Our Lady Help of Christians (O.L.H.C) – September 5, 1982
Tuna – a fish canned and consumed by humans in a sandwich or salad.
Tuna – the temporary nickname my best friend gave me in elementary school.
We met at the yellow-tile drinking fountain outside the school restrooms, at the end of recess, on the first day of first grade. She was on the right faucet, I was on the left. We looked at each other while drinking, stopped, then stood up, “Would you like to be my friend?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. That was all it took, we’ve been the best of friends for over thirty-five years, and actually all those years of friendship have evolved into an amazing sisterhood. Throughout our grade school years, Amelia aka Melis and I were inseparable. At lunch time, we sat at our corresponding grade lunch tables. Boys sat on their own table and the girls sat in theirs. Of course, there was the cool kids’ lunch table and then there was us. Our table had about ten girls, we all got along and we always welcomed anyone to sit with us if there was room. Melis and I would alternate who sat on the edge of the row, I sat there one week and the following week, it was her turn. Come to think of it, she still likes to sit on the edge of the aisle when we go to the movies or the theater. Back in our school days, we all had metal lunch pails with a thermos with the likes of popular 1980’s characters like My Little Pony, Rainbow Bright, or Care Bears. Each thermos held different drinks, Kool-Aid, homemade lemonade or other aguas frescas our mostly Latina moms made and packed for us. Unbeknownst to me at that time, I was already experimenting with being a mixologist. Sometimes our table would mix a little bit of each drink into one cup. Then we would all take a sip. I was always the first to volunteer to drink the concoction, sometimes we had some hits but we had a lot more misses.
Melis’ lunch sometimes consisted of a piece of milanesa that she and her mom called cookie chicken. Her mom would pack an extra piece for me because Melis told her how much I loved it. It was a bread crumb seasoned piece of beef, it wasn’t chicken but that’s what we called it.
I loved tuna sandwiches for lunch. I wouldn’t eat them every day but when I did, it was always special. My mom mixed the tuna with chopped pickles and just the right amount of mayonnaise so it wouldn’t cause the sandwich bread to get soggy. She would spread the tuna on two slices of white Wonder bread because that’s what we ate before realizing that wheat bread was healthier. My mom would make the tuna sandwich fit into a plastic bag, I would also get a piece of fruit, usually a red delicious apple, and a drink in my metal Cabbage Patch Kids lunch pail alongside a bag of chips. It wasn’t just any bag of chips on tuna sandwich day, it had to be a bag of Cheetos. Why? Well because they would become a part of my sandwich.
After I settled in, on my favorite spot at the edge of the lunch table, I opened my lunch box, and got the tuna sandwich out of the plastic sandwich bag. I lifted off the top slice, opened the bag of Cheetos, and evenly lined up four pieces right in the middle of the sandwich. I put the top slice back on the sandwich and admired the centered bulk that had formed. It took one bite before I felt and heard that yummy cheesy crunch that somehow improved the taste of my tuna sandwich. I don’t know what it was about that combination of tuna and Cheetos but I loved it so much. I remember I would close my eyes and enjoy the flavors, while my friends watched; grossed out. This was a regular occurrence throughout those eight years we were in Catholic school. I don’t remember exactly when Melis started calling me Tuna, but I do remember enjoying it. The nickname took a life of its own and pretty soon, even my sister called me Tuna.
“Melis is on the phone.”
“Why are you calling me, Tuna.”
“Because that’s what she calls you.”
The nickname lasted for about a year or two and now she affectionately calls me Naca, which is actually an insult but I know she says it affectionately. I still call her Melis. Now instead of lunch tables at school, we meet at restaurants for dinner, usually before we go watch a show at the Pantages Theater. I once ordered seared ahi tuna as an appetizer and we reminisced about our lunch days at school.
I haven’t eaten a tuna fish sandwich in over three years. My lunch at work, now consists of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. I attempted to introduce my thirteen-year-old son to tuna sandwiches when he was in the fifth grade, that’s where we discovered he was allergic to fish. No tuna for him. I do pack him turkey meat and provolone cheese slices on a Hawaiian wheat roll, and yes, sometimes I also include a little bag of Cheetos and yes, he puts one or two of those in his sandwich like I did, at least that’s what he’s told me.