Friday, December 30, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part III

The Uli's Jr had owned a gift shop next door to Uli Sr's Gourmet Grocer. I don't remember the name, but it's closed now anyway.

Uli himself was a salt-of-the-earth type who had worked his way up in the grocery business and had held every job there was to hold, eventually learning the butcher trade. Uli's had been in this town only about 12 years, if I remember correctly from what he told us. It seems to have been there as far back as I can remember. He got the idea to open it because so few grocery chains knew anything about meat and he thought the town would support a store that emphasized good meat. He said that he sold it and his buyers sold it again within a year. The second buyers didn't last more than a year either.

Mom was interested in talking to Uli, as fellow old-Riversider. It turned out that they didn't have many fiends in common. My impression of Uli is that, since he was old enough to work, that's all he did and, since he first got himself behind a butcher counter, that's all he did. Once he opened his own store, he spent every waking moment seeing to the store. A hard worker.

Every once in awhile, Uli would mention that moving to the Tower was not his idea. It was Mrs. Uli Jr's idea. I don't know whether Mrs. Uli Jr was half the villain Uli thought she was-but I didn't like her too much.

Uli complained about the types of activities provided by the Tower. Mrs. Uli Jr told me that he complained about them, but he always seemed to participate in them. Mom, who has also complained about the activities, but has found some that appeal to her, tried to convince Uli that there were some good things to do. In the months since she moved to the Tower, Mom has discovered a literature class and has also discovered some retired professionals who were still very much in tune with the world around them. They, like Mom, just needed someone to help them take care of themselves.

She mentioned to Uli that she and another woman had started a book club. I didn't hear Uli's response, but I wondered, with his coke-bottle glasses, how well he could see to able to read. Mrs Uli Jr whispered to me that Uli didn't read very well. He was a man who had begun working so young and had continued working so hard, that he never had time for much formal education.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part II (Scroll down a little for Part I)

As the choir sings, I think back to when Dad was alive and how we used to stand side-by-side at Christmas Eve services and harmonize during the carols. I miss that. I'm not a fan of organized religion these days, but those moments seem sacred to me as I look back. They were never planned, we just knew that we would harmonize, him on tenor, me on bass. There were a couple of songs we never got quite right, but that wasn't the point anyway.

So my voice joins the warbly chorus, as does Mom's. I notice another voice joining in as well. I glance over and see Uli's Jr and Sr-the younger sitting rod-up-his-ass straight, arms folded across his chest, the elder, slouched in his metal chair, grimacing behind coke-bottle glasses. Mrs. Uli Jr's somewhat wobbly soprano trilled along with ours. About half the gathering joined in song.

We all joined probably the last three songs, including silent night, which I recently learned on the ukulele. A pretty tune, sublime lyrics. Peace surrounded by a dangerous world.

As the singing ended, we all began talk of music. I mentioned to Mrs. Uli Jr that Mom had sung at the Loring Opera House as a teenager. Mrs Uli Jr was not from around here, so the comment had little impact. Mrs. Uli Jr had told us that she too had been a fine singer at one point, but was now out of practice. She said that her voice sometimes felt uncomfortable. I noticed that pretty much any time you talked about someone at the table, she would manage to bring the subject back to herself. Her whole demeanor was that of someone who was used to grabbing attention and making sure things turned out the way she wanted them to.

Mom, who probably could have taught voice, gave her some advice about how to use her voice. Again, I'm not sure that Mrs. Uli Jr really paid attention.

I told her that, if she wanted to get her voice back, she should buy a ukulele. I told her that it was an easy-to-carry, handy-dandy way to accompany one's self and keep one singing for hours on end. I had been playing for a couple of years now (three I guess) and it helped me re-discover music and become independent of piano players and other accompanists.

Again, she could not have cared less.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Flu, or Whatever It Is That's Going Around

Merry Krimble to all of you.

I've been laying low for my own protection. Many of my friends have caught this thing that won't let go, a type of flu bug. In some cases, they get it, get better, then it makes a resurgence.

I haven't had a flu shot, so I am just staying away from my friends who are getting sick. I had a similar case of the flu about five years ago. I got sick, got a little better, then got sicker, missing almost a whole week of work. Even when I came back, I could feel the disease still lurking inside me. So, stay away sick people.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My Dinner with Uli, Part I

Tonight, I joined my 81-year-old mother for a Christmas party at the Tower, an assisted living facility that we recently helped or forced her to move into, depending on whom you ask and when you ask them. They served a sumptuous repast of quasi-glazed ham, salad, potatoes au gratin, mushy vegetables, and an array of deserts.

The highlight of the meal was potatoes au gratin. I don't know if they were all that good, but I think my palate is spud-centric, so I liked them a lot.

As we entered the dining hall and located our table, we were surprised to see a place setting at our table for the family of Peter Uli. I wheeled Mom to the chairless spot, noted that three metal folding chairs sat across the table from her and one cushioned chair sat next to her. The Uli's had not arrived yet, so I sat next to her.

In the cushioned chair, of course.

Peter Uli, for those of you who aren't from around here, ran a successful gourmet grocer in town. It was kind of like Trader Joe's, except they had a butcher shop on the premises, as well as a gourmet salad selection with salads, pastas, and antipastas. I don't remember all of the details, but I believe you could walk around the salad set-up and that the butcher shop was next to that, against a wall. Peter Uli, I was to find out that night, worked his way up in the grocery business and had been a butcher first and foremost.

It closed several years ago, after having been sold twice to new owners.

Mom was born and raised in this town. Uli has not lived here as long, but is still a part of the town history.

We had just finished our salads when the three Uli's arrived. The son was a stiff kind of man, thin, and sat uncomfortably in the folding metal chair. He wore glasses and his hair was a little like that of Chico Marx with his hat off. He his face seemed pulled forward by his pointy, pencil like nose. His wife was a chubby woman, with a loud coloratura (I hope I spelled that right) voice. She did most of the talking, which wasn't always a good thing.

Peter looked like an older version of the son, with a more relaxed, if somewhat angry face. His hair was a thinning, backswept grey wave. He wore coke bottle glasses. Once in awhile he would mention an article that had been printed about him in the Tower's journal. That, or he would complain that moving to this place was not his idea.

As we dined, we were serenaded by a group of younger senior citizens who had also performed at the Thanksgiving banquet. You had to enjoy their heartfelt enthusiasm, if not their actual singing ability. One lady in particular would greet different tables between songs and talk to the residents. Many of the residents sang along with the carolers, especially during "Silent Night."

One lady at the table next to us grew steadily angrier as the meal progressed. Her granddaughter would say "Grandma, they don't mean it, it's an accident." But the lady finally said in a loud voice "God Dammit, these waitresses keep kicking my wheelchair!"

Hers was more than a wheel chair. It was red, motorized throne that took up the space of three wheel chairs, and it obstructed the passage between tables, so the harried servers sometimes bumped into it.

Eventually, a team of family members figured out they had to help Grandma move her chair a little to be out of the way. That calmed her down.