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.

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