Nonfiction

Island, acrylic on canvas, by Carmen Germain

Tuna Noodle Casserole

1974. Everything is new as I slip into the San Jose apartment where we’ll live after the wedding. Never having owned a space larger than my childhood bedroom, I walk around the empty rooms touching walls. My living room. My kitchen. My bathroom. My bedroom. 

 

Technically, I’ll be sharing everything with my husband and his German Shepherd. It’s not a great neighborhood. The windows rattle from the vibrations of the cars on the 880 freeway just over the fence. Jets roar from the airport, and trains crash together in the railroad yard. People park cars on the lawn, and the apartment next door reeks of pot. 

I don’t care. We will fill our apartment with my bedroom furniture, his parents’ green couch, my grandmother’s rocker, and my parents’ yellow Formica kitchen table and chairs. We will add the wedding and shower gifts: green bowls, silver pots, brown-and-white plates, blankets, towels, a big orange sign that says “Love,” and a “Fiesta red” crockpot in which I will cook tuna noodle casserole, following the recipe in the crockpot book.

The first time I make it, my husband doesn’t come home for dinner. I eat three helpings and give some to the dog. When the man does show up, I offer to reheat the casserole. He shakes his head and opens a beer. 

1981. I climb the stairs, holding the key to my new second-floor apartment a block away from my new job at the Pacifica Tribune. My place overlooks the pool, with a sliver of the Pacific Ocean visible from the bedroom. It smells like my predecessor’s cats. I’ve brought a suitcase, my guitar, and a sleeping bag. After six months at my parents’ house, I have my own place again. Kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom. White walls, beige curtains, green shag rug. This weekend, my parents will bring my boxes and my bed, the yellow table, Grandma’s rocking chair, my desk, and the giant multicolored beanbag I crocheted in the months after the divorce. As soon as my crockpot arrives, I will make tuna noodle casserole and eat it on my new blue plate.

 

1991. Dark spots on peach-colored walls mark where the old woman’s pictures hung. In San Jose again, traffic roaring beyond the fence. This is my house now, my living room, kitchen, den, three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Mine and my new husband’s. I paint the walls white and prune the roses in the back yard. I buy blue and green towels and bathmats. I bring my guitar, pictures, the yellow table, the rocking chair, my desk, and the beanbag couch. He brings a microwave, VCR, computer, and waterbed. Our wedding guests shower us with bowls, pans, dish towels, crystal wine glasses, and a new brown crockpot in which I will make my casserole. 

 

He says it’s too dry and bland. I add more mushroom soup, another can of tuna, and a drop of hot sauce. He washes it down with a cold pinot gris. 

2009. The beach house in Oregon smells of dog as I stumble in carrying my husband’s empty suitcase, my purse, and a grocery bag. My eyes are sticky from weeping. I left him at the nursing home. He thinks I’m divorcing him. No, no, I said. I just cant give you the care you need. He can’t remember my name or his own address, and now he needs a wheelchair. He won’t be coming back. Setting everything down, I walk through the rooms. My living room. My den. My kitchen. My four bedrooms. My two bathrooms. My microwave, VCR, computer, regular bed, guitars, rocking chair, desk. The yellow table rusts in the yard. The new dog, a Shepherd-Lab mix, destroyed the beanbag couch, but I’ve got real furniture now. 

 

The quiet hangs so thick I can grab it by the handful. I rattle the crockpot out of the jumble in the cabinet under the stove. I line up noodles, slivered almonds, tuna, peas, and mushroom soup, pull out the grease-stained recipe, and reach for the can opener I bought in 1974. 

 

Author's Comment

It’s surprising how so much in life can change while so many everyday things remain the same. This simple casserole has stayed with me through two marriages, seven homes, and four crockpots—even though I was the only one who liked it.
 
 
Tuna Noodle Casserole (adapted from the original cookbook that came with my first crockpot)

 

2 c. dry noodles
1 tsp. salt
½ c. finely chopped onion (less is okay)
1 8 oz. can peas with liquid
2 cans tuna
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
¾ can water
¼ c. slivered almonds
½ c. shredded Swiss cheese (optional)
Cook pasta. Mix in casserole dish with other ingredients. Bake in regular oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, covered, or in crockpot on high for 1-2 hours, low 3-4 hours.

 

 

Night at the Musée d’Orsay: Poems of Paris & Other Great European Cities
by Judy Wells
Night at the Musée d’Orsay: Poems of Paris & Other Great European Cities is a vibrant memoir of travel poems centering on Judy Wells’ appreciation of well-known European painters, architects, writers, and musicians associated with great European cities. Her poems explore artists in France, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Spain, from Van Gogh, Chagall, Matisse, and Balzac in Paris, to Velázquez and Goya in Madrid, and Gaudí in Barcelona. Wells interweaves her own personal life into her poems, which illustrate her creative responses to her travels at different times—from young adult in France to older woman confronting aging in Barcelona. Her poetry encompasses various poetic styles—lyric, narrative, and surprisingly for a book on European travels, haiku. Night at the Musée d’Orsay   If the curators knew I, a moth, was in the Van Gogh room they’d be shocked! But what do they expect— I love light and I’m particularly attracted to a painting of stars—globs of light reflected in a river.   I’ve sat on top of these yellow blobs and survived though I can feel the heat of these stars right through the paint. Light bulbs are cold by comparison though I’m not singed by Van Gogh. I’m transformed and waves of ecstasy wander through my wings.   I rest on Van Gogh’s stars all night. In the morning I flit to a cottage and settle on a deep blue iris. The tourists think I’m part of the painting. I laugh. I’m just a moth with grand taste. Available from Amazon and www.regentpress.net

Bios

Sue Fagalde Lick loves to cook and loves to eat. A former California journalist who escaped Silicon Valley, Lick lives with her dog, Annie, in the forest on the Oregon coast. Her books include Stories Grandma Never ToldChildless by Marriage, and the novel Up Beaver Creek. When not writing, she sings and plays piano, guitar, and mandolin.

A poet and painter, Carmen Germain is the author of three poetry collections and has paintings and drawings published in various literary/art journals. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

2 Comments

  1. Loved the story! I have also made almost the same tuna casserole for about 50 yrs. It has come with me throughout the various chapters of my life. Best wishes (and happy eating) for the future.

  2. A humor and human interest columnist with a new book, I am trying to determine if I fit in your lovely publication.

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