Thursday, December 7, 2006

My Electronic Life - History #2: Grandparents

The second in a series of 11 posts that chronicle my past in order to catch up to present day.

Grandparents. What thoughts run through your brain when you read that? Old people smell, fuddy duddy, slow driving, blue-haired, wrinkly, Depends wearing nursing home resident?
I think of me, 2 generations ago. If I were born 70 years ago, I’d be my grandparents. As I get older, I tend to put myself in their shoes, using my imagination to put myself there. I also now tend to take a more global view of life. So pardon me if this blog isn’t written from a typical American world view. But things that are important have permanence, and America hasn’t been around that long. Similarly, neither have I. But I would like to be important, and therefore more permanent than my 100 or so years on this earth would allow. This is where grandparents come in. In order to achieve permanence on earth, one must establish a lineage. This is why we procreate.
My grandparents are long dead and gone, but while they were here on earth, I had the chance to get to know them personally. They were my oldest living link to my past. In fact, until this century, they were everyone’s oldest link. Things are changing now that we have video. Now my great-great-grandchildren can have a “living” record of me. I will be sure to use our technology to record that. And they can have a traditional written record of me via this blog.

Robert Paul Ulrich

He was my grandfather on my father’s side. I’m not sure when he was born, but he died in 1987 of cancer. He used to smoke, but he quit. He reminds me of One of those 1950’s dads with a crew cut who worked hard his whole life and didn’t take crap from his kids. He really liked jazz. He was probably an audiophile – he had a really nice stereo in his bedroom. When I would go over to his house, it was life going back in time to the 1950’s. I still do love the 50’s and look back on them with fondness because of him. He had the goofiest and neatest little gadgets all over his house. He had these bright sky blue sunglasses with red LED’s in the middle of each lens. There was a wire going down to a battery pack with an on/off switch. The LED’s would blink. It was kind of weird wearing those. Towards the end of his life, he actually gave me a little black plastic watch that ran on water. It had little holes on the sides, and you would run it under the water and it would somehow make electricity from it. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. I think maybe there was a battery in there, and it was just a gag because one day it stopped working and no matter how much water I added, it wouldn’t work anymore. There were lots of neat pens and pencils he picked up from his days as a salesman. One pen had different ink colors in it. You would click on one of four tabs at the end and a different pen color would come out.
I remember my family and I would go over to their little 1950’s style craftsman house quite often.

One of my favorite early movie memories was going to see Back to the Future in a movie theater with everyone in the family. I still love that movie.
Robert P. Ulrich died of cancer in 1987. His earthly body is at crown Hill cemetery, section D
ROBERT P. ULRICH Burial: 04/17/1987
Section: D Marker: N Lot: D-10 Notes: 17886

Barbara Ulrich

I don’t know her middle name – perhaps she didn’t have one. She didn’t like going to the Doctor much – and I believe this was due in part to an affinity for the doctrine of Christian Science.
“Barb” as she was known, was an elegant and humble lady. I wish I could have known her more, although I am glad I took every minute I could to spend with her. But she had a stroke and had to move out of her house and into a nice nursing home when I was in high school. She loved to watch baseball. She would always have the game on TV with the sound off. Towards the end of her life, we had fun joking with each other and making each other laugh. She could always laugh at herself. I think it started when I was about 13. One time around Christmas, perhaps even Christmas dinner, we were all sitting at the table eating and having fun. Barb was sitting across the table from me. I did something socially inappropriate, and she said “….you jerk”. It was something like, don’t do such and such, you jerk!. But she didn’t mean to say the last part, it just slipped out. There was a pause of silence – then everyone busted out laughing. I was kind of shocked, well, we all were! But I laughed too. I liked being the brunt of the joke, and making so many people happy.
Barb loved going to the Riviera Club. It was nice, and they did have a really big pool area with lots of pools. She would drive my sister and I there as kids. We would find some lounge chairs, put our stuff down, and go swimming a while. Then she would give us each about a dollar and we would go wait in line with towels wrapped around us at the snack bar waiting to wrap our wet hands around a giant pretzel or a strawberry Slushie. I can still remember the smell of waiting in line with all the other teens in the 1980’s as the music played and flies buzzed all around. My sister liked the nachos. I remember the slush puppy dog sign that hung on the right of the counter. The last time I went swimming outside there, I think a childhood friend of mine took me. I remember I had some black swim trunks on. We swam around in the pools for a while, then I walked around alone. I remember a lot of people looking at me and smiling. I thought maybe they thought I was handsome or something. Then after about a half hour of that, I looked down and saw my penis hanging out of the fly of my swim trunks. I couldn’t believe it! How long had that been there? Probably the whole time. What really got me later when I think about it is that no one really seemed to notice – if they did, they didn’t say anything. I guess it was unremarkable.
I really liked the buffet brunch there, but that episode sort of soured me on the whole deal.

