Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Tuna Story

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I have not written this week’s blog, so I am sitting in front of the computer screen staring at the flashing cursor, waiting, hoping for inspiration. I let my hands rest on my lap and take a deep breath. I’m aware of the chair beneath me, holding my weight. The door to the balcony is open and suddenly I hear a small child giggling in absolute delight. She is clearly having a wonderful time. I find myself smiling. In fact, it is practically impossible not to smile just hearing the peals of laughter. Walking to the balcony door I can see a little girl, about four years old, being pushed by an older child on the swings in the small park outside my apartment. With dark shining hair, dressed in a bright pink t-shirt and shorts she squeals and giggles each time the swing sends her high into the air, sticking her short brown legs and small white sneakers up toward the sky. I stand and watch for a few minutes, taking pleasure in her unbridled delight.

When was the last time you laughed, really laughed a long belly laugh that made your eyes water? Just thinking about it reminds me of my mother’s mother, Nana- how infrequently she laughed and how I loved it when she did.

Nana was a serious woman. Eldest of a large family with an abusive alcoholic father she’d had to leave school at fifteen to get a job and support her mother and siblings. She had four brothers who were always getting into trouble and one sister who was fifteen years younger than her- my Aunt Nonie. Nana had a reputation for being fierce and at times, downright harsh. She had very definite ideas about duty, obligation and what moral people did. She worked hard and didn’t appear to have very much fun. She was a formidable woman.

But she loved me. To me she was often soft and loving. I delighted in the rare occasions when I saw her laugh, really laugh. And nothing made her laugh harder than telling The Tuna Story.

Apparently, Aunt Nonie believed she had an allergy to tuna fish. Nana, as much as she doted on her younger sister, thought this was nonsense. She maintained that Nonie just didn't like tuna and so claimed to have an allergy. The bickering about tuna went on well into adulthood in the way that these things do in families. Nana married my grandfather and they had my mother. Nonie eventually married, moved away and had a family. And still the disagreement about tuna fish was maintained. Nana never really argued about things in so many words, but when someone said or did something she didn't like her disapproval was plain. She’d make a soft snorting noise, purse her thin lips and frown. Nana could frown with her whole body. You could feel that frown even if her back was toward you, could feel it in the set of her shoulders and the stiffness of her stocky, fully-corseted body. All four feet eleven inches of her was involved when disapproval was being communicated. As I said, Nana was a serious woman.

Aunt Nonie frequently visited Fort Erie, the town where they’d grown up and where my grandparents continued to live. On one of those visits she and my grandmother went grocery shopping. I don’t know what got into Nana (a woman not normally susceptible to spontaneous outbursts) but as they walked down the aisle of canned goods, she suddenly grabbed a tin of tuna and whirling around, shoved it under Nonie’s nose and yelled, “There! You think you’ll break out in a rash if you smell the tin?”

Except it wasn’t Nonie. Nana had not noticed that her sister had dropped back a little and another woman- some hapless shopper- had moved up the aisle only to have this tiny grey-haired figure shove a tin of tuna at her and scream something about a rash. The woman froze in terror, and Nana, shocked and sputtering, tried to explain. But she couldn’t, because she and Nonie started laughing. The harder she tried to explain the harder they both laughed until the two of them were doubled over in spasms, tears streaming down their faces while the woman made her escape.

When my grandmother told this story- often after my Aunt Nonie’s prompted her with, “Tell them all about how you threatened some poor woman with a tin of tuna,” we would all start laughing. And Nana would laugh that deep belly laugh as she told the story, her eyes filling with tears and her face getting dark pink. I laughed with her, for her, delighted to see that she could have a moments of real silliness- in the grocery store and in the retelling of the story.

There are a lot of stories about my grandmother that would not make anyone laugh. But this is how I like to remember her- sitting at her kitchen table telling the tuna story, laughing and wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron. Like the sound of the little girl’s giggling in the park, just thinking about it, makes me smile.


