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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

A Tuna Fish Sandwich Saved My Life

My father and his brother both landed on Omaha Beach on June 6,1944. He was 19 years old. When I think back to where I was (and who I was) at 19, I shudder to think about my chances of survival stepping out of a landing craft into a blaze of enemy machine gun fire.

His stories about the war (he also went to Korea in 1951 for the Korean Conflict) are as scary as any nightmares I have ever had. Having lived through that lends an authenticity to life that few other experiences can equal.

He told me stories from his youth, about having no more than a nickel between him and his brother to spend on a Saturday afternoon. There was a movie they wanted to see, but they could only afford one ticket. My uncle purchased the ticket and went into the theater. After a few minutes my father approached the manager and told him this tall tale: “My mother needs me and my brother to return home right now. Can I leave my tie with you so I can go look for him in the theater?”

When the two tricksters re-united inside, they enjoyed the feature together and then he collected his necktie on the way out. This was pretty crafty for a 12-year-old, only 7 years away from descending into hell for a couple of years to defend our country.

My father only made it through a year of college before the war began, but apparently it was enough to prepare him for the rest of his life. Nothing glamorous here. He began by repairing sewing machines in a shoe factory. After several long, hard years of sweat and toil, he moved up the ladder to managing the factory. My uncle bought a TV and appliance store and spent his life selling those household items.

My mother was one of three sisters, raised in Brooklyn not far from where my father grew up. She was very shrewd as a teenager, using every excuse in the book to get out of gym class.

When my father was courting her, he had competition. There was another young man who had feelings for my mom, and as the cards were dealt, my father inadvertently drew the winning hand. One day, the other boy in her life came calling, right after he had a tuna sandwich for lunch. My mother hated tuna fish. The moment she caught a whiff of the fish on his breath, she banished him forever.

My dad moved to the head of the line, and in short order they married, and I was born. I relish tuna until this day, knowing that it is the sole reason I was brought into this world. I have eaten tuna in one form or another my whole life – I am certainly a big fan of sushi.

If you are looking for what I consider to be the best tuna fish sandwich on the planet, I suggest you head for northern Italy (Tuscany) and the city of Cantalupo (song of the wolf). We arrived there around midnight many years ago and managed to find a small bar that was open. The young lady working there gave us each a sandwich made from freshly caught and broiled tuna. To this day I still crave them.

Never underestimate the power of a humble creature like the tuna to so dramatically affect the course of one’s life – to the point of helping to create it in the first place.

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