She is buried near her husband in Crown Hill cemetery.
Burial: 07/29/1999
Section: D Marker: N Lot: D-12 Notes: 059947

Barbara’s mother was Anna Elizabeth Ulrich. Ann is Barbara’s daughter’s middle name, and my sisters middle name. One of my daughters has a derivative/similar name, Savannah. I found A.E.U. on the crown hill site, and thought I would mention it here, because her middle name is also what I choose to name my daughter – even though I wasn’t cognizant of A.E.U. at the time I choose the name. I don’t have much more information about A.E.U. at this time – I just thought that this coincidence was worth mentioning.

Burial: 01/10/1956 Section: D Marker: N Lot: C-12

Stephen Lawrence Mello

According to my mother, Steve, or Papaw, as I knew him, grew up near Flint Michigan. He owned and operating a heating and cooling business for some years before moving it to Indianapolis. He lived in a big home in a town called Wynnedale, on Wilshire road.

The town kind of grew up to be a really wealthy part area. As you can see from the photo, there is a peanut shaped pool in the back. Legend has it that my grandfather dug that pool and poured the cement himself. My mom grew up there and has relayed some other facts to me. The gardener that lived there, Wayne, was a WWII veteran. He had a green thumb. I knew the man personally, and can attest to his personality. He was very humble servant, who stuck with Steve through the good times and the bad. We aren’t quite sure why he did that, because Steve wasn’t always as nice as he was later in life.
When my mom grew up in that house, there was always a bowl of silver dollars and other change in the foyer. The kids would just grab what they needed when they were going out. Eventually, Steve’s vices got the better of him, and he had to sell the house. He had a drinking problem and the gambling debt was large.
He ended up in a much more modest above a few miles away on 42nd street. This is the house I knew him in. He lived there until his death in 2000.
He was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Let me describe his house to you. It was well taken care of. Wayne took good care of the lawn. As a child, my sister and I would pick up sweet gum seeds and stick from his yard for a quarter. It was in a well-established neighborhood, very quiet. The driveway was on the left side of the house (looking at it) and it was long, narrow, and gravel. The garage door faced the backyard, so most of the area behind the garage was driveway, to facilitate turning around. He drove an old 2 door Buick Riviera.

