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.

 

 

Sixty-Something and Flying Solo: A Retiree Sorts It Out in Iowa
by Marian Mathews Clark
  Sixty-Something and Flying Solo: A Retiree Sorts It Out in Iowa is an edgy, humorous memoir with serious ponderings. An Oregon transplant with no kids and no significant other, the author is someone about whom readers could say, “I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes, but if she can make it, I can, too.” Pieces such as 'What Not to Say at a Funeral' and 'Dusting and Other Insanities' provide a backdrop for monthly accounts of her fall into retirement’s abyss where she clings to her to-do lists while she alters her diet, her wardrobe and her vow to become more domestic. When she resurfaces a year later, she’s surprised at the landscape and what has saved her. Marian Mathews Clark grew up among loggers in Mist, Oregon (pop 50), then caught the Union Pacific to Iowa to attend Graceland College. In the ensuing years, she capped perfume bottles on Coty’s assembly line in New York, was stranded on Loveland Pass during a blizzard, ironed costumes for Polynesian dancers at the Calgary Stampede, tried to shear a sheep in Australia, earned an MFA in Fiction from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and with co-writer Patricia Stevens was a finalist at O’jai’s Film Festival for their feature script Timber. Bart Yates, author of The Distance Between Us, said of her memoir, “Clark is a sly writer; she lured me in with…broken garbage disposals and mysteriously disappearing walls; only later did I realize she was…writing about mortality, loss, joy, and love. Great stuff.” 2015 edition available from Amazon, Culicidae Press, and from your local independent bookseller.

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.

3 Comments

  1. Beautiful story. A lifetime viewed through the mushroom-soupy lens of tuna casserole and crockpots. Tuna casserole holds a special place in my heart, because it’s what my then-young husband made me the night my waters broke, and I went into labor with our eldest, who is now in his forties. My recipe has evolved over the years, but it remains my go-to comfort dish.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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