Norbert Weber, 1925-2017

My Grandfather’s 92nd birthday is today, and he almost lived to see it.  He was famous for calling everyone in the family on our birthdays to sing to us, and I think I speak for most of the family when I say my own birthday this year will be bittersweet without having him here to mark the occasion.

However, the fact that he’s no longer with us seems a poor reason not to honor his day. Below is the eulogy I read at his visitation along with a few pictures.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!


Grandpa was one of the few people to be the Commander of the American Legion post 513 twice — with an almost 50 year gap between his years of service!


Grandpa’s priorities in life were simple: to serve God, country & family.  And I would say that these were the secret to his longevity; his dedication to service and living a life of purpose helped him to survive all kinds of health issues that would have taken down a weaker man. 

So I would like to reflect on these a bit. 


Grandpa with my brother, Greg (left) and I.  From their house in Fairfield, OH.     (ca. 1982)

Grandpa was, above all, a family man.  My earliest memories are of family gatherings downstairs at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Evalie in Fairfield, not just for holidays, but because it was…Saturday.  These were not quiet, tea-sipping affairs.  First thing you would see at the bottom of the steps was a bar that sat four or five at least, a pool table to the right, and a living room to the left where everyone could gather comfortably.  Grandpa might be drinking one of his beloved Manhattans, or he might have filled his glass from the keg refrigerator. Their house was fun; full of laughter and argument — everyone had an opinion, and everyone was free to share it. 


As I’ve sorted through my memories of Grandpa these past few weeks, It surprised me to realize how many of them are of him — and all of us — by water.  When I was very young we spent many weekends of the year at Lake Lorelei on the pontoon boat or grilling out in the yard along the water.  If we were staying local on summer weekends, then it was a sure bet that we’d be swimming in Grandma and Grandpa’s neighbor, Bob Kay’s pool — a privilege we all enjoyed because Grandpa was Bob’s pool man, more or less. 


Grandpa with my cousin, “Baby” Ryan — and Grandma swimming in the background.  

When they moved south to landlocked Ocala, Florida, even there the majority of our activities were near the water — renting cabins along or boating on the Rainbow River where we saw all sorts of wildlife I’d only seen on TV.  The first time I saw the Atlantic was at Daytona Beach with them, and we even made a stop at Weeki Watchee where they had live mermaid shows.  Grandpa insisted I should get my picture with a mermaid…and then Grandpa insisted he and I should both get our picture…(…and then he got one with just him and the mermaid.  He was always a charmer.) 


In his later years, however, he traded mermaids and pool equipment, lakes, rivers and oceans for the small pond behind their apartment at Regency Run.  Whenever I visited, if the weather was nice, I’d see Grandpa as we pulled in from John Gray Road, sitting quietly, watching the fountain and the ducks and the traffic with a statue of St. Francis next to him as his only companion (Grandma was more likely to be found inside playing online poker with college kids from across the country).  He was still the life of the party, but it became clear that he had a quieter, contemplative side.


The complete caption reads: Norbert and a glass of beer.  Aug. 1944

I got to experience this side of him up close shortly after Grandma’s funeral.  My cousin, Nikki arranged for him to meet with Father Tharp, and I tagged along just because.  I got to hear Grandpa tell Father in his own words just how much his long life, long marriage, and all the blessings that sprang from them meant to him.  He spoke, too, of his military service, which I believe was an extension of his love for his family.  Mark Twain said, “Love the country always; love the government when it deserves it.”  Today too many people see country and government as being one and the same thing, which makes one very cynical, but grandpa didn’t: he could be very critical of the government, but he loved the people.  He treated people with kindness and he served in the military on behalf of the people.  Nikki, has described Grandpa as having a servant’s heart, and I think this is an apt description, because he never seemed to demand anything in return. 