I remember him telling me when I was a teenager that a few times he had been offered a lot of money for it. It was easy to soup up. When I was a pre-teen, and he still drove a bit, he would take us to Long John Silvers for fish on Fridays. The actual garage was converted into a den at some point. The garage door was sealed and insulated. There was a concrete stairwell that led to a cellar under the house. The stairs were bowed into the middle and forward, so it was always deceptive going down there.
I remember one day I was in high school and had been helping Steve and Wayne out a little bit, cleaning stuff up and so forth one summer. I was in the basement with him, cleaning and throwing out junk. I found an old car wash hose attachment that one could fill with soap. I mentioned how meat it was to hi, and he said, “You can have it”. He then said, “You can have anything you want down here, I don’t need it. Go ahead, take whatever you want.”
I later realized why he was saying that. At the time, I didn’t realize what was going on. He was getting old, his wife would die soon. He didn’t plan on sticking around too long after that. He just wanted to see her off. He was never a burden while he was alive, he was always self sufficient, and I suppose, he made sure he would always be. I am sure he didn’t want to go down into that cellar any more. He hadn’t been down there in years. He was taking care of his wife all the time now, and didn’t have time to fix things. All he needed was the kitchen, the TV to watch 700 club, the recliner for him, and the couch for Nanny, his bed, and whatever assets he could sell to keep the debtors away. And his church - he was an avid Catholic. I never got into Catholicism, it always seemed to make God so far away, and that was not the God I grew up knowing. The God I knew, and still know, was the Jesus that lived in my heart.
I get the feeling that later in his life, he never missed a day at church, and never missed the chance to his say Hail Mary’s for all his sins, trying to earn his way into heaven right until the day he died.
St Michael Church - more info »
3354 W 30th St, Indianapolis, IN
The man I knew was honorable. I heard stories about him that would make me think he wasn’t always. At his funeral an old man I had never seen before walked up to the casket and tearfully said something to the effect “I hate you, you jerk, you always had to have things your way, God bless you”. I don’t know what that was all about. But this is my blog, so I will tell you how I saw him. I interviewed him once for a project in by block English/History class. If I find that tape again, I’ll transcribe it for you here. He told me how he lived, how he grew up in the great depression, some of the wacky things he used to do (one involved pool sharking and getting into a brawl with some big black dudes). It was a rose colored view from his twilight years, but he focused on the things that were really important. One thing that was obviously important to him was taking care of Nanny. He bathed her, got her up in the morning, sat with her during the day, fed her, did everything for her. He spoke kindly to her, never seemed to mind. I got the impression that he felt he deserved the burden, or perhaps it was that he loved her so much, it was no burden at all. I’ll ask him next time I see him.
He was a shrewd businessman. I remember going to a vacuum store on 38th street. He was buying a new vacuum for his housekeeper to use. He drove me there, we went in and talked to the saleman. He showed us a few models, starting with the cheap one and then a couple more expensive ones, explained why they were better. He asked a few questions. I was impressed, he really seemed to understand everything. He then said “All we need is this one” and took the cheap plastic one. It was $75. I remember thinking, hey he is old. If I were old, I’d get the nice one and live it up. But he just wanted one that would suck up dirt and last a few years. He wasn’t ashamed, although the salesman tried to make him. I was proud of him. He needed that money to pay his helpers.

One time, when I lived on Springwood Trail down the street from him, I made the mistake of crossing him, talking bad about his wife. They used to come visit about once a week. He was complaining about something about me or my family or something, so I said, - “so don’t come over here!” – as he was leaving through our back door. Well, the door flew back open, and he gave me a stern talking too. Something to the effect of “ Your grandmother is sick and we are brining you food once a week, doing you guys a favor, I better never hear you say that again!”
In retrospect, it was a really mean thing for me to say. But I didn’t really understand what Alzheimers was back then. Well, that was the only time we were cross at each other. Just like with Barbara Ulrich – only one time. I guess if you get to know your grandparents well enough, eventually they will discipline you. I had a smart mouth, so that’s what my times were about. Unfortunately, there were two grandparents I never got to know well enough to piss off.
Loosing grandparents at a young age probably helped me to cherish more what time I did have with the others. I seemed to have an understanding about how short of a time they had left on earth. I even had a dream the night before the day Barbera died – so I knew she was dead. I’m still close to her.
I miss all my grandparents, and wish I could have gotten to know them better in the 80’s and 90’s. Now I will have to wait until my life is over. Its sad to me, because my life would have been better, I know, had I gotten to know them before I lived most of my life. I would have learned a lot more from them, etc.

Margaret Mello
I saw a picture of Margaret all dressed up next to Stephen, probably at a Knights of Columbus dance. That’s how I remember her. She knew how to dress, how to act. She had style and class.
I have very few memories of Margaret. I know she used to take care of me when my parents had to go away for overnight. I knew her as Nanny, and she was just that – a nanny to me. I wish I remembered more.
I have more memories of the other Nanny I knew – Alzheimers Nanny. She kept regular nanny inside somewhere so I didn’t get to see her very much. Sometimes Alzheimers Nanny would let the real nanny burst out, and she would play a record of her memories. All I could do was try to talk to the Nanny inside and hope she would hear me. I tried to spend as much time as I could with the both of them, because I really missed my Nanny and I wanted to know her more. But one day Nanny never came back. Soon thereafter, Alzheimers Nanny died. Her funeral was held at St. Michaels Cathedral. I really liked it. I always liked that church. I usually just went there around Christmas though. But I liked the architecture and the art. I wish I could combine the holiness embodied by it with the closeness of my current church. I’m not sure where her earthly body lies now.

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