Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Holloween decorations
My landlord, Ralph, is 95 years old. He has lived in the same house his entire life and remembers Jefferson Avenue when it was lined with businesses, including a bakery and butcher shop.

We live near the Mississippi where his house is set on brick pillars just in case the river overflows its banks. So far, that hasn't happened. I suspect the house might have been built before the levee, around 1810. Ralph never evacuated the city for a hurricane and claims he slept through Katrina.

He believes his ancestor was Vincent Nolte, a famous 18th century German cotton broker who ran the blockade during the War of 1812. We are still trying to sort out his history, which really exceeds my genealogical abilities. One might ask why he didn't get more interested in ancestry earlier? Well, now, he thinks he might like to erect a plaque on the property. But first, we've got to figure out who he is actually related to -- and that takes time.

Like the folks at Smith-Barney, Ralph likes doing things the old fashioned way. He pays bills in cash - right away. When he wants to talk, he comes over and knocks on my door instead of texting me. He writes handwritten letters with postage stamps and owns neither cell phone nor answering machine. So if he's not there or asleep, the phone just rings. I have no lease because we operate on trust.

Ralph calls the Internet "the work of the devil." But now that he's realized its usefulness, however, he's always asking me to research something or order online. He read all the books in my apartment, so we started ordering them from Amazon. After getting hooked on "Year in Provence" he has read every book Peter Mayle wrote and is considering a tour of Southern France.

Ralph is famous for his Sweet Peas, which climb all over the fence surrounding his yard and are often photographed by the Times-Picayune. A couple of months ago, I checked up on an organic seed order he placed with a New England company, but they are waiting for a delivery from France. Ralph worries, after reading about the worker strikes there, if he'll ever get his seeds or his inoculant to help the bean seeds grow. In the meantime, he's occupied himself with pumpkins and has placed a tiny one on every step leading up to both front and back doors, in addition to a scarecrow.

He's got a wicked sense of humor. We've been to the Prytania matinee a couple of times - first to see Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love" and then for Patricia Clarkson in "Cairo Time." Minutes into the latter, he whispered, "Is this going to be another movie about a woman trying to find herself?"

When we went to the movies and to the historical society for research, Ralph wore a dapper suit from Perlis, an expensive clothing store on Magazine Street, and a silk tie.  No one ever went downtown without getting dressed up in his time.

When I did a road trip to Knoxville, he minded Samie, checking on her several times a day. She slept most of the time, so there wasn't much to check on. He told me when I called that she had hardly moved from my bed; so when I got back, I might have to be the one to sleep on top of the bookcase. (That's Sam's usual spot.)
Samie seven feet up.

1 comment:

  1. Ralph is classic "New Orleans"...Patrick from down da bayou