Grandpa saluting the flag, 2015

Case in point: On our way out from that meeting with Father Tharp, a young man in his twenties was walking towards us.  He saw Grandpa walking with a cane, saw his WWII Veteran hat, and promptly took a few steps back to open the door for Grandpa, and said nothing more than, “Thank you for your service.”  To this Grandpa replied, “No, why…thank you!”  And then he continued on — no further conversation, no smug, self-satisfaction.  Something about that exchange was deeply moving, and it was connected to the fact that, while he was able, he would raise and salute the flag on his flagpole every morning when he woke up, and salute it again before he took it down in the evening.  When he saluted the flag, he saluted the people.  He didn’t force others to do the same, and he didn’t care if anyone judged him: he did it because honoring and respecting people is what you do.  It’s why he participated in more than a thousand military funerals; it’s why he called you every year, without fail, to sing “happy birthday” to you.  Because honoring and respecting people is what you do.


I can’t say if Grandpa was always this kind of exemplar of grace — I only knew him for the last forty years of his very long life — but I think he was an excellent model to the rest of us of the things that really matter. 


He had the heartiest laugh.  

It has been said that living with the knowledge that you’re dying is like leaving a party early when you’re having fun and really don’t want to go.  There has to be some truth to this, and Grandpa, as stated earlier, was the life of the party, but he was also a devout Catholic who firmly believed in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  For him, we hope and believe, the party has not ended, that it’s only just getting started because now he’s there.  He’s left us here to mourn him, but he’s joined Grandma and loved ones he hasn’t seen in many years: his brother Bernard and Aunt Bert; his sister Alma & Uncle Al, their parents, Rose and Clarence.  After catching up with all of them, laughing and probably having a bit too much to drink, he’ll step outside to look at the shimmering expanse of heaven as he looked at his pond here on Earth, and he’ll see us in the distance on the other side.  Grandma will join him, and so will St. Francis — not the statue, but the man himself — and they’ll raise their glasses in a toast to us, as we raise our glasses in a toast to them, and they’ll continue to watch over all of us in the days, months, years and decades ahead, until we’re all reunited in that celestial home where water is turned to wine — or beer if that’s your preference — where our tears are turned to laughter, and where Grandpa — or Dad, or Uncle Norb, or just plain Norb — will turn to us with that gigantic smile of his, letting us know how honored he feels that we found our way back to him. 


Grandpa, we salute you, we love you, and we thank you for your service in all the ways you served this world.  We miss you, but we take comfort in the knowledge that we’ll meet again one day.


Christmas 2016

Given Grandpa’s fondness for St. Francis, I would like to end today by reciting the St. Francis prayer.  If you know the prayer, please feel free to recite it along with me. 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled
As to console.
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



The Fine Wines of……Cincinnati?


It’s an exciting time to live in Cincinnati, an observation I share wistfully since I haven’t lived there full-time in almost twenty years.  But, I’m back to visit my very large, wonderful family and group of friends so often that I usually clock nearly a month’s worth of time there in a good year, which is often enough to still feel connected, but infrequent enough to realize that a lot can change in between visits.  Most of this change has to do with the revitalization of downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and what’s interesting about it all is that Cincinnati has found its way forward by going back to its roots.  Why it took a predominantly Germanic, historic brewery town so long to catch on to the microbrewery/craft beer craze can only be explained by the famous wpid-wp-1424998930364.jpegwords of Mark Twain that every Cincinnatian knows by heart: “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati: it takes ten years for anything to get there.”  Several sets of my great-great(-great) grandparents were among the German immigrants who put Cincinnati on the map, so I’m happy to see some of their legacy continue on; I’m particularly excited to go on one of the underground brewery tours that are now offered.  I’m hoping that there might even be mention of my Great-Great Grandfather, Daniel Pohlar, whose Pohlar Cafe was open on Vine Street from at least the 1920s until 2006 (as far as I can tell)

