A couple of weeks ago, my sister Jeanne sent a text to our sister Susan and me:
“I think I’m going to make tuna fish and peas on toast for dinner. Anybody want to come over?”
That dish hasn’t been on my plate for way longer than I care to admit. OK, decades. Lots of them. But as is the case with those who have shared a childhood and thus, a lexicon, I immediately wrote back: “What a wonderful offer! Alas, though, I’m going to settle in with some chicken fricassee.”
Susan’s text popped up a nanosecond later: “Had it last night. Chopped meat patties smothered in onions sounds good to me.”
These dishes — along with favorite spaghetti and favorite-meat sandwiches — were mainstays in the Barker family’s culinary repertoire. (Chicken fricassee, to clarify, was a can of chicken a’la king served over Minute Rice).
We didn’t give any more thought to what we called these meals than we did to the more mundanely named meat loaf, or to chicken potpie — Swanson’s frozen, please, and only served when our dad (whose disdain for poultry I just figured every male shared) wasn’t home for dinner. Excuse me; I mean supper.
Flash forward several decades to Friday night. My day at work had been long and not particularly cheerful; thus, I wasn’t in the best of humor. I got home, planning to have dinner with my son Charlie. He was at the gym, which I quite understood. But couldn’t he have gone earlier, so he wouldn’t be getting home at 8:30? Like I said, I was kind of crabby, and we (who never argue) had the slightest tiff when he was on his way home.
But just as he pulled up, six words popped into my head, six words that cheered us both up and, I daresay, rescued the evening. The words?
TUNA FISH AND PEAS ON TOAST. (Or five words, if you make tunafish one word).
“That sounds great!” he said when I made my announcement.
I resisted the temptation to add tomatoes or spices or mushrooms; it had to be authentic. I even made sure the toast burned just a little, so it would even smell like a Barker childhood meal. Charlie loved it — the taste, the tradition, the wave of heady nostalgia that rescued his “mother” (the quote marks are his) from the doldrums and connected us in yet another way.
So for love expressed in familial vernacular; for favorite spaghetti, for favorite-meat sandwiches and, of course, for tuna fish and peas on toast…The Grateful Runner says thank you.