With apologies to Charles Dickens, we have...
A Tail that's too Fishy...

In the beginning, there was this fish...

For Christmas in 1999, Dave and Sherrie got Mom & Dad a new canner to replace the old one, now with many harvest moons behind it. As the months dragged on, an occational bit of snidery showed up at family gatherings and communications. Dave eventually noted the canner was given "on a strict trade basis--but Dad still retains the old one as well as the new one--you never know when you might need a dysfunctional pressure-cooker around the house."

Dad has always been "committed canner". Perhaps it was a great way of saving a few bucks.  Or a means of keeping young children out of trouble. Might even be the unique taste that comes from "canning your own". Whatever the reason, his children recall peeling, chopping and blanching in the kitchen as Dad headed up each years canning team.

Dad felt the need put up a few jars of tuna, as near as anyone can recall, sometime in 2002, about 18 months after the new canner Christmas. According to 'reliable sources' who havea taste for such things, he got a good deal on the fish -- "not albacore, mind you, but some 'local' variety."

The trusty pressure canner performed as it always had on the first batch. But on the second, the lid became stuck and wouldn't budge. Steve recalls, "Dad's first idea was to try to tap the lid with a hammer and get the lid to rotate and come off. We didn't succeed in getting the lid off, but we did break one of the handles. After removing the handles, we attached a piece of plate aluminum across the top using the screw holes. Dad figured we could pound on this, and it would give us some leverage to turn the lid and get it off. We didn't get the lid off this way either, but we did manage to break the screws on one side leaving the screw holes filled with the ends of the screws. At this point in time I was ready to cut the canner open since Dad had a brand new unused canner from Dave. But Dad wanted to try to retrieve the tuna later, so the new canner continued to 'season'."

Steve encouraged Mom to toss the pressure cooker lock, stock and barrel several times during the summer. But Dad was pretty adamant about recovering the tuna, and the canner occupied a prominent place in the family room. Mom figured that Dad would miss it if it dissapeared.

The canner sat for months. It was still sitting around as Christmas again approached. The kids were looking for a Christmas gift. Steve thought a new sabre saw would be good, since his old one was pretty much worn out and could use replacing. And in a stroke of genius, figured that if we were going to give it to him, we might as well disguise it as something humorous.

This gave rise to the 'Tuna Liberation Kit' which was to be endorsed by the 'Tuna Liberation Organization.' Brian went to Charlie the Tuna's website and pulled down a bunch of images. He also got an image of the saw and one of a can of tuna and came up with a graphic of the saw cutting open a tuna can. These were used to make a new "Tuna Liberation Kit" instruction manual. [anybody have the TLK manual??].

The Tuna Liberation Kit was all ready to go for Christmas, and was carefully placed under Mom and Dad's Christmas tree. Unfortunately, Steve's family came down for Mom's birthday just before Christmas. As they were packing up, Dad asked if Steve could help him open the pressure cooker one more time. Unfortunately, at this point in time there was no graceful way to hold off. They used a huge strap pipe wrench to hold the canner kettle and a big sledgehammer to attempt to turn the top. After several attempts, it was pretty obvious this was going to fail. (From Sandy: "In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have said anything to Mom. She didn't tell, but she was giggling to herself, and Dad got to thinking about why she might be giggling. He (Dad) told me that the tuna popped immediately into his head - guilty conscience, I'm sure! That is what prompted the last-ditch effort to get the canner open. He didn't know what was planned, but he knows us...and that was enough motivation!")

While this is going on, Steve and Dad are having a discussion about what the pressure cooker looks like on the inside. Dad contends that it is a sterile environment, and that everything will be pristine once the lid is opened. Steve claims that it is not sterile, and that there will be mold and other gross stuff in the kettle. The debate continued while they are trying to get the lid off. At one point, Dad decided he'd had enough. He went in and got his old sabre saw and some metal cutting blades and started to cut the lid in two. After four blades, they aren't finished cutting the lid, but they *are* out of metal cutting blades. So the job was finished with a hacksaw. A screwdriver worked to pry the lid off.

SIDEBAR: In the flurry of e-mail surrounding later selection of an appropriate Christmas gift, some of us were unaware of the original tuna canning event. Mike wrote: "I'm not sure I following this. Does dad have a pressure cooker with a bunch of dead tuna in it? If so, we did this once before with some deer meat in New York at the military housing. I was supposed to clean it the pressure cooker out, but conveniently forgot it, so the meat inside started growing. Dad and Dale ended up cleaning it out. I would have thought that Dad would have remembered that this is what happens when meat is left to season inside of a pressure cooker." (Dale doesn't recall this, either due to faulty memory or because it was another sibling. Either way....)