wpid-wp-1425001217046.jpegBut I must confess to something, and I hope my German forebears aren’t reading over my shoulder: I like beer, but I don’t love it. I’m giddy about the re-blooming beer culture because I can’t wait to see what it will mean for Cincinnati.  For me, the most exciting discovery of recent years has been on the northern end of Hamilton County, in Colerain, where you’ll find the Vinoklet Winery, the only working winery with a vineyard in the Cincinnati area.  It’s been in operation for thirty years, so it isn’t part of the recent Cincy renaissance (the Cincissance…has anyone coined that yet?  If not, I’m copyrighting it!).  Rather, it was there all through my childhood, just hiding, and not simply waiting for me to reach drinking age, but waiting for me to reach 35 before I would ever come across it.  And the real kicker is that once I found it (by randomly searching the internet to see if there were such a thing as Cincinnati wine), I shared this excellent news with my family and friends, most of whom had already heard of it but never told me (still upset, I am).

Me and my Great-great-great Grandparents, Joseph and Walburga (aka "Becky"...naturally) Hilpoltsteiner.  They're buried on the land that used to be their farm.

Me and my Great-great-great Grandparents, Joseph and Walburga (aka “Becky”…naturally) Hilpoltsteiner. They’re buried on the land that used to be their farm.

But I’m forgiving, if grudgingly so: the place is really so beautiful, I wish that I’d been making it a regular stop during visits home for years now.  It’s so far on the outskirts of Cincinnati that you still pass farms to reach it (including my great-great-great grandparents’ farm-turned-church/cemetery).  The winery itself was a dairy farm in a previous life, but now its verdant hills are strung with rows on rows of grapes of all kinds.  You’re welcome to order a glass of wine at the restaurant and wander through the vineyard on your own as I did with friends and family on a visit home last summer.  I highly suggest that you do, and right at sunset as we did.

The wines themselves are…good.  And that is high praise for an Ohio wine.  Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible gives exactly zero pages to Ohio wines, despite the decent number of wineries near Lake Erie or on its islands.  I’ve had those wines many times over the years, and I understand why they don’t merit her attention (although Pennsylvania gets a brief write-up, and I can’t imagine PA wines are much different than Ohio’s).  They often taste like they ought to be spread on bread with some peanut butter.  Mind you, the wineries there are beautiful and worth the visit even if the wines themselves are jammy, and even a wine that tastes like fruit juice can be enjoyable on a hot, humid midwestern summer day — they just don’t compete with more sophisticated wines from the rest of the world.

wpid-wp-1424999190686.jpegBut the wine from Cincinnati…it’s a different story.   Now, it’s got a ways to go before it can compete with, say, Oregon — but it can definitely win a fight against any of the New York wines I’ve had (and New York gets 19 pages of coverage in the Wine Bible — just sayin’).  Yes, they’re fruity, and yes, they tend to be sweet, but what came to mind as I had a glass of Vinoklet’s Cincinnatus was not another Ohio red from Lake Erie, but a cross between a Beaujolais Nouveau (up front) and a smoky Spanish

A random couple I caught in a tender moment.

A random couple I caught in a tender moment.

tempranillo (on the finish).  That’s right: French and Spanish.  And their Dreamer reminded me of a good quality New York riesling.  They are sweet and fruity, but they’ve got character.  They don’t taste like something you’d give to a child so that she could make believe she’s having an adult drink. In other words, they taste like legitimate wines.

Vinoklet also boasts a restaurant with an excellent menu and a light-hearted atmosphere thanks to its display of quirky antiques.  Check their website because they host a lot of fun events every month (including grill-your-own steak nights).  So if you live in the ‘Nati and you’ve never gone, go!  And if you’re passing through town, well, do all the downtowny things if its your first visit — because they really are great, too, and it’s nice to see the city bustling again — but then get in your car and drive north to check out Cincinnati’s wine country.  It’s worth the trip.

Everything's better with wine, but wine is better with lifelong friends.

Everything’s better with wine, but wine is better with lifelong friends.


On to my wine homework.

As stated in the previous post, the first quality that I want to explore is connectedness.  Admittedly, the post about Rioja already addressed this to a degree: its connection to Spain and Spanish culture is what led to my Aha! wine moment. But MacNeil‘s the expert, and if she says I should get to know this quality through a Mosel riesling, then I’m sure as heck gonna try.

