“I’ve been getting calls all morning about a garage sale. Tasha, what did you write in the paper?” My mother says in a high-pitched voice, which I recognize immediately from my childhood as the tone that says I’m in trouble. I’ve just returned from fetching the Albany Times Union from the gas station, knowing my father’s obituary would be published today. So I know exactly why she’s mad at me.
I struggled for two days after I got home to my parents’ house to write the words I felt would do more than just announce to an audience of strangers that my father was dead, but would tell the story of who my dad was when he was alive. I struggled to write the words that would draw a reader in to the funny, quirky, generous person my dad was; the person you would recognize immediately if you knew my dad, or the person you wish you’d known after having read his obituary. I struggled because I wanted to write something that would do my dad’s life justice and also make him laugh, if he were to read it.
For the few days after I flew to New York from St. Maarten, hoping this was just another passing emergency caused by low blood counts and chemotherapy, I watched my mother swing from sobbing every time she picked up a card from my father, a bottle of his medication, or the flowers he’d given her recently for their 43rd wedding anniversary, to short-burst fits of anger that she’d been left with so much junk to clean up.
“What the hell does he expect me to do with all this?” she exclaimed one morning, as we stood on the staircase leading down to the basement, my father’s den of hoarding, staring at the maze of boxes overflowing with postcards, sets of tools wrapped in Christmas paper, gifts he forgot to give, antique relics bought on Ebay, dusty boxes of model cars and used furniture collected from garage sales. And that was before opening the door to the garage, which housed even bigger piles of tools, car parts and, somewhere, hidden under a stack of boxes, a 1959 Triumph TR3 that’s not seen the light of day since I was 13.
My mother stood there, shaking her head, looking at the mess my father left behind and I could see that grief had momentarily turned her sadness into anger.
So I went and sat in my old childhood bedroom with my laptop and thought about all the messy, tangible things my father left behind, as well as the less-tangible gifts of generosity he spent a lifetime bestowing on everyone around him; those he loved and felt responsible for. And it made me think about how much he loved to be able to say to someone, “I think I have something you can use,” before disappearing to rummage through his basement for the very thing that might just make another person’s day.
And, with those thoughts in mind, I sat down and wrote this:
“Christian Louis Hacker, 67, better known as Lou Hacker, of Valatie died April 9, 2015 at the Samuel Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany, leaving behind a hell of a lot of stuff his wife and daughter have no idea what to do with. So, if you’re looking for car parts for a Toyota, BMW, Triumph, Dodge or Ford between the years of about 1953-2013, or maybe half a dozen circular saws, still in their boxes with the Home Depot receipts attached, you should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch.
But this is not an ad for a used parts store, this is an obituary for a great man, generous landlord, committed husband and adoring father who was born July 13, 1947 in Hudson, NY, the son of the late Walter D. and Elsie M. (Barner) Hacker Sr.. Lou graduated from Ichabod Crane High School, attended SUNY Geneseo, admittedly passing Chemistry only because he baked his professor a cake, and served in the US Army, Eighth Army Honor Guard, from July 26, 1970 to September 20, 1971 in South Korea, where he met and fell in love with his wife, Yong Soon.
Lou’s gregarious nature, mechanical genius and general resourcefulness helped him succeed in his jobs as a car mechanic, real estate agent, MOTOR manual sales rep and business manager, all of which helped him in his last and final career as a successful property owner and landlord. He often brushed off his success, saying, “I’m just a glorified janitor, really.” But his tenants and family knew he loved his job, turning derelict buildings into beautifully renovated apartments. But he mostly loved his job for the people he met from all over the world, who he housed in his apartments. He checked in on his tenants often, offering up gifts of used bicycles, kitchen tables, TVs and couches to those who struggled to furnish their homes or single moms who looked like their kids could use a new toy or bike.
Famous for saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” as well as his habitual presence at local garage sales and flea markets, there wasn’t a part, tool, piece of furniture or sports equipment he wouldn’t dig up for a neighbor, family member or tenant in need. So though Lou’s family is a little angry about the heaps of “junk” he’s left behind for them to deal with, the stacks of lawnmowers, the wrench sets in Christmas wrapping, the carcass of a 1972 BMW rotting in the backyard, it helps to remember the place of generosity for which these piles of stuff have accumulated.
Because Lou wasn’t so much stocking up for what he might need for himself, but for what others might need. Those needs filled his heart, mind and an entire basement. And in those moments when someone would ask for a tool, part, or any kind of help, his face would light up and that junk would suddenly be transformed into treasure.
He is sorely missed and survived by his wife,Yong Soon (Kim) Hacker, better known as Mina Hacker; his daughter Tasha Hacker of Valatie; sister Lynda (Hacker) Araoz of Valatie; 3 nephews, Gregory Hacker, Martin Araoz and Rodrigo Araoz. He was predeceased by his brother, Walter Hacker Jr.
Car parts sales and funeral services will be held at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 18 at the Raymond E. Bond Funeral Home Inc., 1015 Kinderhook St., Valatie, with Carlos Araoz officiating. Burial will follow in the Kinderhook Cemetery. Calling hours will be Friday, April 17 from 6-8pm at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Fisher House, 113 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12208 or the Spirit and Truth Fellowship International, 180 Robert Curry Dr., Martinsville, IN 46151.
The family would like to thank the talented and caring doctors and nurses of the VA Hospital in Albany, all of whom worked hard to care for Lou and prolong his life.”
The original obituary can be found here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timesunion-albany/obituary.aspx?pid=174627454
I wrote and rewrote this obituary half a dozen different ways until, finally, I arrived at a version I was happy with.
But I worried that just because I was happy with the tribute didn’t mean others would appreciate the written sentiments. I worried my family wouldn’t get the humor, or that people would think I was being irreverent by cracking jokes about my dead father.
So I gave it to a few friends and family to proof-read before it went to print.
“I like it. But it’s going to confuse old people,” said a friend. “I mean, people are going to show up looking to go shopping, trust me. As long as you’re okay with that… What do you want to achieve with it?”
“I want people to actually read it, not just skim the paper and forget about him,” I said. “I want people to know who my dad really was.”
“Oh, they’ll read it. Then they’ll turn up looking for the garage sale.”
The morning the obituary gets printed in the Albany Times Union and the Register Star, Columbia County New York’s local paper, my mother’s phone starts ringing off the hook and I wince as I overhear her tell someone, “I can’t deal with this right now. My daughter shouldn’t have written all that.” It was a Times Union reporter calling to ask if he could do a story on my father’s junk, since the obituary had made such an impression on him.
And then I get a text message saying, “The Times Union just shared your dad’s obituary on their Facebook page.”
I get on Facebook and watch as the comments pour in about what a great guy my dad must have been, and how these complete strangers wish they’d known him when he was alive.
And I start to feel a little better about my choice of words. I take comfort in the fact that more people than just my immediate family will know, even for a brief moment, what a loss it is to the world that my father is gone.
On the day of my father’s funeral, the director of Bond’s Funeral Home pulls me aside with a big grin on his face and says, “I just had to tell you this. A guy showed up here at 9:30 this morning asking about the big sale. I had to tell the guy he got it all wrong, that there’s no garage sale, but what a laugh we had after he left.”
And I laugh through my tears because I know my dad would have laughed, too.