conscious, staple of poor college students and lazy single males? You got a special recipe for it or something, Anselmo?
Well, yes, I do — okay, I don’t know that it’s all that special, but I like it. (In fact, I’ll include it at the end of this post, in case you’re interested.) But more to the point, whipping it up brought back a lot of special memories.
Because the recipe was my mom’s recipe.
Longtime readers of this space may recall that my mother, Sue Anselmo, died almost a year ago — November 29, to be precise. The first few months after her death were frantic, as I had to handle all the funeral arrangements, the disposition of her assets, the cancellation of her various memberships, and occasionally the badly-organized belligerent who sat on one of Mom’s checks for three months and then tried to cash it after I’d closed the bank account. (No lie; this actually happened.) All without the benefit of a will, alas. I had to do this while also caring for a son whom we also thought might be dying (though mercifully, that turned out not to be the case). And dealing with my father, whose only concern regarding the death of his wife of 15 years (and ex-wife of 29) was to badger his eldest son, demanding the return of a safe-deposit box key whose location had not yet been discovered — a stance that, whether he knows it or not, burned his last bridge with said offspring.
So yeah, kind of a hectic time. At least it’s kind of amusing in retrospect; certainly the phrase “never a dull moment” applies. But in the midst of it, there was really little opportunity to grieve.
Which sounds worse than it is. See, we’d known it was coming, as Mom’s health had been problematic for years. In fact, it was in the midst of her doctors trying to decide whether they should first deal with:
- her five mostly occluded (60% to 90%) coronary arteries),
- her enlarged liver and spleen (twice their normal size), or
- the potential brain aneurysm,
that they discovered the inoperable liver cancer. (All this was in addition to her diabetes, two artificial hips, one artificial knee, a 2003 stroke, and the ongoing side effects from a bout with Guillian-Barre back in ’73.) She knew she wasn’t going to live for more than another year, so between that and Sean’s Leigh’s disease diagnosis, we got plenty of chances to mourn before the massive stroke that served as a coda to her long and distinguished medical history. We were ready — and, I suspect, so was she.
But as Mark Twain once reportedly said, when a friend dies, it’s like when your house burns down; it’s only years later that you see the full extent of your loss. And since I became an adult (legally, anyway), my mom had become more than just a mom. She’d become a friend as well.
Some of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had were with my mother, as we wended through every topic you could imagine — politics, sports, religion, medicine, books, movies, marriage, children/grandchildren and even the weather and the price of cattle feed in Arbuckle — for hours at a stretch. When Nina or I needed free medical advice, Mom (a nurse and nurse administrator for 40 years) was where we turned first. When our kids got too big for their britches, Mom reminded me of how she’d handled it when I’d been rebellious. When Nina and I actually separated for a (thankfully) brief time, she acted as a needed go-between and sounding board for both of us. And when Sean was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Oakland, Mom was not only the first relative on the scene, she stayed with Nina and Sean the entire first night so I could get Charlotte back to her own bed and a good night’s sleep. This was a 66-year-old woman who already knew she was dying of cancer!
This is not to say our relationship was perfect — there were a lot of areas where we clashed. We somehow ended up on near-opposite ends of the political spectrum, and each of us would point up incongruities in the other’s positions (I once told her, half-jokingly, that she could no longer call herself a feminist after voting twice for the womanizing Bill Clinton). As I traveled from the liberal Episcopalianism of my childhood to mainline Pentecostalism and then to my current label-less outside-the-camp faith in Christ, it caused a few conflicts. She was never into sports like I was, and she had plenty of interests (murder mysteries, knitting) that I didn’t share.
But it was she who first nurtured my love for books, including the mind-expanding properties of science fiction. She taught me to cook, and to appreciate and enjoy the process of making a tasty and nutritious meal. Long before I ever dreamed of writing a novel or creating a blog, she saw that I had a way with words and characters, and encouraged me to develop them. And when she first met Nina — then my girlfriend for less than a week — she looked beyond the slight figure and the gait problems and said “I wouldn’t mind having her for a daughter-in-law!” (And I hadn’t broached the subject.)
When someone like that departs your life, you miss them. And you keep on missing them, sometimes at the oddest moments.
I’ll be reading William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (as I was earlier today), run into a hilarious passage and want to share it with her … and can’t. I’ll be calling catalog companies to take her name off their rolls — still a weekly event; seems she was on nearly every mailing list in the Western world — and stop to flip through them, recalling the wonderfully imaginative gifts she came up with. Or … or I’ll make tuna salad, take a bite, and be transported back to her kitchen table, when I realized no one made it like she did and asked her for the recipe.
When someone like that departs your life, you do miss them … but your memories of them are the gift that keeps on giving, in ways you can’t calculate or anticipate. I suspect I’ll be living off them — and off some very good tuna salad — for the rest of my life.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
And as promised, here’s Sue Anselmo’s (and now, my) recipe for tuna salad:
- 6 -oz. cans chunk light tuna (in water, preferably)
- 1 bunch (8-12) green onions
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup sweet pickle relish (this is what really makes the dish)
Drain tuna, and chop onions fine. Dump all ingredients into bowl and mix well. Refrigerate overnight for best results (to let the flavors meld). Serve in sandwiches with American cheese, on crackers, or even as chip dip if you’re adventurous.