Knight I bought in Salzburg guarding the Fritz Haag Riesling

Knight I bought in Salzburg guarding the Fritz Haag Riesling

The riesling I chose was a 2011 Fritz Haag, a wine I picked more or less at random in the store but was happy to find that it’s one of MacNeil’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer “wines to know.”  She writes, “The wines that Fritz Haag makes from the incredible sundial — Sonnenuhr — vineyard located above the village of Brauneberg are, year in and year out, classic examples of perfect Mosel riesling.”  Praise indeed.

Here is my impression.  The wine has a flirty blonde color that I’ve notice is common to rieslings I’ve tried — not yellow like some chardonnays, but flaxen.  It’s nose was harder to describe, and all I can really come up with is this: fresh air.  It’s getting humid here in the NYC tri-state area, but when I stuck my nose in a glass of this riesling, it was like a cool dry Spring day with highs in the 70s (or 20s in centigrade; this is a European wine, after all…).

If its fragrance was Spring, its taste was pure Winter — breathing in deeply on a day that’s below freezing.  And peaches.  Underripe, when the texture of the peach is hard and harsh, but the taste — what little there is — is crisp, clean and a little tart.  Finally, (and this is probably a bit of a sacrilege, but I’ll write it anyway), it tasted a bit like a Radler, a mixture of a lager and Sprite common to Germanic lands and perfect for a workday lunch.

So how does any of this bring to mind the Mosel region and the wine’s connection to it?

Well, to get there, I have to travel by way of autobiography.  I grew up in Cincinnati, a city whose seasonal extremes have led me to say frequently that it’s the hottest and the coldest place I have ever been.  All of my descriptors above are references to the seasons of Cincinnati, which, as it happens, sits along a river not unlike the Mosel.  In fact, whatever quirks and idiosyncratic delights that Cincinnati may boast are usually traceable to the people’s German heritage, from our breweries to our Schützenfesten to saying “please?” quizzically when we don’t understand what you’ve said (the German equivalent of “bitte?”).  You can still attend mass in German if you visit Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood whose hillside position overlooking the Ohio River reminded its settlers of home.  Most high schools in Cincinnati offered German until recently (which is why yours truly studied the language from 7th through 12th grades).

I’ve never been to the Mosel, but I’ve spent some time now reading about it and looking up pictures online.  It feels like home.  It came up in conversation recently: a friend is planning to ride his bike there, stopping occasionally at this vineyard and that, drinking riesling all week.  It never occurred to me to do that, but now that it has, it’s the top of my travel list.

Fritz Haag’s website revealed to me that their wines were beloved by Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon alike.  I spent a big chunk of the Fall reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton that featured Jefferson prominently (because they hated one another), and I’m currently writing a screenplay that is about Napoleon and what he means to the people of Sandusky, Ohio (kind of).  In fact, I have a few Napoleonic blogposts fomenting in my head as l’Empereur determines exactly what I should write.  I’ve also been commissioned this week to write a destination travel piece on Frankfurt, the largest city in Hesse and not far from the Mosel region….


Yes.  I know.

I still haven’t answered how this riesling is connected to the Mosel.

And I’m sorry, Karen MacNeil, but I can’t, not really.  Not without having been there to taste it where it was grown and produced.  Your book tells me it takes on the flavor of the minerals in the slate that it grows from, and I believe you, but I can’t pick those notes out yet.

The connectedness that I’m experiencing right now is my own connection — through the wine — to historical figures I admire, to my childhood and memories of playing outdoors in Summer, to Germany and my immigrant great-great-great grandparents I never knew, to a man named Fritz Haag and his son (grandson?) Oliver who currently runs the winery and wears similar glasses to my own.  These men have created a wine that’s set loose my fancy and let it fly; when I take that bike trip, I’m definitely going to look them up.

It’s not the kind of connectedness that I was aiming to experience, but it’s more than I got from drinking my daily Diet Coke at lunch — would it were a Radler!