  1. What a great memory. Those great "accidental" happenings are always the most humorous. I have recently realized there is not enough "fun" in my life and set out on a quest for a hula hoop. Time was short and there were none to be found. Off I went to a seminar and on day two one of the participants showed up with hula hoops for us to have fun on during the break. Yahoo! So today I want to attact that side splitting, tearful, pants wetting laughter!

  2. Oriah,
    Your story reminded me that I need more humor and laughter in my life. It also brought back memories of my own grandmother and great grandmother, and the significance they had in my life.
    However, what struck me the most about this week and last weeks' comments were how well you tell a story.
    It was such an enjoyable and interesting way to start my day.

  3. Brenda, thank you. I love stories and often feel that a good story stays with me for a long time- much longer than information or even articulated insights. The stories are what we remember. Oriah

  4. Oriah,

    This may sound strange, but I feel that your Nana would be very proud of you that the girl she loved so dearly has grown to be a remarkable woman. Just as powerful and loving and hard-working as she was and just as strong. She might have other worries as those were different times, but what you had to face these last months was hard to bear just as well and you did good, real good. She would give you a pat on the back, so should you on your own shoulder. You did well. You nearly broke in half, but you survived, you can see the joy in this beautiful little girl and I pray for you that from now on your life is filled with more giggles than hardships.
    Thanks so much for this beautiful story. It reminded me to have a go at the swings soon and giggle in delight, too.

    FairyBearyBigHugs, Sabine xox :-)

  5. Thank you Oriah :)

    Im currently reading The Dance, and Im very much enjoying it, Your thought provoking writing really make sme feel intouch with myself.
    I especially loved the chapter 'hitting the wall' It really tpuched me deeply, and made me realize that there has been a time not that long ago when I hit the wall at fall pelt, and it completly ripped me apart, but it caused me to change my life-style and to actually see that something wasn't good for me and that if I wanted to be truly myself and happy that I was going to need to change how things were.
    And I did, I and I'm so much happier.....sometimes we need to hit that wall.

    Your post this week made me smile, its good to be around the people that makes us laugh aswell.....I find so much pleasure in a simple laugh. The world would be a better place if more people laughed :)

    There is much to love.
    Thank you so much
    Phoebe, England

  6. Stories are the fabric that hold all of us together across time and space and culture.

    I wish we had more ways to teach each other the skills of weaving stories so we could touch each other's lives at the deeper level stories reach.

    Laughing (and crying) is so freeing for the soul, especially when shared among many.

  7. Great story Oriah. Thanks so much for making me really laugh this morning. It's the way you tell it, you know!

  8. Now you got me thinking of my wonderful, beautiful grandma whom I sprayed a can of coke on when I was 7 and we started to laugh. We couldn't stop laughing watching the coke run down her dress!!! lol!!! She looked soooooo funny!!

    Thank you for reminding me of my special time with my beloved grandma.


  9. Thank you for making me laugh at my dull office desk half around the world from you, Oriah and IB!
    Be blessed -
    Nora from Germany

  10. Good afternoon,
    I am just home after watching some skits the teenagers in our youth groups put on. It was a nice time and yes there was some laughter. I have a few moments before my next set of errands and homework so I read your blog. As always, thank you for your words. Just being able to sit and be present and have the beauty of hearing a child's joy in life come to your ears - what a treasure. I would like to put more of those moments on my to do list.
    My laughter often surprises people because I also am serious person. I would like to share a laughter moment that taught me a lot. I love to wake up in the morning, it is a new adventure for me and I most always am eager to share it. But this one morning was great. I was having a dream and told a silly joke (like a knock knock joke) in the dream. To me it was so funny that I was telling a silly joke in a dream that I came fully awake sat up laughing my head off.
    Truly good therapy.

    Wishing many moments of true joy for you Oriah.

  11. Gennefer, what a great way to wake up!

  12. What a great story had me laughing reading.

  13. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story! The love just shines through :).