34: Magic Tuna Salad

34: Magic Tuna Salad

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Magic Tuna Salad

Friends can be said to “fall in like” with as profound a thud as romantic partners fall in love.

~Letty Cottin Pogrebin

“You need an artist?”

I glanced up at the editor standing by my desk. “Huh?”

“You needed an artist right? For your February issue?”

I nodded. As the editor of a local children’s magazine, I liked to feature interviews with local writers and artisans every month to inspire young readers. Every month, they grew harder and harder to find.

“Call this lady.” He slid a scrap of paper across my desk. Adriel McGill. “Her son’s an actor — he was in that college cult classic, you know the guy that thumps his throat? Anyway, she’s known for her cards and work around town.”

I picked up the piece of paper, already reaching for the phone.

“Oh, and call her Squeaky,” he called as he returned to his desk. “Otherwise she’ll think you’re a telemarketer and hang up on you.”

Open-mouthed, it took a moment for me to register the quiet voice on the other end of the receiver pressed to my ear. “Yes, is this Squeaky McGill? The artist?”

It was. Which is how one week later I was walking up a long black driveway flanked by thick magnolia trees and colorful rosebushes. It was muggy and humid, drizzle turning my curls into frizz and plastering my shirt to my back. Ducking under the long arm of a lemon tree, I rang the doorbell, a photographer lingering behind me.

The door creaked open. A tiny woman with a cap of white hair and thick glasses peered up at me, a smile blooming across her face. “Miranda?”

“Mrs. McGill?” I greeted her.

“Call me Squeaky. Come in, come in,” she said, ushering us inside as the door swung open. “Have some tea and lemon cookies. Let’s chat.”

Now normally, when I did interviews, I got straight down to business. Who, what, where, when, why. I had a schedule, a strict rule. In and out in two hours max — there were always more interviews to do, more stories to write.

I stayed at Mrs. McGill’s all morning. Time simply crept by, lost to hours of examining her whimsical paintings and listening to her charming tales. Soon, my pen dangled uselessly from my fingers as I sat spellbound, my photographer holding his camera in his lap. We were drawn in by her stories, lost in tales of her past. The tea was gone, the lemon cookies reduced to crumbs.

Finally, I stood and said we had to get back to the office. Taking my hands, she looked up at me. “Will you come back and see me? Come for lunch sometime?”

“I will,” I promised, squeezing her withered hands. And two weeks later, I did. I offered to bring something, but she dismissed me with the same laugh as before. “I’ll make tuna salad,” she said. “No worries.”

I took her a loaf of banana bread anyway, which she accepted with the joy of a queen getting her first tiara. And there, as the spring sun shone down on her lush backyard garden, we ate tuna salad and fruit salad with potato chips, chatting for almost three hours.

“I feel like such a pig,” I confessed with a laugh, going for my third helping. “I’ve never had tuna salad before.”

“You haven’t?” she asked, surprised. “I love tuna salad. It’s so healthy, so easy.”

“I’d love the recipe,” I said, taking another bite.

“Oh, it’s easy.” She smiled, magic curling across her cheeks. “Just tuna, relish, mayo and celery. A few peas and pickles, a hardboiled egg. It’s how my mother made it.”

“It’s delicious,” I said, patting my straining stomach. “I love it.”

“Then I’ll make it for you when you come again,” she said, placing her hand over mine. “You will come again, won’t you?”

“Of course.” I smiled. “You couldn’t keep me away.”

And for three years, every month since that first dreary day that we met, I walk up that long driveway under the magnolia and lemon trees. I ring the doorbell and she opens the door, beaming up at me as I hand her another loaf of banana bread.

On the table waits the tuna and fruit salad, with a bowl of potato chips. Sometimes there’s a small piece of bread with melted cheddar, sometimes there’s pimento cheese or cucumber salad.

Plenty of times I’ve tried to recreate the dishes I inhale at her home, but it’s never the same. There’s a magic to the tuna salad, a delicious taste that can’t be replicated in my own kitchen. Without Mrs. McGill and her stories, tuna salad isn’t the same.

Once a month, I drive across town for not only the best tuna salad I’ve ever had, but the best conversation with the best person I’ve ever met.

~Miranda Pike Koerner

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