Editor’s Note: This Herring Says I Love You

A Christmas tradition illustrates the true meaning of love.

Liz Vaccariello
Photograph by Steve Vaccariello; Wardrobe Stylist: Elysha Lenkin

The odoriferous dish of creamy pickled herring sat in the center of my grandmother’s Christmas Eve table every year. My little sister and I would giggle and gag. Guest boyfriends would stare in horror. Look closely, I told one, and you’ll see the iridescent blue. Those are the scales.

“That’s for your father,” Gomama always said. (Gomama was my Hamburg-born grandmother—as a toddler, I couldn’t pronounce grossmutter.) We’d happily pass the bowl to Dad, who took a heaping portion and ate every last bite. Sometimes he asked for seconds. To secure the right jar, Gomama made a special trip to Hansa Haus, Cleveland’s best German grocery store.

Thing was, my father hated fish, and my grandmother couldn’t stomach mayonnaise.

Why the herring charade? The first holiday after my parents were married, my father—who was, until the day he died, on his best behavior around his mother-in-law—commented that he liked it. And Gomama—who was, until the day she died, perhaps contrite that she’d given her only daughter’s suitor a hard time during their engagement—served it every year thereafter.

Pickled herring. For Gomama and Dad, it was how they said I love you.

Expressions of love can be small—or big, as the eight stories in our February feature story show. Monique Zimmerman-Stein sacrifices her own vision to help prolong her daughters’ eyesight. And Scott Nagy attends his daughter’s wedding—with 12 medical professionals helping to get him out of the hospital.


Nothing moves us like a well-told real-life tale. I want to encourage you to enter our first annual 100-Word True Stories contest. We’ll run the winning pieces in our June issue. If you’re wondering how difficult it is to tell a story in 100 words, it’s not easy. (Pickled herring took about 200, and I write briefly for a living.) Good luck!

—Liz, @LizVacc. Follow Liz Vaccariello on Facebook.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest