Tuna Casserole Syndrome
by Kellie Sisson Snider
When I was growing up, if there was a birth, an illness, a death, or a surgical procedure, the ladies from the Church of Christ showed up. They came bearing tuna casserole, angel food cake, lasagna, and ham. The countertops would overflow with their generosity. No matter where we were, there was always a Church of Christ nearby, full of church ladies ready to whip up a mess of casseroles and have them at the door within moments of a life-changing event.
In 1988 I left my job at NASA in Houston to stay at home with my firstborn son, Jesse. It didn't take me long to realize that my entire support network was at work! Looking out the door in my bedroom community neighborhood, I expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down the street with the theme music from Lonesome Dove. I had long ago left the Church of Christ due to theological differences, but I longed for part of their religious practice: Who would bring my tuna casserole?
In 1990 we moved to the Dallas area. Six weeks later I gave birth to our second son, Micah. My support network was not only at work; it was hundreds of miles away! Yes, we had family and friends who lovingly came to help out, but they had lives of their own and soon had to get back to them.
Although I had felt my first craving for tuna casserole when I was a single twenty-something, it wasn't until the births of my sons that the syndrome's symptoms grew impossible to ignore. I longed for the spirit of tuna casserole! I named my desire for this culinary medicine the Tuna Casserole Syndrome, and I went in search of relief.
In Houston I found the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which met in an old office complex. But then we moved and I had to leave them before growing close enough to join. When we moved to the Dallas area I visited the First Unitarian Church. I explained to a kind soul that I was looking for a church for my young family. She said we would be welcome at First Church, but she thought I might also want to visit the Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in the nearby suburb of Farmers Branch; Horizon was family-oriented, and it might be just right for us.
My first visit to Horizon was in the fall of 1990. The congregation had about eighty-five members back then, and met in a strip mall behind some other stores. You couldn't even see it from the street! In that morning's services, the Rev. Dennis Hamilton wore a brown monk's robe; the president, Susan Rice, said "damn" several times, right in church! I dragged my husband to the next service, where folk-singer and Horizon member Lu Mitchell, her late husband, and their band performed a Woody Guthrie review. I was hooked!
I could see that if tuna casserole were ever called for, these people would probably slide on their Birkenstocks and bring a batch of tabouli, but I knew it would contain the only essential ingredient, the spirit of tuna casserole.
In October 2001, I had my first major "procedure." (According to Billy Crystal's character in City Slickers, you know you're middle-aged when you have your first procedure.) Here I was, slapped into middle-age prematurely! feeling tired and pathetic, and the most wonderful thing happened. The phone began to ring. People wanted to bring meals to my family while I recuperated. They came from Highland Village and South Irving and Carrollton, sometimes driving forty-five minutes each way to bring wonderful meals of chicken, steak, fresh vegetables, and magnificent desserts. Not just church ladies, but men, too.
During the worst of my recuperation, these Unitarian Universalist angels quietly delivered their blessings and left. My husband would later tell me, "So-and-so brought this," and sometimes, thanks to the rapid growth of our church, I didn't even know who So-and-so was! Weeks passed, I felt marginally human again, and people began bringing conversation and company. Some sent books and tapes as delicious as the food. Later, a few people took me out to lunch so I could get out of the house. Others mailed cards or phoned in their wishes. I know where my tuna casserole comes from.
Kellie Sisson Snider is a member of the Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in Carrollton, Texas, which now has over 300 members.