Half a Tuna on Toast

Sprouse Reitz, 1644 Haight Street

Sprouse Reitz, 1644 Haight Street

1954 • San Francisco ~  Sprouse as in house, Reitz as in right” was the slogan used by my father’s employer. Nobody said “Reitz” right; they rhymed it with “Pete’s” so I corrected them.

Taking the Greyhound to spend an occasional weekend with my father, he’d take me to work with him; while he manned the register at the front, I stayed in his office in the back. Sitting in his big oak swivel chair, I played with his ten-key adding machine and made houses from the rolls of white adding machine tape. He checked on me during his break and then at noon we ate our lunches at his desk. Every day he sipped a half-sized can of room temperature beer with his sandwich. It settled his stomach, balancing the rolls of Tums he chewed to counteract the Empirin Compound he took for headaches. On the days we didn’t pack bologna or salami sandwiches, we ate at the Glen Ellen Diner across the street. I loved going there. We slipped into a booth and Dad ordered from the menu while I flipped through the built-in tabletop jukebox, reading off the latest hits. I requested my favorites, Hernando’s Hideaway and Mr. Sandman, and he ordered the special for us, half a tuna on toast with a cup of clam chowder.

I loved visiting my father. We played Old Maid and gin rummy. He sang Three Little Fishies or German songs he remembered from his childhood, told me corny riddles, recited limericks, and magically pulled quarters from behind my ear. I liked playing Five Little Piggies, even though I was six and a little old for baby stuff. He gave me butterfly kisses by fluttering his eyelashes on my cheeks. And he did this thing with his lip: just as I turned my head to look away, he’d touch his lower lip to the tip of his nose, which is impossible unless you have an under-slung jaw and a nose like my dad. Or he’d click his bottom dentures out of his mouth and catch them with his tongue the split second before they flew away. Laughing, clapping my hands, I’d beg him to do it again because I’d just barely catch him out of the corner of my eye the first time.

After Sunday mass we walked hand-in-hand through the big glass Arboretum and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. We roamed Fishermen’s Wharf and had a Shrimp Louie and a hunk of sourdough. We strolled by store windows filled with souvenir tee shirts, Japanese tea sets, and lacquered Chinese boxes; he bought me a red one for Christmas one year. Sometimes we went to Fleishhacker Zoo and watched the monkeys on Monkey Island and fed the seals three smelly pieces of mackerel from a little white wax paper bag that cost a quarter. We ate pink popcorn and hot dogs with mustard and got vanilla ice cream cups with a quarter-moon of raspberry sherbet. I saved my wooden ice cream paddle; I liked to chew on it. Then we rode the carousel; as the lights flashed, bells chimed, and music blared, we sprinted for our seats. I preferred the ostriches: their backs weren’t so high off the ground. When I grew more confident, I rode the horses. I was too small for the ring grab, with its high iron rings the size of half dollars, just beyond my reach. If you snagged a brass one, you got a free ride, but your horse had to be at the top of its ride so you could reach it. Dad stretched me sideways over the horse and hooked his finger over mine. We stretched out as far as we could and snatched it together as our horse flew by. Even though I was supposed to turn it back in, I kept one as a souvenir. I still have it.

Dad, Cathy, Larry, 1954 San Jose State

Dad, Cathy, Larry, 1954 San Jose State

A couple of times we drove to San Jose to visit Larry where he was going to college and have picnics on the campus, with Dad lying on the grass next to me and letting me wear his hat, telling me stories, tickling me and making me laugh. We went to the movies and saw the Song of the South, Snow White, and Bambi. I always cried, and don’t know that I ever recovered when Bambi’s mother died.

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Pat Brown says:

    Just love reading your stories! Thank you for sharing them with me. Blessings to you.

  2. Tender

  3. Janet Sasaki says:

    A psychiatrist I saw when I went to college, 1958, told me that I was a survivor, and that there must have been someone in my family that I loved being with, and that was my Grandmother! Your father seemed to be the greatest!

  4. Susan Price-Jang says:

    Beautiful recollection… how did you come to attend LHHS? Another story….

    • My sister Carleen (14 years older than me) took care of the younger kids when my mother left. I went to live with Mom when I was five; she sent me back to my sister when I was nine, and I lived with her and her family in La Habra until I graduated from high school. And there you have it.

  5. Oh, such sweet memories Catherine. Thank you for sharing.

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