The seal had melted and fused itself to both the lid and the kettle. The inside was disgusting. There was plenty of mold - part of the canning process forces liquid inside the jars to expand and overflow into the canner - this forces all the air inside the jar out of it and the seal pulls tight against the lid of the jar when it cools. All of this gross tuna water has turned into a grey slime that is all over everything in the kettle. The basket is rusted, and the lids and bands on the jars are starting to rust. You can see dad pondering...

"There is $30 worth of Tuna in this canner. I'll bet it's still good."
"It probably is," Steve diplomatically replies, "but if you are wrong, it will cost you a lot more than $30."
"That's probably right," Dad reluctantly agrees, "and your Mother will refuse to eat it anyway. I guess I should go ahead and pitch it. We have jars coming out our ears, so I don't need to save those either."

Steve remembers that while they are dumping the jars, Dad remarked, " I want to save the kettle - I can use it during canning season."

Steve was adamant. "I told him that HE was cleaning it out. Dad scraped out the slime and rinsed it out. Its in the garage somewhere. The first one to run across it when he is not there PLEASE throw it away!!"

Christmas rolled around, and many of the family were visiting Mom & Dad. Opening presents, Dad of course, recieved what he surely considered excessive amounts of tuna in various forms, the saw, a "catch and release" fishing kit, and other assorted items. Mike's boys, Chris and Matt, quietly excused themselves after dinner and secreted themselves downstairs. Brian had created a sabre saw and tuna can design, which these two fine young men ironed on a tee-shirt which they presented to Dad.

Dad has a response for every situation, and this was no exception. A few days after Christmas, we received this humorous missive:

Reunion Resurgence
The TLO was buzzing during preparations for family reunion that year (2001). It was to be held at the Shenandoah Crossing Resort in Virginia--arranged by Chuck and Julie, who kindly emptied their point account so we could all get together.

Different ideas were tossed around, and a scheme to stuff Mom & Dad's cabin with fish was hatched. Preparations were made by helpful grandkids in cars on trip to virginia--construction paper fins were cut out and decorated, with the idea they would be later attached to balloon fish.

The plotters met late in the evening at Steve & Laurie's cabin (having given such flimsy excuses as 'being tired') and putting the really small kinder to bed. Of course, as chips and root beer were consumed, things began to get silly, and the "fins of anonymity" were invented--construction paper spectacles to maintain the secret identity of the 'inner circle'. By the time we were ready to go in the fairly wee hours of the morning, we had filled several blankets with fish, and all were safely masked in fins of anonymity.

Michelle, who was sleeping in a room with her sister Sarah in Grandma & Grandpa's cabin agreed that when we knocked on her window, she would quietly slip out of her room and unlock the front door.

As tired and silly as everyone was, our approach was hardly quiet as we snickered and stumbled our way over to the cabin. We tried to quietly toss rocks at Michelle's window, but it seems she had gone to sleep. Eventually she was wakened, but so was Dad. Michelle tried the nonchalant "trip to the bathroom ploy", but Grandpa figured something was up, so was somewhat less than surpised when we all burst into the bedroom flinging dozens of balloon fish and shouting TLO slogans and curses.

In spite of the loss of the element of surprise, a successful raid was accomplished. Pictures of our victory were taken--yet none of the participants feared retribution, thanks to the miracle of the 'fins of anonymity'--truely a marvelous invention!

Shortly thereafter, an article appeared in the local press:

As things settled down and everyone returned home, Sandy outlined some suspicious behavior on the part of an impressionable younger TLO member--one shortly headed off to school and dependant on her father's checkbook. A quote from the incriminating email is here reproduced:

BTW, you know that Mom had Michelle deflate as many of the balloon fish as she could untie, don't you? I got a picture of her doing it, but I think it's on Mom's camera. I believe that this has something to do with the rehabilitation that the press release alludes to. Since nothing happened at the reunion with them, I'm guessing Christmas, though we may get an interim mailing. Dale, you might try pumping Michelle, though Mom probably swore her to secrecy. But hey, who pays her tuition? Not Mom, <lol>! [laugh out loud-editor] The TLO might wish to be prepared to respond!

Agent D's lack of success is recorded in his field report:

Well Sandy, good catch (heh, heh). Michelle smiles knowingly, but won't cough up any info--even under threat of short changed tuition payment and TLO retribution--it went something like this:

Dad: So I hear you were caught red-handed consorting with the enemy.
Michelle: What?
Dad: There's even a picture. You and Grandma untying balloons.
Michelle: I don't know what you're talking about?
Dad: You're denying there's anything going on
Michelle: (guilty smile)
Dad: ...just remember who pays your tuition check. You have nothing to say?
Michelle: Grampa will help me.
Dad: The TLO has long and powerful arms.
Michelle: Hah, I'm going to Ricks!
Dad: I'm afraid TLO tentacles even reach that far.
Michelle:Grandma will protect me!

She didn't even break under tickling.